The Ghost Dance, of course, was not a traditional Pai ceremony:
At the time of its 1870 diffusion, the Southern Painte and the Pai were apparently not on friendly enough terms for the cult to be communicated from north to south. Friction between the two groups was fostered by the U.S. Army commander of the Upper Colorado sub district, who reported that he sent to Ft. Mohave on Oct. 29, 1867, a Painte chief named Varanap “who I had succeeded in getting to accompany me for the reasons that I would be sure of no outbreak from them while absent, that I wished to get them in hostility with the Hualapais, whose Country adjoins theirs, separated by the Colorado River...” (U. S. Senate 1936). The importance of the 1870 ghost dance among the Southern Painte was, moreover, apparently minimal, if it reached them.
A generation later, however, Paiute-Pai relations had become quite peaceful and probably frequent after Anglo-Americans subdued both groups. Ideal conditions existed for the spread of the second wave of ghost dancing from its Paiute originators to the Pai. Of this, as of the earlier cult, it can be said that: “The early manifestations consisted largely of doctrinal stress on the return of the dead and the end of the world, which in some vague supernatural manner would entail the elimination of the white people.” Converts believed these changes imminent.
The Pai acquired their ghost dance and its ideology from Southern Paiutes shortly after its revival by Wovoka in Northern Paiute territory. “The ghost dance was introduced from the Paiute of St. George and St. Thomas in 1889, ‘two years after the railroad came through’ Kingman in 1887” wrote Mekeel. His reconstruction of the date is confirmed in newspaper accounts at the time. “This dance made its first appearance among the Wallapais in May of 1889. The old chief Surrum being the first convert, and the Paiute medicine men conferred the rights of the ‘ghost dance,’ and the first dance of the tribe was held at an isolated point, called Grass Springs.”
The introduction of the cult among the Pai may actually have been due to Painte missionary effort. Mooney recorded that a Paiute from southern Utah was “inciting” the Hualapai “to dance for the purpose of causing hurricanes and storms to destroy the whites and such Indians as would not participate in the dances.” This was, at least, what the commanding officer of Ft. Whipple was told in September of 1890. At that time, ghost dances had been held “for several months,” with “a large portion of the tribe” taking part. Each dance reportedly lasted four to five successive nights. This Painte missionary was reported to be one of a group that “inaugurated the Ghost Dance among the Wallapai the preceding year.”
According to Mekeel, “The Painte leader mentioned as influential in its spread was Panama’ita or Panamo’ita; the Walapai, Doinhu’ka or Jeff, a shaman.”
Jeff died during the sojourn of the Laboratory of Anthropology field party in 1929. “Jeff took Panamita among the Walapai, and then a party of prominent Walapai including Jeff and several recognized chiefs went to St. George and witnessed the dance.”
In the words of Kuni, one of the Laboratory of Anthropology’s 1929 informants: “Djinpuka, Jeff, went to the Ghost Dance. Tamnada went. Oava’dima, my father Kua’da, LeviLevi, Serum, these four went as far as St. Thomas. The dance was held at St. George. They went there the next night. Sticks were put around in a circle. People danced in a circle around a pole. The dance stopped the fourth morning. Jeff and Tamnada learned all their songs. They had to go a little way from the dancing place, and then the spirits would arrive and say, ‘You have done your part as you were ordered. Keep this up for two years and all the dead will return.’ ”This didn’t come true because people didn’t live up to the rules.
Jeff’s role is still well-remembered among his people. “Indian Jeff somehow got in the Paiute country and understood from them that if they danced like that the dead people would come back to life. That was the cause of their getting together. A few Paintes attended.” By 1952-57, we were unable to obtain from Pai respondents, even those who participated in ghost dances as youngsters, nearly as much detail about the diffusion of the cult as the 1929 investigators recovered from informants who had been old enough to perceive and remember the mechanisms of trans-culturation. Old Mike related other details about this innovation as remembered in 1929: “One of the Painte leaders whose name was Panamoita visited Jeff at Duncan ranch, Tanyaka.‘ Jeff took this leader around among the Walapai, and they told them about the dance and urged them to do the same as the Painte. He said that this dance was for bring ing the dead relatives to life. Three times they thus told all the people at monthly or bimonthly intervals.” Then Indian Jeff spent a month traveling about advising his tribesmen of the dance to be held at Tanyika.
