Ghost Dance

Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson)

Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson)

A Paiute shaman named Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson) came down with a high fever in 1888. While he was delirious, he had a vision that would keep him front and center on the stage of American History for the next few years. His soul was transported to a higher plain, which was the spirit home of all the Indian ancestors of all the tribes that had been killed by the white man. The animals the tribes hunted were there too. The white men were conspicuously absent.

Early in 1899 he had a second revelation during a total

Wovoka

Wovoka

eclipse of the sun. All those dead ancestors and all the animals were coming back. The white man would be swallowed by the earth. God was angry because he had sent his son to bring blessings to the world and the white man had killed him. God planned to give the Indians a fresh start in a Euro-Free planet if Wovoka would teach all the tribes a variation of the traditional Paiute Round Dance. Video available here.

 A Northern Paiute shaman, Wodziwob (Grey Hair) had made similar prophesies in the 1870’s, although he limited the Indian Renaissance to his tribe and didn’t include the Christian

"Bullet Proof" Ghost Dance shirt.

“Bullet Proof” Ghost Dance shirt.

crucifixion element.  Unlike Wodziwob, Wovoka was well acquainted with Christian theology. The Golden Rule was an essential element of his prophesies. He urged his followers to live impeccable lives, refrain from drinking alcohol, and to make no trouble for the white man.

What is truly amazing is how quickly the Ghost Dance religion spread through so many tribes and across so much geography by word of mouth. Wovoka’s prophesy became a pan-Indian movement without him leaving Paiute lands even once.

Ghost Dance Shirt

Ghost Dance Shirt

Like most large scale religious movements, believers modified the details to suit their purposes. The Lakota added a militaristic element. They can hardly be blamed for that. Their messianic leader, Crazy Horse, had been bayonetted by a military guard while resisting arrest in 1877. They were forcibly held on reservations and were dependent on rations from the U.S. government that came irregularly when they came at all.

Aftermath of Wounded Knee Massacre.

Aftermath of Wounded Knee Massacre.

Hundreds of Lakota gathered on South Dakota Reservations to try and dance the white man away. They wore what appeared to be war paint, and “bullet proof” Ghost Shirts while they danced all night in circles. The white population including the local Indian Agent were certain there would be an uprising and asked the Army to suppress it.

 The order went out to arrest Chief Sitting Bull at the Standing Rock Reservation. He was killed in the attempt on

Mass Grave for Lakota  massacred at Wounded Knee

Mass Grave for Lakota massacred at Wounded Knee

December 15, 1890.

When Chief Big Foot heard of Sitting Bull’s death, he tried to head off disaster by seeking protection at the Pine Ridge Reservation. The army intercepted his band on December 28 and brought them to the edge of the Wounded Knee to camp, where things quickly went wrong.

During the process of disarming the Lakota (according to one version of events), a deaf tribesman named Black Coyote refused to give up his rifle. A scuffle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the

Wovoka's grave

Wovoka’s grave

7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides. The Lakota warriors who still had weapons began shooting back at the attacking soldiers, who quickly suppressed their fire. The surviving Lakota fled, but U.S. cavalrymen hunted them down. When the smoke cleared and the shooting stopped, approximately 300 Sioux were dead.

The Southern Cheyenne continued Ghost Dances in Oklahoma until Wovoka himself sent word that they should stop. He told a delegation he was tired of so many visitors and they should return home and tell their people to stop dancing. Wovoka (aka Jack Wilson) died in 1932 and was buried on Paiute land. People still leave flowers on his grave.

Mysticism is an important element of any story that deals with Native America, whether those stories happened a hundred years ago, or yesterday, or even a hundred years in the future. In my fiction that mysticism takes the form of Magic Realism. If you are interested in seeing my approach to Magic Realism, check out my free short story collection Southwest Gothic Tales, my Kindle single, “Messages”, and my first novel, Owl Dreams. My second novel, Magic Popsicle Sticks, is in the capable hands of Pen-L Publishing, and will be available later this year.

