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Wovoka, Prophet or Misguided?

Wovoka aka Jack Wilson, was a religious leader and shaman of the Paiute Indians. He is also the man credited for starting a religious ceremony known as the Ghost Dance. The Ghost Dance is infamous for being involved with the Wounded Knee massacre. Wovoka was born sometime around 1856 near Carson City, Nevada. He was the son of a religious leader and went by the names of Tavibo and Numu-Taibo. They thought he, Tavibo, was a religious leader as it was evident that Wovoka did in fact have some training as a shaman and their teachings were similar. Wovoka’s father died in 1870 and Wovoka was taken in by a rancher and his wife, David and Mary. David was a Christian so Wovoka grew up learning Christian teachings and mixing them with his teachings and had no problem convincing the Paiutes and the Lakota that he was a shaman and could even perform tricks as he was a magician too.

It is said that he could perform levitations and was seemingly impervious to shotgun blasts. That is when Native Americans began to believe that their Ghost Shirts were bulletproof. In 1889, Wovoka believed he had received a Prophetic message during a solar eclipse. The message, or the vision, that he had showed him that the dead Paiutes would rise from their dormant state and all of the whites and their influences would be wiped from the earth. Wovoka also taught that in order for this to come true, the Native American peoples would have to perform a round dance in five day increments. This was known as the Ghost Dance. The Lakota people were followers of this prophecy as well. Two tribes of Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota were doing their ghost dance and a young, inexperienced Indian Agent thought that this was going to erupt in violence. He asked for help from the Army. It is unclear what actually started the chain of events that resulted in the deaths of 153 Native American men, women and children. Irony is not lost here as Wovoka’s teachings were of non-violence and it only proved to other Native Americans that the whites were not going to be destroyed after all.

Wovoka died in 1932 after living as Jack Wilson for many years after the Wounded Knee Massacre of Big Foot and his people. His disrepute caused him to live as Jack Wilson and not the once feared shaman of Wovoka.

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