“At this time, Kingman was small, and the Walapai were living across from the Commercial Hotel. They filled up all the flat. Before the month had passed they began to travel away on horseback. They camped at the mouth of Canyon Station, Waikaiila. Next morning they traveled again and reached a place called Kisia’lva. They were going slowly and camped in that place. This party included the whole Kingman camp, except Walapai Charlie who remained.
The next day they came to Tanyaka in the evening. There were gathered all the Walapai from all the divisions. But Mapat was not there, nor Walapai Charlie.”
Newspaper articles contemporary with the event make it clear that more than just two individuals stayed away from the Grass Springs dance.
“The bands of Leve-Leve and Wallapai Charley, who have their camps about this place, refuse to take part in the dance, and they are awaiting the fulfillment of the medicine men’s prophecy of the hail storm which will kill alike the whites and the disobedient Indians.” In this instance, the reporter was certainly capable of observing and talking to those Indians who remained in Kingman and he obviously was acquainted with the ghost dance beliefs. As Mekeel wrote, “Several of the Walapai, including Chief Charlie, remained skeptical, but others were convinced, and even now attribute the failure of the dead to return to mistakes made in the performance of the dances or to their premature discontinuance.”
The first awareness of Kingman newspaper writers of any ghost dancing among the Pai apparently came just before Aug. 3, 1889 when the Miner reported that “The Wallapai Indians this week departed for Grass Spring some seventy-five miles northeast of Kingman, there to have a grand powwow, which Surrum, the chief, says will last one month.” The nature of the movement was, however, still not understood by the AngloAmericans, for the article went on with a prediction that “The Navajoes, Supais, Moquis, Utes, and Chimeneves will have representatives there. They will have a big rain sing and dance and expect to bring rain in plenty... they will probably gamble as long as they can rustle grub in that section and they have anything to win or lose.” Two weeks later, reporters evidently had talked to some of the Indians and learned the true character of the ceremonies. “Wallapais who have returned from Grass Springs say that a ‘ghost dance’ in which all the tribes took part, all dressed in white and which lasted five days and nights, was had last week and it took all the dance out of the Indians.” Then the Miner went on to explain the origin and beliefs of the movement: “The Piutes are responsible for the gathering of the various tribes at Grass Springs.”
The medicine men of that tribe say that the Great Spirit told them to gather all the good Indians at that place and that sometime during two moons the Hicos [i.e., haikoo, the Pai word for Anglo-Americans] would be totally wiped from the face of the earth by some pestilence and they would become possessors of all the land again. These medicine men keep apart from the rest of the Indians and claim to be in direct communion with the Great Spirit and have a great influence over all those assembled...“
Significantly, in talking with the newspaper writer, the Pai placed the recovery of their land at the heart of their concept of the ghost dance movement. The purpose of the whole ceremonial gathering at Grass Springs was to bring on the storm or pestilence that would kill off the Anglo-American invaders, so that the Pai would again become possessors of all their aboriginal lands. A somewhat later summary of the ghost dance ideology in the Miner repeats the essential points: ”The Walapais are thoroughly imbued with the idea of the coming of Christ, and that the day is not far distant when the Indians will have ‘full possession and that all the dead Indians, deer, antelopes and other game will come back,’ as one of the Wallapais expressed it.“ Again the Indians are described as anticipating the disappearance of the Anglo-Americans as the means to their dual goal of full possession of their lands and the restoration to those lands of dead Indians and game animals.
Thus the majority of the Pai were not yet looking forward to wider participation in the material benefits of the industrial society as in cargo cult” behavior. They, like other ghost dancing Indians, wanted to return to the good days gone by. The loss of their land base and access to its resources was the primary cause of a psychological state in which the Pai grasped at the ghost dance as a form of compulsive magic to retrieve these former assets and the lifeway that went with them.
Story excerpted from “The Ghost Dance of 1889” - © Prescott College Press, 1967