%> Nevada Riches: The Land and People of the Silver State
People & Life Ways
Riches, Ranching & Railroads
(1850-1900)

Wovoka

The coming of Euro-American settlers disrupted the culture and lifestyle of Native Americans in Nevada.  Some of the people turned to traditional religions and shamans to help them understand the changes going on around them.  An important religious leader for Native Americans in the West was a man named Jack Wilson, also known as Wovoka.

Wovoka was a northern Paiute.  Born about 1856, he lived near the Walker River Reservation, in Mason Valley, an area with many farms and ranches in western Nevada.  He told of visions of his travels to the land of the dead, and information he had received from Numin'a, who was the Old Man who made the world.

Word of his visions and of miracles that he performed spread throughout the tribes of Nevada and to other Native American nations.  Wovoka told his followers that the world would change in 1891.  There would be plentiful grass and game to feed the people.  The land would once more belong to the Indian, and the white man would be destroyed by Numin'a.  Wovoka's religion was know as the Ghost Dance, and he was the messiah.

Wovoka's religion was peaceful and called for hard work and abstinence from alcohol.  The Ghost Dance movement spread to the Sioux in the Dakota territory.  They believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance religion and wore a special Ghost Shirt they could not be killed in battle.  Settlers did not understand the Ghost Dance religion, and they were alarmed by its popularity with the Indians, especially in South Dakota.  In 1890 the United States Cavalry killed 300 Native Americans, including women and children, as a result of this fear and misunderstanding.
 

Photo Credits:
1: Nevada Historical Society
2: Nevada Department of Transportation