The Pine Grove Hills is a small mountain range in western Nevada. The area features a wide variety of natural life, including golden eagles, sage-grouse, and bighorn sheep. Located south of Carson City and the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation, this area played a major role in the life of the prophet Wovoka and the wider Ghost Dance movement. Wovoka—Paiute for “woodcutter”—also went by the name Jack Wilson and worked on the Wilson farm and in the surrounding areas. These hills secured his occupation, and many of his most notable acts took place here, such as his famous ending of a drought. The Pine Ridge Hills were an ideal location for logging because of the Pine and Juniper-Pinyon trees scattered throughout.
While Wovoka worked in these hills on New Year’s Day of 1889, a solar eclipse occurred. During this eclipse that Wovoka saw a vision in which he witnessed the coming of Jesus Christ to the American continent, the renewal of the land, and the resurrection of all the deceased Natives. The instructions to bring about these events founded the Ghost Dance movement. Wovoka spread the news and direction that he received to other nations via telegraph and rail technology. This message, outlined in his famous “Messiah Letter” went to many tribes including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota. The practice of this religion by the Lakota led to the death of Tatanka Yotanka and the Wounded Knee Massacre two weeks later on December 29, 1890. Despite this deadly result, the Ghost Dance demonstrated one of the most widely accepted forms of religious syncretism in an era of religious intolerance and marked the beginning of new Pan-Indian movements that defined Native history in the twentieth century. While these events are often cited in the history of the Ghost Dance, this area often receives little attention for its role in the development of Wovoka as a spiritual figure. Despite this common oversight, in 2014 an area of the Pine Grove Hills was named the “Wovoka Wilderness” in recognition of the location’s history.