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Little is known about the birth, early years, and youth of the prophet Wodziwob. What is known and remembered is his involvement in the birth of the Ghost Dance, so-called because it would call forth the dead. The Ghost Dance addressed present conditions of deprivation resulting from white incursions into tribal territories.
Wodziwob was not a shaman (medicine man) when he came to his people's aid in the late 1860s. After he initiated the dance, he demonstrated his powers, then became a shaman.
Wodziwob prophesied that the Supreme Ruler was on his way with the spirits of the departed. The world would soon be destroyed, then renewed as a paradise; the dead would be brought back to life, game animals restored; life would be eternal, and no distinction would exist between the races.
A movement is born
Wodziwob performed the first Ghost Dance around 1869. He instructed his followers to dance in a circle at night. The ritual was similar to older Paiute traditions and an earlier regional movement, the Plateau Prophet Dance, precursor of the Ghost Dance movement.
Although the people feared the dead, they turned to the prophet for guidance because they had lost so many of their relatives to epidemics, droughts, and war with the whites. The prophet predicted that immediate family members would return.
In 1869, Wodziwob prophesied that a train would come from the East. As it happened, the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Other tribes heard about the prophet and sent representatives to the reservation to consult with him. It spread to tribes in California, Oregon, and Idaho.
The return of the dead, as the prophet had envisioned, did not occur. The Ghost Dance ended on the reservation in 1872. The Paiute shaman Wovoka reintroduced the movement in 1889. Wodziwob practiced as a native doctor until his death in 1918.