The Crazy Snake Rebellion

 

Chitto Harjo

Chitto Harjo

In 1906 an eloquent Native American orator embarrassed the U.S. Senate by pointing out the ephemeral nature of Indian treaties: “This was the first agreement that we had with the white man. He said as long as the sun rises it shall last; as long as the waters run it shall last; as long as the grass grows it shall last.”

What a fantastic quote. It sounds like something Chief Dan George might have said in Little Big Man—classical Plains Indian Dialogue right? Even though Chief Dan George was Coastal Salish from B.C. Canada.

 The speaker was an Oklahoma Creek named Bill Harjo. He was better known in those days by his traditional name, Chitto Harjo—Crazy Snake (actually Snake Crazy, since Creek sentence structure is similar to Spanish). Harjo literally means recklessly brave,

Members of the Crazy Snake Rebellion

Members of the Crazy Snake Rebellion

but who wants a Native American folk hero named Recklessly Brave Snake?

Chitto Harjo failed to convince the U.S. Senate to respect the treaty of 1832. This agreement guaranteed the Creek (and other tribes) specified lands in Oklahoma after they were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes. Oklahoma was about to become a state, and the Wounded Knee massacre (1890, one year after South Dakota Statehood) was still fresh in

Jailed  "Snakes"

Jailed “Snakes”

everybody’s minds. President Teddy Roosevelt had no intention of bringing another state into the union that had independent tribal governments within its borders.

The Dawes Act created tribal roles and divided Indian land into allotments. This law had been around since 1887, but the tribes of Oklahoma, especially the Creek faction under Chitto Harjo’s leadership, had successfully resisted its implementation for years. Their legal recourse ended in 1898 when congress passed the Curtis Act that eliminated tribal governments.

Harjo was arrested in 1901 along with ninety-five of his supporters. They were sentenced in federal court to two years in Leavenworth but the sentences were immediately suspended on their promise to stop their anti-government activities. Most of the “Snakes” did stop but Harjo kept organizing opposition to allotment. He eluded arrest for ten months, but deputy marshals captured him in the spring of 1902. He and nine others were imprisoned at the Leavenworth federal penitentiary where they served their two-year sentences.

while the water flows Hauser sculpture, OK state capitol.

while the water flows
Hauser sculpture, OK state capitol.

In March of 1909, three years after Harjo’s speech to the U.S. Senate, a large number of “Snakes” gathered at the Hickory Ground Green Corn Ceremony. Much to the displeasure of white citizens, the Creek allowed many displaced Black families from Henryetta to set up a tent camp near the town. Unemployed and landless, the families resorted to stealing meat from white owned smokehouses to feed themselves.

An armed posse from Henryetta rode to the tent camp and killed several Black men. Harjo was not present at the camp, but he was held responsible for what came to be known alternately as the Smoked Meat Rebellion or the Crazy Snake Rebellion.

Four Deputies came to Harjo’s home to arrest him on March 27, 1909. Shots were fired. Two of the Deputies were killed and Crazy Snake took a bullet in the hip. A larger posse returned to Harjo’s home to find him gone. Vigilante groups roamed the vicinity pillaging Snake farms in search of him. Oklahoma Governor George Haskell called out the First Regiment of the Oklahoma National Guard to restore order.

In spite of an intensive search, Chitto Harjo was never found. It is widely believed he died of his gunshot wound and was buried in a secret location by his Choctaw friend, Daniel Bob, but rumors persisted for years that he had fled to Mexico with a number of his followers.

Cultures have been colliding in Oklahoma since long before statehood and they haven’t stopped in recent years. We mostly settle our differences peacefully these days, at least on a geopolitical scale, but those differences still exist and they provide excellent fuel for fiction. I believe Owl Dreams, and my soon to be released novel, Magic Popsicle Sticks illustrate our differences and similarities clearly. We are a real melting pot in Oklahoma; We should expect a few lumps in the gravy.

