Originally featured in Points West magazine in Fall 2009
Arapaho Ghost Dance dress, ca. 1890
In March 2007, the first Plains Indian Museum “Treasure” in Points West was a Ghost Dance dress. As the story went, Plains Indian people faced poverty, disease, and death on reservations by the late nineteenth century. Led by the Paiute visionary Wovoka, the Ghost Dance religion brought hope to many tribes that they could bring about the renewal of the world by working hard, living peacefully, and doing the Ghost Dance.
The Arapaho were instrumental in spreading the doctrines of the dance to other tribes. Hide dresses, shirts, and leggings with painted symbols of the sky, such as the stars and moon, were made for the dance. Designs for the clothing often came to individuals in visions that occurred during the ceremonies. The turtle, seen on this shirt, was symbolic to the Arapaho of the spirit world. Eagles, crows, and magpies were considered messengers to the heavens.
Ghost Dance shirt, Arapaho, ca. 1890. Chandler-Pohrt Collection. Gift of Searle Family Trust and the Paul Stock Foundation. NA.204.5