Dreamer-Prophets of the Columbia Plateau: Smohalla and Skolaskin

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University of Oklahoma Press, May 1, 2002 - Social Science - 272 pages
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Seekers after wisdom have always been drawn to American Indian ritual and symbol. This history of two nineteenth-century Dreamer-Prophets, Smohalla and Skolaskin, will interest those who seek a better understanding of the traditional Native American commitment to Mother Earth, visionary experiences drawn from ceremony, and the promise of revitalization implicit in the Ghost Dance.

To white observers, the Dreamers appeared to imitate Christianity by celebrating the sabbath and preaching a covenant with God, nonviolence, and life after death. But the Prophets also advocated adherence to traditional dress and subsistence patterns and to the spellbinding Washat dance. By engaging in this dance and by observing traditional life-ways, the Prophets claimed, the living Indians might bring their dead back to life and drive the whites from the earth. They themselves brought heaven to earth, they said, by “dying, going there, and returning,” in trances induced by the Washat drums.

The Prophets’ sacred longhouses became rallying points for resistance to the United States government. As many as two thousand Indians along the Columbia River, from various tribes, followed the Dreamer religion. Although the Dreamers always opposed war, the active phase of the movement was brought to a close in 1889 when the United States Army incarcerated the younger Prophet Skolaskin at Alcatraz. Smohalla died of old age in 1894.

Modern Dreamers of the Columbia plateau still celebrate the Feast of the New Foods in springtime as did their spiritual ancestors. This book contains rare modern photographs of their Washat dances.

Readers of Indian history and religion will be fascinated by the descriptions of the Dreamer-Prophets’ unique personalities and their adjustments to physical handicaps. Neglected by scholars, their role in the important pan-Indian revitalization movement has awaited the detailed treatment given here by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown.

 

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Contents

The DreamerProphet Milieu
3
Smohalla of the Wanapams
17
The Land of Smohalla and Its Environs Page
18
TheYantcha
19
The Creed
29
Symbol and Ceremony
41
The Wanapams and Surrounding Tribes
50
Rendezvous for Renegades
51
Whitestone Village and Its Environs
134
The Encroaching Whites and the Shaking Earth
138
The Sanpoils the Nespelems and Surrounding Tribes
141
The Preaching
146
The BlackRobe Challenge
153
The Coming of Moses and Joseph
163
Indian Villages in the Vicinity of the Sanpoil and Nespelem Rivers
167
A Tale of Two Prisons
175

The Dreamer and the General
70
The Demise of Smohalla
88
Skolaskin of the Sanpoils and Nespelems
125
Reservations and Other Places Affecting Smohallas Ministrations
126
Skolaskins Sanpoil Heritage
127
The Crippling
133
The Shearing
186
DreamerProphets Today
199
Notes
204
Bibliography
236
Index
247
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About the author (2002)

Robert Ruby, author of Jericho, has worked as the Baltimore Sun bureau chief in Paris & in the Middle East. He now lives in Baltimore & is an editor at the newspaper.

John A. Brown was Professor Emeritus of History at Wenatchee Valley College, Washington. He is coauthor of numerous books, including Indians of the Pacific Northwest: A History .

Herman J. Viola is Director of Quincentenary Programs in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

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