 

 

 

The Fashionable Cemeteries of Paris

Crypt in the quarries below Paris.

Crypt in the quarries below Paris.

No matter how many negative things Americans say about the French (and lets face it, the list is pretty long) we have to admit they have a lot of style. Their language sounds like poetry. They have been the vanguard of every art movement dating back to the Renaissance. They know more about wine than anyone else and lead the world in fashion and cooking. Everything in France is pretty or tastes good or both. It should come as no great surprise that the French display elegance even in death.

Jim Morrison's grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Jim Morrison’s grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery

At the end of the 18th century the principal cemetery in Paris (Holy Innocents Cemetery) was closed. It was over crowded and poorly managed and was generally considered to be an esthetic and public health menace. The bones and partially decomposed bodies were cleaned and removed to underground quarries under the city, where they are stored to this day. French entrepreneurs collected the fat from partially decomposed bodies and rendered it into soap and candles. Hopefully all of those products were used up long ago.

Chopin's grave at Pere Lechaise cemetery

Chopin’s grave at Pere Lachaise cemetery

Four new cemeteries replaced the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents: Pere-Lachaise, Montmartre, Montpasse, and Passy.

Pere Lachaise is by far the most famous. This graveyard was named for the confessor to Louis XIV, Père François de la Chaise (1624–1709), who lived in the Jesuit house on this site. It took a while for this cemetery to catch on with the fashionable Parisian dead. The first year it was open, Pere-Lachaise had only thirteen occupants.

To stir the interest of the public, the remains of famous Parisians were removed to the cemetery, including two well-known Parisian lovers (another thing the French are famous for). Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil were interned in a specially built

Man and wife retiring for eternity at Montparnasse Cemetery.

Man and wife retiring for eternity at Montparnasse Cemetery.

mausoleum. By tradition, lovers and lovelorn singles leave letters at the crypt in tribute to the couple or in hope of finding true love.

The promotion worked. Today, the cemetery and the ossuary (where bones and cremains are stored after the leases on gravesites have expired) contain what’s left of 3,000,000 bodies. In order to be buried at Pere-Lachaise you have to have an association with France. Dying there is good enough. Jim Morrison is buried this cemetery. His grave has been the subject of a great deal of vandalism. Chopin is also buried at Pere-Lachaise

Surrealistic monument at Montparnasse Cemetery

Surrealistic monument at Montparnasse Cemetery

—no graffiti on his grave, but people still leave flowers.

Many of France’s intellectual and artistic elite are buried in Montparnasse Cemetery. There are traditional monuments to Parisian police and firefighters killed in the line of duty. There is also has a large collection of monuments that depict moments in the lives of the deceased. Some Montparnasse monuments are surrealistic and even abstract.

Elaborate Cemetery Sculpture at Montmartre

Elaborate Cemetery Sculpture at Montmartre

Montmartre Cemetery (originally known as Cemetery of the Quarries) is on the site of an old gypsum quarry, which was used as a mass grave during the French Revolution. Many of the monuments in this cemetery are exquisite (if somewhat depressing) sculptures that look as if they belong in a museum rather than a graveyard.

Passy Cemetery is located in the shadow of the Eifel Tower. It is situated in the

Passy Cemetery, the most exclusive graveyard in Paris

Passy Cemetery, the most exclusive graveyard in Paris

expensive residential and commercial districts of the Right Bank near the Champs-Élysées. by 1874 the small Passy Cemetery had become the aristocratic necropolis of Paris. It is the only cemetery in Paris to have a heated waiting-room (for visitors, not for residents).

Anyone who reads my fiction (Owl Dreams, Magic Popsicle Sticks)—or my blog—knows I have a special place in my heart for cemeteries. I am especially fond of cemetery art, and some of the best funereal sculpture in the world is found in these four cemeteries. I recommend visiting the four famous graveyards of Paris if you are ever traveling in the region. It is easy to see why people are dying to get in.

