Special Indian Agent E.E. White could not have been too happy when about 400 Oglala Sioux showed up in Utah's Uinta Valley in 1886. Red Cloud, son of the famous peace chief of the same name, went straight to White and presented his papers. An Army officer at Pine Ridge Reservation had authorized Red Cloud "and a few friends" to visit the Shoshoni Reservation in Wyoming. Red Cloud had extended his trip to White Rocks Agency to swap Oglala long stem red pipestone calumets, moccasins and beadwork for Ute ponies and buckskins.
Among them, the Utes' Uinta, White River and Uncompahgre bands had 12,000 ponies. Many of them, White knew, were "really fine horses." The Oglala ponies were badly jaded, and the Indians themselves looked gaunt and hungry. White saw they needed a week to recover from their 900-mile trek from Pine Ridge. Besides, he was convinced the Oglala had come only for pleasure and posed no threat.
The Utes gave their hungry visitors supplies and beef. A few days later they invited the agent and Lt. John Parke to a celebration. The next morning about 2,000 Indians had assembled to dance and feast. White likened the feeling of the day to a Fourth of July barbecue. Three hundred dancers, 100 of them Sioux, greeted the men. One young dude, as the cowboys called the dancers, had green and yellow stripes on one side of his face, and red, white and blue stars on the other. Scores of dancers were painted as fantastically, and no two were alike. Each dancer wore between two and seven bands of sleigh bells. The sound of all those bells, White recalled, animated the Indian camp like the Marine band playing "Dixie" to a crowd of white people. The first dance took about twenty minutes. Speeches followed.
Ute leader Sowawick stepped to the center of the dancing ground and gave a speech in Shoshonean and sign language. White could not understand a word of it, but Sowawick seemed to be welcoming the guests. An Oglala leader responded with a similar oration. The dancing and singing alternated till noon when a shaman named Wash commanded total silence. Two women brought bowls filled with ceremonial cubes of stewed meat. As feast chief, Wash gave an invocation and passed Sowawick the bowl. He took a morsel, said his own prayer and dropped it into his mouth. After Sowawick nodded his approval and the crowd applauded, Red Cloud took his sacrament and the shamans served the other chiefs and dancers. At the ceremony's conclusion, the crowd scattered to their fires to feast.
White told an entertaining story about the event, but what the two tribes actually discussed in 1886 would be a much more interesting tale. Shortly after this visit, the Sioux began the Ghost Dance, which the Paiute shaman Wovoka said would resurrect the Indian dead and bring back the buffalo. The Sioux met at Pine Ridge in 1890 to perform the Ghost Dance.
In December 1890, Indian police killed Sitting Bull and the U.S. Army massacred 197 Sioux at Wounded Knee. The Ghost Dance had deep roots in native religion and striking similarities to millennial Mormonism. The Utes had practiced the Ghost Dance since 1870. Perhaps they spoke of it with their visitors in 1886. In 1906, several hundred Utes made the long march to Pine Ridge. Their dream of forging an alliance with the Sioux came to naught, but the flight of the Utes proved that Indians have long memories.
Historians Greg Smoak and Floyd A. O'Neil helped Will Bagley with this story.