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Home : History : Wodziwob Biography

 
Wodziwob Biography


Wodziwob was a prophet and shaman of the northern Paiute, who is widely believed to have initiated the 1870 Ghost Dance on the Walker River Reservation in Nevada. During a dire time for the Paiute, when epidemics, drought and starvation had killed a tenth of their population, Wodziwob emerged, speaking at Round Dance ceremonies and telling the tribe that he'd visited the land of the dead, and spoken to the recently deceased. He prophesied that they deceased would return in 3-4 years, many by railway car. During this time he was quoted by a Pyramid Lake Paiute as saying, "Our fathers are coming, our mothers are coming, they are coming pretty soon. You had better dance. Never stop for a long time. Swim. Paint in white and black and red paint. Every morning wash and paint. Everybody be happy."

Wodziwob spoke not only of the dead returning, but of a better time to come. Because of his paradisiacal visions - at a time when the Paiute were struggling, and desperate – some have come to consider him a "crisis broker", one who told the people what they needed and desired to hear during this time of desperation, of crisis. He has been attributed with powers of weather control, and of curing "loss of soul", but he had skeptics as well. A visiting group of Pauites around the time of the 1870 Ghost Dance was said to have discovered that Wodziwob used dynamite in a display of power, which for some Paiutes discredited his prophecies.

It is unclear - due to contradictory accounts at the time, and opposing speculative theory - what the ceremonies that took place between 1870 and 1872 should be classified as, whether it be a Basin Plateau recurrent religious ceremonialism, also known as the Round Dance or the Prophet Dance, or an early form of the Ghost Dance. What is agreed upon is that Wodziwob initiated the ceremonies.

Wodziwob was also called Fish Lake Joe, and Hawthorne Wodziwob. It is possible that Wodziwob had the name Fish Lake Joe because he was originally from the Fish Lake Valley in Nevada. If Wodziwob did come from the Fish Lake Valley - where they have a mourning ceremony called the Cry Dance - it would explain how a ghost ceremony could have been introduced to the Walker River Paiutes who - before Wodziwob - thought of ghosts as omens of disease and death.

Michael Hittman - the preeminent scholar on the Ghost Dance and biographer of Wovoka - has introduced three possible functions of the 1870 Ghost Dance. The first function sees the ceremony as a curing rite, because Wodziwob claimed through the Ghost Dance their recently deceased family members would return to them. He prophesied specifically, a return of the dead within a 3-4 year period, in 1869, just a year after a typhoid epidemic in that area. The second function Hittman theorizes is an increasing (food) rite, which is what the Round Dances function had always been. The third possible function of the 1870 Ghost Dance would have been a kind of mourning rite, which would mean Wodziwob introduced the Cry Dance - the mourning ceremony of the Fish Lake Valley Pauites – to the Walker River Pauites, thereby blending the two ceremonies – the Round Dance and the Cry Dance – making this third and distinct Dance, which would later be known as the Ghost Dance.

It would seem Wodziwob and Wovoka - the northern Pauite Shaman who initiated the 1890 Ghost Dance - would have known each other in some capacity, them being from the same tribe, having inhabited the same areas, and them both being Shamans related to Ghost Dances that were just twenty years apart, however, there are no accounts of the two meeting or knowing each other.

Because of the lack of information about Wodziwob’s early years, it is up for debate as to whether or not he was a Shaman before the 1870 Ghost Dance, or if he became a Shaman after. It seems significant that his name - Wodziwob - translates not only as "gray hair" or "white hair", but it can also be translated as, "An individual regardless of sex who acquires Shamanistic power as an adult." This implies that Wodziwob may have actually become a Shaman because of the Ghost Dance.

The 1870 Ghost Dance and it's form, appear to have ended in or around 1872. It is understood that many people – perhaps including Wodziwob himself - became disillusioned when his prophecies didn't come true. However, Frank Spencer, also known as Weneyuga, proselytized the 1870 Ghost Dance in California, Nevada, and Oregon, and made converts amongst the Pyramid Lake Pauites, the Surprise Valley Paiutes, and the Pauites and Modocs of Klamath Valley.

It is understood that although Wodziwob became disillusioned with the Ghost Dance as a religious movement, he certainly did not lose faith in Shamanistic works, or in his own life as a healer. He is said to have been a Shaman with curative powers until the end of his life. Jack Forbes - a Walker River Reservation Indian agent - brought forth evidence which proves that Fish Lake Joe was still alive in 1912, having been arrested along with several other Shamans for practicing Shamanism. Some accounts have Wodziwob dying in 1872, but if Wodziwob was the same man as Fish Lake Joe – which seems likely - then he died in 1918, during the world wide influenza epidemic.

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