Museum of the Mummies–Guanajuato

Me posed beside a monument in a Guanajuato  cemetery.

Me posed beside a monument in a Guanajuato cemetery.

I like graveyards. There’s a funeral or at least a burial scene in practically everything I’ve written. I’ve visited famous cemeteries all over the world, including: the St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, the Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the Highgate Cemetery in London, and, of course, the Pyramids of Egypt. I like the mysticism, and the elaborate tombstones, and the rituals that are part religion and part performance art.

Many people share my fascination. Otherwise they wouldn’t spend so much time and energy—not to mention money—on funerals and crypts, and all the fantastic graveyard art, especially in the old world cemeteries. Burial is not so much a way of disposing of the dead as it is a last right of passage, out of this world into the next—the

Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico

Museum of the Mummies in Guanajuato, Mexico

final act of the dearly departed after which everything will be different because they are no longer be around.

Every culture has burial and funeral customs. Some of them are solemn and some of them are just plain weird, but everybody has them—even New Age agnostics—and on a very basic level they are all the same. Whether we bury our loved ones under a twenty ton slab of granite or we scatter their ashes on the Appalachian

Standing room only in the Museum of the Mummies

Standing room only in the Museum of the Mummies

Trail, we do something that is meaningful to us, and (we hope) will be meaningful to the loved ones whether they actually know about it or not.

When I learned about the Museo de las Mommias in Guanajuato Mexico I thought: “This is right up my alley.” I thought Mexican mummies must be the product of some ancient Central American pre-Columbian culture. They had pyramids didn’t they? So maybe pyramid cultures came equipped with mummy technology.

Ignacia Aguilar (who may have been buried alive)

Ignacia Aguilar (who may have been buried alive)

Imagine my surprise. The Guanajuato mummies weren’t the product of an elaborate embalming routine. They were people who were buried in crypts roughly between the years of 1830 and 1958. Most of them died in a cholera outbreak in 1833.

In 1865 the city imposed a local tax for burials. A family could pay a one time fee of 170 pesos and be done with it. If they didn’t have 170 pesos to spare they could elect to pay the city a 50 pesos per year. If they neglected to pay, for any reason, the deadbeat dead were removed from the crypts

Fetal Mummy--advertised as the world's smallest

Fetus Mummy–advertised as the world’s smallest

and stored in a warehouse. Most of the bodies had disintegrated, but about 2% of them had mummified naturally.

The cemetery workers started charging Mexican tourists a small fee to come and view the natural mummies. Bits and pieces of the bodies were taken by tourists as souvenirs. Over the years, the warehouse became a popular destination and eventually the warehouse was turned into a museum.

 In 1958 the tax law was changed and no more bodies were disinterred but by then the museum was going strong. It gained popularity in 1970 with the release of a movie, Santo Versus the Mummies of Guanajuato, starring the popular masked wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán guanajuato.jaramilloHuerta.

The mummies were the inspiration for the short story, “The Next in Line” by Ray Bradbury. In the introduction to his collection, The Stories of Ray Bradbury, the author wrote: “The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.”

The mummies have gone on tour in the United States and have been shown in The Detroit Science Center in 2009, The West End Dallas Market in 2011, and The Natural Science

Mummy dressed in modern clothing

Mummy dressed in modern clothing

Center of Greensboro in 2012. The collection includes a fetal mummy (advertised as the world’s smallest) and the mummy of Ignacia Aguilar (who may have been buried alive). Most of the mummies are naked. A few are wearing socks (with shoes and without). Some are fully dressed in what appears to be fairly modern clothing.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. You can read my fiction and make the comparison yourself. Major scenes in Owl Dreams take place in a cemetery. There are cemetery / burial scenes in Magic Popsicle Sticks and Trial Separation (to be released soon by Pen-L Publishing), and the streets are literally littered with the dead in the Kindle short, “Messages”.

 

Vikings in Oklahoma? The Heavener Runestone

 

Before it was enclosed.

