KICKING BEAR gained his notoriety from his participation in and leadership of the Ghost Dance movement among the Sioux Indians in the period around 1890. This religion was started in Utah in the year 1888 by Wovoka, a Paiute Indian, and within two years had spread over most of the western half of the United States. Kicking Bear had been a member of a delegation sent to Utah by the Sioux, and upon his return to the reservation became active in exhorting the Indians in the ritual of the Ghost Dance.
Records indicate that Kicking Bear was born in 1853, but the place of birth is unknown. His father was named Black Fox, and his mother's name was Wood Pecker. He was a husky, vigorous man. Kicking Bear died May 28,1904 and he may be buried in the vicinity of Manderson, South Dakota. This would make his age at his death about fifty-one years.
Kicking Bear married a niece of a Minneconjou chief, and paid the marriage price with horses which he had taken from the Crow Indians, who were always at odds with the Sioux. By his marriage to the niece of a chief, Kicking Bear became a minor band chief in the Sioux Nation, but he attracted the most attention by his advocacy of the Ghost Dance.
In order to relieve tension among the Indians following the decline of the Ghost Dance activity, a group of prominent Sioux was sent to Europe to tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Cody was touring Europe in 1890, and returned to the States that winter. Cody left Philadelphia on April 1, 1891, to return to his circus, taking with him a group of Indians, which included Kicking Bear. The Indians were a major attraction of the Wild West Show. Little was heard of Kicking Bear after his return from the tour.
A Speech by Kicking Bear
The speech given here was delivered in 1890 to a council of Sioux Indians, with no whites present. Major James McLaughlin asked Short Bull, another Sioux, who had attended the council, to repeat what Kicking Bear had said. A phenomenon of Indian oratory was the amazing memory of the speaker and the ability of the listener to remember what was said. Short Bull lost no time in passing along the speech, and McLaughlin wrote it down.
The speech was included in Major McLaughlin's book My Friend the Indian and extensive search has not revealed it printed elsewhere. The Major included it to show the willingness of the Indians to believe in almost anything that promised to remove the white man from their land. McLaughlin certainly was in a position to evaluate the speech, and while it was absurd, it showed inventiveness on the part of the speaker, who undoubtedly held his listeners under his spell.
I Bring You Word from Your Fathers the Ghosts
My brothers, I bring to you the promise of a day in which there will be no white man to lay his hand on the bridle of the Indian's horse. When the red men of the prairie will rule the world and not be turned from the hunting grounds by any man. I bring you word from your fathers the ghosts, that they are now marching to join you, led by the Messiah who came once to live on earth with the white men, but was cast out and killed by them. I have seen the wonders of the spirit-land, and have talked with the ghosts. I traveled far and am sent back with a message to tell you to make ready for the coming of the Messiah and return of the ghosts in the spring.
In my teepee on the Cheyenne reservation I arose after the corn planting, sixteen moons ago, and prepared for my journey. I had seen many things and had been told by a voice to go forth and meet the ghosts, for they were to return and inhabit the earth. I traveled far on the cars of the white men, until I came to the place where the railroad stopped. There I met two men, Indians, whom I had never seen before, but who greeted me as a brother and gave me meat and bread. They had three horses, and we rode without talking for four days, for I knew they were to be witnesses to what I should see. Two suns had we traveled, and had passed the last signs of the white man-for no white man had ever had the courage to travel so far-when we saw a strange and fierce4ooking black man, dressed in skins. He was living alone, and had medicine with which he could do what he wished. He would wave his hands and make great heaps of money; another motion, and we saw many spring wagons, already painted and ready to hitch horses to; yet another motion of the hands, and there sprung before us great herds of buffalo. The black man spoke and told us that he was the friend of the Indian; that we should remain with him and go no farther, and we might take what we wanted of the money, and spring wagons, and the buffalo. But our hearts were turned away from the black man, my brothers, and we left him and traveled for two days more.
