Home Prophet Wovoka



Born ca. 1856 in Smith Valley

Died September 20 1932 in Yerington

Wovoka introduced the Ghost Dance as a vehicle to reunite Native Americans with dead friends and family. At Wounded Knee in December 1890, 300 Sioux were massacred by soldiers who lost 25 killed when a Ghost Dance erupted in violence.

In December 1887, a husky Paiute woodcutter called Jack Davis was living with his adoptive parents in Smith Valley. He was hard at work, cutting firewood in the Pine Nut Mountains when he was visited by God and lifted up to Heaven. “It was the most beautiful country you can imagine, nice and level and green all the time.” All the dead in this bountiful heaven were enjoying themselves immensely.

God told Wovoka he was to carry a message of love and peace to the people of the world. He told them if they would dance the Ghost Dance for five consecutive nights but then not again for three months, love one another and live in peace, they would be reunited with their friends and loved ones in another world.

The dance was called The Ghost Dance, and by the time a year had passed the Lyon County Times reported “big dances every night now.”

When he made it rain, made a block of ice fall from the sky, fell into deep trances to visit with God, and sat unscathed in the path of a shotgun blast, Wovoka gained in stature and reputation. When he awoke from a trance just as a solar eclipse was ending, people said he saved the world.

The people who visited Wovoka enthusiastically spread the Ghost Dance all across the west. The Sioux in particular became obsessed with it. More than 3,000 people were dancing on the reservation at Wounded Knee when a fight broke out with soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry. Three hundred of the Sioux were killed in the ensuing massacre, and 25 soldiers.

Wovoka was held in high regard as an elder and as a prophet (and as a mail-order eagle feather salesman) until his death in 1932.


  1. “Wovoka and the Ghost Dance,” by Michael Hittman, is a pretty good read. It portrays him as a sort of magician who staged what amounted to elaborate hoaxes in order to convince people of his spiritual powers. No other religious leader in the history of the world amassed so large a following so quickly.

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