'Hostiles' : the Lakota Ghost Dance and the 1891-92 tour of Britain by Buffalo Bill's Wild West
This dissertation concentrates on both the Lakota Ghost Dance of 1890 and on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West from 1890 through to 1892, exploring the nature, the significance and the consequence of their interaction at this particularly crucial time in American Indian history. The association of William F. Cody’s Wild West with the Lakota Ghost Dance has produced evidence that offers a new insight into the religion in South Dakota. Further, it questions the traditional portrayal of the Lakota Ghost Dance, which maintains that the leaders ‘perverted’ Wovoka’s doctrine of peace into one of war. It is clear that his traditional interpretation has been based upon primary source material derived from the testimony of those who had actively worked to suppress the religion. In contrast sources narrated by Short Bull, a prominent Lakota Ghost Dancer, demonstrate that it has been a peaceful religion combining white religion and culture with traditional Lakota ones, and as such was an example of Lakota accommodation. At the same time as the Ghost Dance was sweeping across the western Indian reservations, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West faced a crisis over its continued success. When William F. Cody and his Wild West’s Indian performers were forced to return from their tour of Continental Europe to refute charges of mistreatment and neglect, they became involved in the suppression of the Lakota ghost Dance. In consequence those Ghost Dancers removed and confined to fort Sheridan, Illinois were then released into Cody’s custody. Ironically, the closest these Ghost Dancers got to armed rebellion was when they played the role of ‘Hostiles’ in the Wile West’s arena. This research reveals some of the different forms of accommodation employed by the Lakota to deal with the demands of the dominant society at the close of the nineteenth century. The Ghost Dance and the Wild West shows presented the Lakota with various alternatives to the dependency that the government’s Indian policy had brought about, while also enabling them to retain their Indian identity. As such Indian policymakers viewed both the Ghost Dance and the Wild West shows to be a threat to their programmes of assimilation, which they perceived to be the Indians only route towards independence.