Read Black Elk Speaks by Black Elk Philip J. Deloria Vine Deloria Jr. John G. Neihardt Online


Black Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crBlack Elk Speaks, the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk’s searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that crosses multiple genres. Whether appreciated as the poignant tale of a Lakota life, as a history of a Native nation, or as an enduring spiritual testament, Black Elk Speaks is unforgettable. Black Elk met the distinguished poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and asked Neihardt to share his story with the world. Neihardt understood and conveyed Black Elk’s experiences in this powerful and inspirational message for all humankind. This complete edition features a new introduction by esteemed scholar Philip J. Deloria and annotations of Black Elk’s story by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie. Three essays by John G. Neihardt provide background on this landmark work along with pieces by Vine Deloria Jr., Raymond J. DeMallie, Alexis Petri, and Lori Utecht. Maps, original illustrations by Standing Bear, and a set of appendixes rounds out the edition. ...

Title : Black Elk Speaks
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ISBN : 9780803283916
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 424 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Black Elk Speaks Reviews

  • Michael
    2019-03-08 13:37

    This is a haunting and moving transcription of interviews with the revered medicine man Black Elk of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux in 1930 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The editor, John Neihart, was a poet who was writing an epic poem about Messiah movement in the 1880’s among diverse Plains Indians and was seeking Black Elk’s perspective. Black Elk, then in his mid-60s, reflects back on a life spent trying to heal his people as a whole, not just individuals with medical problems. This mission was instilled in him from a mystical vision he had while seriously ill at age 9. In the narrative he goes into great detail about this vision for the first time because he felt it could still be important to inspire young Indians. As an outsider to this culture, much in the vision was baffling, but I could at least appreciate the poetic power of its imagery and get glimmers of the comprehensiveness of the spiritual system embodied in it. Thunder Beings swept him into the sky and take him to a mountain at the center of the world where the ideal of a tree of life flourishes and provides shelter for the community. They display to him arrays of horses acting out the meanings of the four directions on earth, the sacred hoop of the community of people, the paths that they must follow on the good Red Road and difficult Black Road, the intersection of these roads where the tree must be planted and made to flourish, and the story of the sacred pipe of peace bestowed by the White Bison in the form of a woman. He felt he failed in that life quest considering all the broken treaties and sad outcomes to his tribe from violent conflict with the U.S. Army during his youth. He was 13 when the Black Hills were taken from the tribe for its gold and was present during the Battle of the Little Big Horn of 1876, was close at hand when his hero Crazy Horse was killed while in custody. By 17 he was recognized as a medcine man and began sharing his visions. In his 20s he was caught up in the millenarian fervor of a return to Indian dominion of the West as infused in the Ghost Dance ceremonies in the 1880’s. He was devastated by the killing of Sitting Bull and his experience of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, which was incited in part by paranoia among the military about the potential threat Ghost Dancers and extreme overreaction to some Indians’ resistance to its being banned. These events are best understood by reading books of history and biography, but I felt the impact of their cultural trauma in a powerful way through the authentic voice of Black Elk: I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth—you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.After Wounded Knee, the tribe had to knuckle under, and Black Elk set out to learn more of the ways of their conquerers. He joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for several years and traveled to the big cities of the East and Europe. As usual, he dwells little on the detailed events as he lived them but focuses on the big picture. He was awed by the power of a civilization that could make railroads, steamships, and engines of war. He was moved by the kindness of individuals, like families he stayed with and the sincere respect he felt in communicating with Queen Victoria. But in no way could he see the way of life of the whites (Wasichus) as superior to that of Native peoples:I could see that the Wasichus did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation’s hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. They had forgotten that the earth was their mother.At the end of the book, Neihart takes Black Elk out to a site of spiritual significance to him, where he enacts a moving prayer of hope that the surviving roots of the sacred tree might yet be nurtured to life.The book as published in 1932 had little readership, but its translation into German inspired Jung and others, and a new English edition in 1961 reached a wider audience that peaked in the 70’s. Potential readers of the account can sample it or read it in full as web pages at First People or in a pdf version posted here.

  • Tim
    2019-03-18 15:45

    It was inspired of John Neihardt to get Black Elk to tell him his life story. It’s hard to believe anyone could have told better the story of the Lakota Nation’s demise as an autonomous, proud, wise, communal, deeply spiritual and sometimes brutal culture. Black Elk lived through the so-called “Fetterman Massacre”, the battle of the Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. He even participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and visited Paris and London where he met Queen Victoria who told the Lakota they were the most beautiful people she had ever seen. Black Elk was both a warrior and a holy man. Thus we get both sides of Lakota male culture. It’s faintly unnerving how matter-of-factly he mentions taking his first scalp at the battle of the Little Big Horn when he was still in his early teens. But it’s his depiction of his life as a holy man that is most fascinating, recounted in compelling rhythmic prose which seems to have the beat of medicine drums behind it. He was given a vision that promised to save his people but felt he was weak and had failed them. He thought seeing the world with Buffalo Bill might help him understand what he needed to do. Instead – ““I did not see anything to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus [white man] did not care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could, and so there were some who had more of everything than they could use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving. This could not be better than the old ways of my people.”He also witnessed the aftermath of the massacre at Wounded Knee which prompts one of his most famous quotes: “I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream . . . the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered.”