Before it was enclosed.

In 1832 a Choctaw Hunting party discovered a rock engraved with mystical symbols on Poteau Mountain. It wasn’t hard to find. This stone was twelve feet tall, ten feet wide and sixteen inches thick. It had eight angular figures chiseled into the surface about eye level. Those symbols had to mean something, and since the Choctaw didn’t know what that might be, they quickly left the area.

White hunting parties also ran across the stone from time to time. Most of them dismissed it as an Indian Rock, but in 1923 an Oklahoma school teacher named C.F. Kemmerer decided to investigate. He wrote a letter to the Smithsonian Institute in Philadelphia with a sketched representation of the symbols and asked if it was worth pursuing. He was told the symbols were a mix of Scandinavian and Gothic runes. No one came to look at the rock and the best translation they could offer was, gjomedat. No real translation at all.

Gloria Stewart Farley

Gloria Stewart Farley

In 1928, Kemmerer took 12 year old Gloria Stewart (daughter of a Heavener physician and a librarian) to see the stone. It made such a strong impression that she recalled the inscription 20 years later when she read about the discovery of the Kensington Runestone in Minnesota, believed to pre date Columbus by a century. She was living in Ohio by that time, married to Reverend J. Ray Farley, but she was inspired to send a copy of the symbols—as C.F. Kemmerer did—to the Smithsonian Institute. The Curator of the department of archeology replied. He told her of Kemmerer’s earlier communication and suggested that whoever chiseled the runes followed Scandinavian grammar.

When Gloria Stewart Farley moved back to Heavener, Oklahoma in 1950, she set

Heavener Runes

Heavener Runes

about doing her own research on the “Heavener Runestone”. She exchanged information with a number of interested parties, including: science fiction author, Frederick Pohl, cryptographer Alf Monge, and architect, Richard Nielson.

Frederick Pohl consulted a number of academic rune experts, none of whom believed the runes were an authentic pre-Nielson-Farley_Glome_Dale_2.29690536_stdColumbian message. A number of complicating factors were cited: (1) The grammar was confusing. (2) The second and the eighth rune are Scandinavian but the other runes are from a Gothic alphabet. (3) There is a small slash stroke next to the runic M that may be a ninth rune. (4) Rune writing was sometimes read right to left instead of left to right. (5) The eight rune is reversed.

All this confusion has led to a number of interpretations. Read right to left, it could be

The Runestone is enclosed in a protective house today.

The Runestone is enclosed in a protective house today.

translated “The Seven Demons”. Read left to right, it could be a simple date (1,000 A.D.), or a land claim (Glomedal—Glome’s valley), or another message that defies comprehension (gjomedat, gjnomedal).

In her book, In Plain Sight, Gloria Farley took the position that the stone was a Viking Land Claim dating around 650 A.D. She was instrumental in having a state park (now under local control) built around the stone in 1970 based on this “Official Position”. In 2011, the park lost its status as a state facility due to budget cuts and is now operated by the city of Heavener.

Recently, academic Lee Woodward (Doctor of Ministry) has developed a new theory. He believes the Heavener Runestone is a secret monument to the French Explorer LaSalle who may have been killed by the Spanish near

Dr. Lee Woodward's enhanced picture

Dr. Lee Woodward’s enhanced picture

present day Heavener, Oklahoma, during his 1686-1687 expedition.  A member of that expedition James Hiens was known for leaving arcane messages in runes that would not alert military adversaries. Woodward enhanced pictures of the runes to bring out features no one else has noticed, including: James Hiens initials, directional markers, and barely visible maps to where La Salle was murdered. He also found a drawing of a cat and has a linguistic explanation of how that image fits with his theory.

It’s safe to say that no one can speak with any unassailable authority about the origins of the Heavener Runestone. It’s a mystery, one of the things that make the state of Oklahoma a very interesting place to live—Perfect for a fiction writer.

