January 25, 2020
Follow me on Twitter

God’s Red Son

by Louis S. Warren

The Ghost Dance terrified settlers, alarmed authorities, and led to Wounded Knee. This fascinating account traces its development and the underlying theology, which was essentially Protestant. The Ghost Dance ideology emphasized cooperation in this world, with peaceful coexistence to be rewarded with a new, bigger world in which there would be space for Indians to resume their traditional lifestyles. The imminent second coming, it was said, would be heralded by a great train from the East, bringing back all the Indian dead. After Christ’s return, the Americans would go to their own heaven and the Indians — including the dead who had returned on the great train — would have a larger world remade for them with refreshed and abundant resources.

One detail of Louis Warren’s careful and well-considered account deserves mention and emulation. We’ve discussed what we call the Native Americans: we use the most specific term for the context, preferably in their own language. But what do we call their invasive rivals? It’s tempting to call them “white”, but a surprising number of them were black and that means we need to talk about the black whites. (Some 18th and 19th century Native Americans had the same problem, and several pueblo tribes retain memories in legend of Esteban, the Moroccan slave who accompanied early Spanish expeditions in Florida and the Southwest and who died at Zuni.). Warren calls them “Americans” and that works well.