The Indian Messiah





The promise of the return to earth of various benign spirits has caused

much trouble among the red men, and incidentally to the white men who are

the objects of their fanatic dislike. The New Mexicans believed that when

the Emperor Montezuma was about to leave the earth he planted a tree and

bade them watch it, for when it fell he would come back in glory and lead

them to victory, wealth, and power. The watch was kept in secret on

account of the determination of the Spaniards to breakup all fealty to

tribal heroes and traditions. As late as 1781 they executed a sentence of

death on a descendant of the Peruvian Incas for declaring his royal

origin. When Montezuma's tree fell the people gathered on the house-tops

to watch the east-in vain, for the white man was there. In 1883 the

Sanpoels, a small tribe in Washington, were stirred by the teaching of an

old chief, who told them that the wicked would soon be destroyed, and

that the Great Spirit had ordered him to build an ark for his people. The

remains of this vessel, two hundred and eighty-eight feet long, are still

to be seen near one of the tributaries of the Columbia.



A frenzy swept over the West in 1890, inspiring the Indians by promise of

the coming of one of superhuman power, who was generally believed to be

Hiawatha, to threaten the destruction of the white population, since it

had been foretold that the Messiah would drive the white men from their

land. Early in the summer of that year it was reported that the Messiah

had appeared in the north, and the chiefs of many tribes went to Dakota,

as the magi did to Bethlehem, to learn if this were true. Sitting Bull,

the Sioux chief, told them, in assembly, that it was so, and declared

that he had seen the new Christ while hunting in the Shoshone Mountains.

One evening he lost his way and was impelled by a strange feeling to

follow a star that moved before him. At daybreak it paused over a

beautiful valley, and, weary with his walk, he sank on a bed of moss. As

he sat there throngs of Indian warriors appeared and began a spirit

dance, led by chiefs who had long been dead. Presently a voice spoke in

his ear, and turning he saw a strange man dressed in white. The man said

he was the same Christ who had come into the world nineteen hundred years

before to save white men, and that now he would save the red men by

driving out the whites. The Indians were to dance the ghost-dance, or

spirit dance, until the new moon, when the globe would shiver, the wind

would glow, and the white soldiers and their horses would sink into the

earth. The Messiah showed to Sitting Bull the nail-wounds in his hands

and feet and the spear-stab in his side. When night came on the form in

white had disappeared--and, returning, the old chief taught the

ghost-dance to his people.





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