Check out my Oklahoma fiction, loaded with Native American mysticism and written from a distinctive Oklahoma point of view: Owl Dreams, Messages, Southwest Gothic Tales (Free Download), and Magic Popsicle Sticks (Coming Soon). You can also find my stories in anthologies available on Amazon, here.

Oklahoma’s Oldest Ghost Town

"Craig Mound" at the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center

“Craig Mound” at the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center

Oklahoma has only been a state since 1907, but people have been living here a lot longer than that. There’s a quiet little spot by the Arkansas River just outside of Spiro where Native Americans lived for 8,000 continuous years. About 1,200 years ago they built a city that included earthworks mounds and a plaza laid out to match solar astronomical events (solstices and equinoxes). The people who built that city were part of a Mississippian culture that included similar settlements along all the major rivers of the south-eastern and mid-western continent. The Mississippians established religious, political, and economic ties from the

Incised Conch with central striped cedar pole / Spiro Mounds

Incised Conch with central striped cedar pole / Spiro Mounds

Gulf of California to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Spiro mounds cityand the entire Mississippian culture—thrived from 900 to 1300 A.D. Then it went into a steep decline. The city was abandoned by 1450, less than a half century before Columbus changed everything in this part of the world forever. The most probable reason for the Mississippian collapse was global climate change associated with the “Little Ice Age”.

A centuries long drought made the Mississippians’ corn based culture untenable and the population dispersed. A few holy men continued to maintain the city as a burial site and religious center for another 150 years.

 

Spiro Mounds Dwelling

Spiro Mounds Dwelling

While the Mississippian culture flourished, Sun Kings lived on top of platform mounds, higher than any other citizens. They were religious as well as a political leaders with direct connections to the supernatural. When a Sun King died, his wife and servants were strangled. Their bones were cleaned and buried along with elaborate grave goods. In the Spiro mounds city, the bones were put into a central burial chamber inside “Craig Mound”.

Craig Mound / The Great Mortuary

Craig Mound / The Great Mortuary

Over 600 complete and partial burials have been found in Craig Mound. It is the only Mississippian mound with a central chamber. Archeologists call it “The Great Mortuary”.

In 1933 a group of commercial diggers who called themselves the Pocola Mining Company acquired a lease for the Craig Mound. From 1933 until 1935 Pocola employees dug haphazardly into the burial mound, using earth moving equipment and even dynamite. The commercial diggers destroyed about one-third of the mound and sold thousands of artifacts, made of stone, copper, shell, basketry, and fabric, to collectors throughout the world.

Excavation at Spiro Mounds

Excavation at Spiro Mounds

In 1935, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a licensing requirement to protect the site and the Pocola Mining Company was shut down. OU archeologists began careful, methodical excavations a year later with the help of WPA laborers. This continued until 1941 with the beginning of U.S. involvement in WWII.

Today, the Spiro mounds site is owned and operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society. It is open to the public and special tours are conducted during solstices and equinoxes.

Sifting for artifacts at Spiro Mounds

Sifting for artifacts at Spiro Mounds

The mounds are not currently being excavated but archeologists are still exploring the site with non-invasive techniques as well as excavations.

Many anthropologists believe the early ancestors of the Muskogee speaking tribes, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole were part of the Mississippian culture. About 1,700 years ago, the Hopewell People—ancestors of the Choctaw—built the great earthwork mound, Nanih Wayah, which is still sacred to the tribe today.

When the Muskogean “Civilized Tribes” were forced-marched from their southeastern tribal lands to Indian Territory, they were actually being sent to the ancient religious center of their ancestors’ culture. The magic had waited patiently for them for 400 years.

Coincidences like this is one reason I think Oklahoma is the best place in the world for a fiction writer to live.

My first book, Owl Dreams, is a magic realism novel based loosely on Native American mysticism.My new novel Magic Popsicle Sticks also has a contemporary Native American Mystical theme and will be released from Pen-L Publishing soon. If you visit the Spiro Mounds Archeological Center, you’ll see where the magic all started.