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By Kathleen Holder on March 13, 2018

New View of the Religion Tied to Wounded Knee

Louis Warren, the W. Turrentine Jackson Professor of U.S. Western History at UC Davis, was named winner of a 2018 Bancroft Prize for his book God's Red Son: The Ghost Dance Religion and the Making of Modern America.

Warren is the second UC Davis author in two years, and the third in five years, to receive the prestigious American history prize. Last year, his colleague Andrés Reséndez won for The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. Ari Kelman won in 2014 for A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, about the Colorado site of an 1864 massacre of Cheyennes and Arapahos.

God’s Red Son, one of three Bancroft winners this year, offers a new view of the iconic Ghost Dance religion that led to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890.

That year on Indian reservations across the West, followers of the new religion danced in circles until they collapsed into trances. In an attempt to suppress this new faith, the Army killed more than 200 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek.

The Ghost Dance has been viewed by many historians as a failed effort by Indian militants to resist American conquest and return to traditional ways. Warren makes the case that the Ghost Dance helped Indians retain their identity and reshape the modern world.

The Bancroft Prize, established in 1948 by the trustees of Columbia University with a bequest from the historian Frederic Bancroft, includes an award of $10,000.

Columbia Provost John Coatsworth will present the awards at a dinner next month.

This is the fourth time overall that faculty in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science’s Department of History have received a Bancroft Prize, beginning in 1996 when Alan S. Taylor won for William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. The book also won Taylor the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes. He taught at UC Davis from 1994 to 2014.

Kathleen Holder is a content strategist in the College of Letters and Science.