Manataka American Indian Council










Origin of the Ghost Dance

A Winnebago Legend



A man was to learn from the spirits. He fasted and he would sleep four times. In the evening he would stand with both hands full of tobacco.  Earthmaker made Waterspirits and put them in charge of the spirits, as many as there are above, all that are on the earth, they and all below the earth.

Then the man cried pitifully -- he made himself thirst to death; he made himself hunger to death. He cried to the spirits. After awhile, he would sleep six times. After awhile, he would sleep eight times, then ten times he would sleep, and then the spirits there are above [blessed him], the chiefs that are below the earth, all of them, they blessed him.


The spirits that there are, everyone he went to, in a space plumbed by spans of the earth. He was thirsty, thereby he killed himself, therefore, that man had nothing.

He became omniscient, so he made a war bundle. So the one in charge of ghosts blessed him. He said, "I am he who is in charge of ghosts. Human being, I bless you," he said to him, "not of anything will you fail to know. With wars I bless you. I bless you with life. I bless you with the possessions of the people. As I am in charge of this village, I bless you with everything.  With my Dance I shall bless you for as long as your root shall be, that long shall I bless you. Whenever the people [perform?] this dance, they should  have you start it.


Those who lie sickly shall get well. And so I will come back to place the souls in all that which is frail. If my servants come, they too will take souls back home. They will come." He would always remember tobacco and hot water.

The man knew of a great thing. Right away now he wanted to do it. The thing that he did was to fix the war-date. He went to war taking very many along with him. By victories he came back triumphant. So he was a dreamer that they might know. Then he started the Ghost Dance (Wanâghí Wací) and a life there was in it he thought, so in this way he acted. He gave a great feast. He boiled for those who are in charge of ghosts.


Having offered the Ghost Chief tobacco, he set on kettles reaching far into the distance. He said, "Grandfather, you said you would come, so this I ask for: war powers, life, and clothing for the people; place the souls back with us in all that is frail. He boiled and gave tobacco for the Wanâghí Mónâtc who roamed about visiting with them. "You also, my friends, added minds for me. You said to me what you blessed me with, and it is these things that I ask for: wars, long life that we may live, so tobacco I fill for you, so that the humans will have all that. Everyone thought that the Ghost Dance was sacred, so they were attentive.


For the dance the people made four of them dance leaders so that they would be able to dance. That is where men and women are to obtain life, to obtain war powers.


Narrated by R. G., Ghost Dance, in Paul Radin, [unpublished] Winnebago Notebooks, #79 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) 1-5
Submitted by Blue Panther Keeper of Stories.