The spiralling symbols on an old bison skin recorded the history of a Nakota band. Lone Dog kept the Winter count from about 1800 until 1870, relying on Yanktonais Nakota elders' memories of their youth, when the Plains were dark with bison, as well as the chronicler's own experience. Lone Dog and his people lived again for me in that coil of figures.
As if Lone Dog's hide painting were not astonishing enough, mounted near it was an early Navajo rug. Hosteen Klah was a shaman famous, and, to some traditionalists, infamous, as a weaver. Hosteen Klah was the first to preserve the sandpainting designs in woven wool. Sandpaintings are destroyed at the conclusion of Navajo rituals, so some regarded Hosteen Klah's transfer of the patterns to weaving as sacrilege. Since that time, almost a century ago, there have been many Navajo weavers. It is still a tribal art. Now the rugs are valued by collectors throughout the world as well as by members of the tribe. Angled Corn with Holy People - The Nightway Ceremony retains its beauty and its healing power.
Yet it was the Ghost Dance shirt that moved me most profoundly. The Sioux tribes were decimated and demoralized when a prophet, Wovoka, rose among them. Wovoka taught his followers chants and dances that would strengthen the warriors and make them victorious. The elaborately painted, beaded and fringed Ghost Dance shirts would repel the soldiers' bullets. If the dance were performed properly for five days, the soldiers and settlers would be driven from the land. The bison herds would return, and the old order would be restored. The dancers, alas, did not prevail. I imagined them, already Ghosts on the Plains, as the winds bore away their chants.