On the evening of the fourth day, when we were weak and faint from our journey, we looked for a camping place, and were met by a man dressed like an Indian, but whose hair was long and glistening like the yellow money of the white man. His face was very beautiful to see, and when he spoke my heart was glad and I forgot my hunger and the toil I bad gone through. And he said, "How, my children. You have done well to make this long journey to come to me. Leave your horses and follow me." And our hearts sang in our breasts and we were glad. He led the way up a great ladder of small clouds, and we followed him up through an opening in the sky. My brothers, the tongue of Kicking Bear is straight and he cannot tell all that he saw, for he is not an orator, but the forerunner and herald of the ghosts. He whom we followed took us to the Great Spirit and his wife, and we lay prostrate on the ground, but I saw that they were dressed as Indians. Then from an opening in the sky we were shown all the countries of the earth and the camping grounds of our fathers since the beginning; all were there. The teepees, and the ghosts of our fathers, and great herds of buffalo, and a country that smiled because it was rich and the white man was not there. Then he whom we had followed showed us his hands and feet, and there were wounds in them which had been made by the whites when he went to them and they crucified him. And he told us that he was going to come again on earth, and this time he would remain and live with the Indians, who were his chosen people.
Then we were seated on rich skins, of animals unknown to me, before the open door of the teepee of the Great Spirit, and told how to say the prayers and perform the dances I am now come to show my brothers. And the Great Spirit spoke to us saying:
Take this message to my red children and tell it to them as I say it. I have neglected the Indians for many moons, but I will make them my people now if they obey me in this message. The earth is getting old, and I will make it new for my chosen people, the Indians, who are to inhabit it, and among them will be all those of their ancestors who have died, their fathers, mothers, brothers, cousins and wives-all those who hear my voice and my words through the tongues of my children.
I will cover the earth with new soil to a depth of five times the height of a man, and under this new soil will be buried all the whites, and all the holes and the rotten places will be filled up. The new lands will be covered with sweet-grass and running water and trees, and herds of buffalo and ponies will stray over it, that my red children may eat and drink, hunt and rejoice. And the sea to the west I will fill up so that no ships may pass over it and the other seas will I make impassable. And while I am making the new earth the Indians who have heard this message and who dance and pray and believe will be taken up in the air and suspended there, while the wave of new earth is passing; then set down among the ghosts of their ancestors, relatives and friends. Those of my children who doubt will be left in undesirable places, where they will be lost and wander around until they believe and learn the songs and the dance of the ghosts.
And while my children are dancing and making ready to join the ghosts, they shall have no fear of the white man, for I will take from the white man the secret of making gunpowder, and the powder they now have on hand will not burn when it is directed against the red people, my children, who know the songs and dances of the ghosts; but that powder which my children, the red men, have, will burn and kill when it is directed against the whites and used by those who believe. And if a red man die at the hands of the whites while he is dancing, his spirit will only go to the end of the earth and there join the ghosts of his father and return to his friends in the spring. Go then, my children, and tell these things to all the people and make all ready for the coming of the ghosts.
We were given food that was rich and sweet to taste, and as we sat there eating, there came up through the clouds a man, tall as a tree and thin like a snake, with great teeth sticking out of his mouth, his body covered with short hair, and we knew at once it was the Evil Spirit. And he said to the Great Spirit, "I want half the people of the earth." And the Great Spirit answered and said, "No, I cannot give you any; I love them all too much." The Evil Spirit asked again and was again refused, and asked the third time, and the Great Spirit told him that he could have the whites to do what he liked with, but that he would not let him have any Indians, as they were his chosen people for all future time. Then we were shown the dances and taught the songs that I am bringing to you, my brothers, and were led down the ladder of clouds by him who had taken us up. We found our horses and rode back to the railroad, the Messiah flying along in the air with us and teaching us the songs for the new dances. At the railroad he left us and told us to return to our people, and tell them, and all the people of the red nations, what we had seen; and he promised us that he would return to the clouds no more, but would remain at the end of the earth and lead the ghosts of our fathers to meet us when the next winter is passed.