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  • Writer's pictureNotes From The Frontier

Last Prayer for the Old Ways— The Sacred Ghost Dance

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

A heartbreaking tale of Native Americans' spiritual grasp for hope and freedom.

The Native American Ghost Dance movement swept across reservations in 1889 and 1890 as a last gasp, a final, desperate prayer for the old ways to return, for whites to disappear, for the buffalo to again roam the Plains, for the many lost Native children and elders, women and men killed, to again join their people.

The late 1880s were a desperate time for Native Americans across North America. Nearly all tribes had now been imprisoned on reservations, many elders of the sacred old ways were dying, and the little children were robbed from Native families and sent to white boarding schools.

The Ghost Dance rose from the ashes of native cultures and spread quickly from reservation to reservation. The Dance was celebrated by wearing the most beautiful shirts that native artisans could conjure, using their spiritual symbols and animal and plant materials to beckon the spirits for help.

View this wonderful video from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, just an hour from Yellowstone National Park. The video explains so poignantly the hopes of the Ghost Dance and what it symbolized for native tribes.

You may find this related post interesting:

The Stunning Artistry of Ghost Dance Shirts

See stunning examples of ghost shirts and read about the Ghost Dance shirt from the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, how it traveled to Europe and was finally returned to the Lakota more than a century later.

"Last Prayer of the Old Ways--The Sacred Ghost Dance" was first published on Facebook and on March 9, 2020.

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Deborah Hufford

Author, Notes from the Frontier

Deborah Hufford is an award-winning author and magazine editor with a passion for history. Her popular blog with 100,000+ readers has led to an upcoming novel! Growing up as an Iowa farmgirl, rodeo queen and voracious reader, her love of land, lore and literature fired her writing muse. With a Bachelor's in English and Master's in Journalism from the University of Iowa, she taught students of Iowa's Writer's Workshop, then at Northwestern University, Marquette and Mount Mary. Her extensive publishing career began at Better Homes & Gardens, includes credits in New York Times Magazine, New York Times, Connoisseur, many other titles, and serving as publisher of The Writer's Handbook


Deeply devoted to social justice, especially for veterans, women, and Native Americans, she has served on boards and donated her fundraising skills to Chief Joseph Foundation, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), Homeless Veterans Initiative, Humane Society, and other nonprofits.  


Deborah's soon-to-be released historical novel, BLOOD TO RUBIES weaves indigenous and pioneer history, strong women and clashing worlds into a sweeping saga praised by NYT bestselling authors as "crushing," "rhapsodic," "gritty," and "sensuous." Purchase BLOOD TO RUBIES online beginning June 9. Connect with Deborah on, Facebook, and Instagram.

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