From Wovoka to Wounded Knee: deprivation of Sioux traditional life and the massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890

Document Type



Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Studies

First Advisor's Name

James Huchingson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Lesley A. Northup

Third Advisor's Name

William Walker III

Date of Defense



The purpose of this thesis is to explore deprivation experienced by the nineteenth century Sioux who suffered the loss of traditional lands, economic independence, buffalo, tribal customs, and religion. After years of reservation life, starvation, and deprivation at the hands of the U.S. government, white settlers, and reservation agents, the Sioux anxiously sought out a Paiute Indian Messiah named Wovoka whose message of a new Indian world spread rapidly throughout the Dakotas. The use of extensive historical and religious documents, as well as primary sources, will argue that the extent of desperation experienced by the Sioux drove them to accept the Ghost Dance as a substitute for the Sun Dance, the center of their traditional religious complex. With its hope of the resurrection of dead Indians, return of the buffalo, and renewal of the earth, it was immediately adopted leading ultimately to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 and the passing of Wovoka's religion into history.



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