The Ghost Dance of Jack Wilson

The Misadventures of Mitch Kumstein Series (The dog that blogs)
Wovoka and the The Ghost Dance

One August, I decided to take a little time off and road trip from Las Vegas ta the Black Rock desert of Northern Nevada, where every year on Labor Day weekend, they used to fire up the Burnin’ Man festival before the pandemic.  And for anyone who’s never heard of this event, its basically 50,000 wild and crazy free thinkers gettin’ together to party.  I think of it as Woodstock without Jimi Hendrix.  It was my first time there, and it was an enlightenin’, mind-expandin’ experience.   But ya  know what, probably the best part of the trip was my adventures gettin’ there.  I spent five days drivin’ The Road Warrior up Highway 95, and my misadventures included pickin’ up sum radioactive scrap metal around Area 51, gettin’ chased by the “authorities” outside of Hawthorne, and runnin’ into the ghost of Howard Hughes in Tonopah.  I’m also a big Native American history buff, and one of my favorite stories explores the birth of The Ghost Dance.  That’s right, that same Ghost Dance that resulted in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre.


The story  begins in 1856 at Walker Lake, with the birth of a Paiute Indian named Wovoka.   Now Wovoka’s father, Tavibo, was a frustrated  medicine man, who kept havin’ the visions, but couldn’t convince the rest of the tribe to take him seriously.  (kinda like me at family reunions).  Well, Tavibo dies when Wovoka is 14 years old, and a white rancher named David Wilson adopts him.  Wovoka takes the name of Jack Wilson, but after a few years returns to the Paiute community to take over as resident medicine man.   Then, on New Years Day, 1889, Wovoka reveals his vision.  God speaks to him and promises a new world set aside for Native peoples.  The White Man will leave, the wildlife will return, and suffering will be wiped out forever.  (Wow, sign me up!!).  And The Ghost Dance is a hit!  In less than a year, Wovoka’s new religion spreads throughout the West, and tribes from Kansas to California are doin’ the dance.  Tribes are bandin’ together, and the show of force starts scarin’ the White “Authorities”.  I mean, runnin’ roughshod over an entire people doesn’t work very well when they don’t fear ya anymore, so the government takes action.  The Lakota tribe, led by Sittin’ Bull, is singled out, Sittin’ Bull is killed, and 14 days later, the U.S. Army finishes the deal by slaughtering the remain’ 300 tribe members (mostly women and children).  Well, if doin’ the dance causes ya ta get massacred, then count me out.  The Ghost Dance quickly dies, Wovoka turns back into Jack Wilson and vanishes into obscurity.

Wovoka grave 1
Wovoka grave site.

While makin’ my way back ta Burnin’ Man, I ran across Wovoka’s grave in Schurz, Nevada.  I guess this is one of my favorite stories ‘cuz his simple vision still rings true today as a roadmap to everyone:

“When the Sun died, I went up to Heaven and saw God and all the people who had died a long time ago.  God told me to come back and tell mypeople they must be good and love one another, and not fight, or steal, or lie.  He gave me this dance to give to my people.”

‘Nuff said, MITCH

Mitch Kumstein . . . the dog who blogs.

Mitch Kumstein Bio

“When people ask me about myself, I just hafta say I’m the luckiest dog on the planet! I was abandoned out in the desert just north of Las Vegas; left to fend for myself. After a few harrowing days and nights lookin’ for water and runnin’ from the coyotes, I stumbled onto a golf course, and was taken in by the staff. Soon, I came to the conclusion that I had a new lease on life, and there were a lot of adventures waitin’ for

me out in the wild. So, I took a leave of absence from chasin’ critters at the course and struck out to follow the scent of adventure. And, I decided to write about my findings so everyone could be exposed to the unbelievable history, scenery, personalities, and wildlife that make up our natural environment. If the pics are kinda shaky, and the writin’ kinda sketchy, just be patient….Remember, I’m just a dog!!”   – MITCH

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