The 1870 Ghost Dance

The 1870 Ghost Dance

The 1870 Ghost Dance

The 1870 Ghost Dance


The 1870 Ghost Dance was a significant but too often disregarded transformative historical movement with particular impact on the Native peoples of northern California. The spiritual energies of this "great wave," as Peter Nabokov has called it, have passed down to the present day among Native Californians, some of whose contemporary individual and communal lives can be understood only in light of the dance and the complex religious developments inspired by it. Cora Du Bois' historical study The 1870 Ghost Dance has remained an essential contribution to the ethnographic record of Native Californian cultures for seven decades yet is only now readily available for the first time. Du Bois produced this pioneering work in the field of ethnohistory while still under the tutelage of anthropologist Alfred Louis Kroeber. Her monograph informs our understanding of Kroeber's larger, grand and crucial salvage-ethnographic project in California, its approach and style, and also its limitations. The 1870 Ghost Dance adds rich detail to our understanding of anthropology in California before World War II.


Thomas Buckley

Introduction to the Nebraska Edition

The reissuing of Cora Du Bois's monograph "The 1870 Ghost Dance," making it available to a broad audience for the first time, is occasion for celebration. For a variety of reasons, this work remains important despite the passage of nearly seven decades since Du Bois first submitted it for publication, in 1938.

First, and perhaps most important, the "dance" itself was a significant, transformative event in the colonial history of America's far west, one — too often disregarded —that had particular impact on the Native peoples of northern California. While the Ghost Dance itself, originating in Ne- vada, was a variation on traditional intermontane round dances, the term "dance" is perhaps misleading. Rather, the "1870 Ghost Dance" was, as Pe- ter Nabokov puts it, "a great wave of religious fervor that rolled in from Nevada across the dispersed, remnant Indian hamlets of north-central California after 1870. True to their dispersed, autonomous nature, each Indian hamlet's resident shamans developed their particular take on its core ideology, whose generic plot held that the world would be destroyed by fire or flood, and that Indians would survive to find the earth carpeted by wild flowers and dead ancestors returned to life."

The spiritual energies of this "great wave" have passed down to the pres- ent day among Native northern Californians, some of whose contempo- rary individual and communal lives can only be understood in the light of the dance and the complex religious developments it inspired. the impor- tance to Native lives and community histories of the dance, and especially of the resulting Dreamer religion (Bole-Maru cult), one of the "particular takes" on the dance that Nabokov refers to, also makes the dance impor- tant to the scholarly study of the history of religions. One hopes that this reissue of Du Bois's monograph will both newly inform Native under- standings of their own histories and stimulate new scholarly interest in the dance.

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