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From ghost dance to ragtime, Nevada Historical Society program explores race, religion and more


Wovoka posing for photograph, Yerington, Nevada. Digital scan from original gelatin-silver snapshot in the collection of the Nevada Historical Society.

NCOT NEWS — Multi-cultural expressions of race, gender and ethnicity over several centuries will come to life in the Nevada Historical Society’s June program by Michael Hittman, emeritus professor of anthropology from Long Island University, Brooklyn at 6 p.m. Friday, June 7.

Beginning with the Ghost Dance religion born in Nevada on the Walker River Reservation and in Smith and Mason valleys, Hittman will look at people and movements that contributed to dance, music, religion and politics in a changing America.

Hittman will explore the works of Norwegian screenwriter Gunard Solberg, who wrote the book “Tales of Wovoka” following a lifetime of research on the Northern Paiute ghost dance prophet also know as Jack Wilson. He will include scholar James Mooney, who studied the ghost dancers, making recordings of nine songs, transcribed by John Phillips Sousa, Hittman said.

Also discussed in the lecture is researcher of African American theater Leonard Coleman, who reconstructed the spread of the ghost dance movement to South Dakota. It culminated in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, where a regiment of African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” rescued General Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

Hittman includes writer Eileen Pollack’s study of the Swiss-born activist Catherine Weldon, who left Brooklyn to paint four portraits of Sitting Bull, the Lakota Ghost Dance leader, and got to know him well before returning home. He will share stories of Lost Bird, an orphaned infant at Wounded Knee. The adopted daughter of a suffragette, she grew up to play Scott Joplin ragtime piano as a result of her fascination with black culture in the nation’s capitol and starred in early Hollywood films and Wild West shows.

The Nevada Historical Society is at 1650 N. Virginia St. in Reno, adjacent to the UNR campus. Free parking passes are available. For more information check out the Society’s Facebook page, go to nevadaculture.org or call (775) 688-1191. The society is managed by the state Division of Museums and History, an agency of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

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