Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The vision quest was closely related to Teton Sioux Warfare. The vision quest was a religious act whereby the Indian fasted from two to seven days and, if successful, received a supernatural guardian which aided the individual in his quest for survival. This study demonstrates that without the vision quest warfare was not possible and that warfare was a major part of visions. In addition to presentation of material which supports this concept, the thesis attempts to reverse many of the stereotypes which persist about Teton Sioux religion and warfare. The first chapter summarizes the highlights of Teton or Lakota culture and lays the groundwork for the following chapters on religion, the vision quest, and warfare. The chapter on religion stresses the importance of nature and the Indian's quest to become attuned to the supernatural so as to survive within his environment. The next chapter on the vision quest shows that this religious act was at the heart of Lakota religion because it attuned the Indian to the spiritual powers of the universe and was the vehicle by which he became one with the universe. The chapter on warfare takes a different approach. Instead of describing the idiosyncrasies underlying Lakota warfare which have been described adequately in many other studies, this chapter traces the development of a warrior from his earliest years to his actual forays, emphasizing the use of the vision quest in his war exploits. These four chapters provide the framework for the consideration of three Sioux leaders and their visions. The final three chapters are short biographies of Black Elk, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull. Each emphasizes the relationship of their visions to warfare. It is not the intention of this study to show how these visions were actually used in the practice of warfare, but merely to show how war concepts were involved in these visions. Black Elk, an Oglala holy man, received powerful visions about the future of his people. These involved war concepts, but he never used them in war because he became a holy man who sought to teach his people the importance of the spiritual forces to their continued existence. Crazy Horse is an example of how the vision was correlated to the act of war because he became his supernatural guardian and relied totally on his vision in his war exploits. The results were remarkable, and his successes followed the patterns of his visions. Sitting Bull is an example of the prophetic powers of the vision. He received many visions which foretold the outcome of battles, such as the Battle of the Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. Each vision seeker attempted to fulfill his revealed destiny but failed in the long run because a new enemy emerged. The whites overpowered the Sioux warriors and their supernatural helpers. But while the Indian wars lasted, visions and warfare were so intimately related that neither functioned effectively without the other.


Leo E. Oliva

Date of Award

Spring 1974

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 1974 Richard E. Knowland


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