  • Joan DeArtemis
    2019-02-27 12:21

    This was my third time reading this book, and every time I come away with something new. I highly recommend this to anyone studying religion. I highly recommend this book to every single American citizen. It should be required reading in public schools. The Lakota people have a vibrant, exciting, living religious tradition, and the fact that Black Elk's story was recorded is a gem and a blessing. Not only is it because of the religious tradition is this book important. It is also important because Black Elk was a surviving eye witness to the Wounded Knee Massacre, as well as Little Big Horn and other important battles of his time. Most importantly, history is usually written by the victors. Yet, we have Black Elk's story. Read it with awe and with reverence.

  • Christy
    2019-03-09 09:41

    I read this years ago when I first started teaching an undergraduate "global ethics" class, and knew it was the likely the best source of Lakota (American Plains Indian tribe) philosophy and worldview. Black Elk believed that humans would not be Good if they weren't connected to each other and to the universe. Unless we knew and practiced a "oneness of humanity" (to borrow a phrase from the Baha'i' faith - a group that once gave me an award for anti-racism work in schools!) the world would more quickly be split apart and atrophy instead of gaining some strength from togetherness, including a understanding of what we should do to honor and save the earth, including each other. Black Elk was horrified at the White Man's (sic) love for things, and using people, instead of using things and loving people (to paraphrase an old saying, but it's what he essentially said, too!) I highly recommend visiting my state of Wyoming to see the Little Big Horn battlesight and museum near the Montana border to consider what Black Elk witnessed as a young man, later moving to Wounded Knee and seeing the slaughter of Native peoples by the US calvary there. He converted to Christianity, as did Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, and other great American Indian chiefs, that I always assumed was a kind of Stockholm Syndrome.I should mention that while the Lakota and some other tribes were known for its nature worship, not all native tribes in the US had such reverence for nature and care of "Mother Earth" as others, although that is a stereotype about Native beliefs (of course, full of differences that are hallmark across any group of complicated human culture!) I did like the Lakota claim, even though certainly "new Age-y", that we are psychologically and emotionally most healthy if we at least a few minutes a day connected with the earth - walking on paths or on the beach, etc..

  • Barnaby Thieme
    2019-02-24 14:48

    John Heihardt's classic is a problematic read to be sure. On the one hand, Neihardt was a sympathetic interlocutor who elicited a fascinating account from an extraordinary man who lived through several major episodes in late-19th-century history. On the other hand, his poetic pretensions led him to rearrange and dress up that testimony, adorning it with his own mediocre neo-Romantic insight, and altogether distorting the historical and cultural record. Readers of Black Elk Speaks may be surprised to look up key episodes in the volume in the raw transcripts of their conversations, only to find that they were entirely invented by Neihardt. Now, on the one hand, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Neihardt, who worked very hard in order to preserve and present a document of great power and importance. He was writing at a time when it was still widely believed that the Lakota were a "primitive people," "savage," and "uncivilized," and he labored to find an audience for their experience, with considerable success in the long run. That may explain his transformation of the plain-spoken style of the transcript into a somewhat maudlin kind of free verse, seeming to my eyes to be modeled after Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther" or the American transcendentalists. But it does not excuse some of Neihardt's wholesale inventions - especially his deep distortions of Black Elk's "Great Vision," which altogether inverted the sense and meaning of the experience, coercing it into a frame that Neihardt apparently found more congenial to his sentiments. I wrote at length about this particular problem on my blog, here: testimony itself is wondrous and invaluable, and I refer the interested reader to DeMallie's "The Sixth Grandfather" instead of "Black Elk Speaks." "The Sixth Grandfather" consists of the annotated publication of the transcripts of Black Elk's conversations with Neihardt, and presents his perspective in a much more accurate way.

  • Amy
    2019-03-21 17:49

    Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you --- the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life of things.Therefore I am sending a voice Great Spirit, my Grandfather, forgetting nothing you have made, the stars of the universe and the grasses of the earth.You have said to me, when I was still young and could hope, that in difficulty I should send a voice four times, once for each quarter of the earth, and you would hear me.Today I send a voice for a people in despair.You have given me a sacred pipe, and through this I should make my offering. You see it now.From the west you have given me the cup of living water and the sacred bow, the power to make life and to destroy. You have given me a sacred wind and and an herb from where the white giant lives --- the cleansing power and the healing. The daybreak star and the pipe, you have given from the east; and from the south, the nation's sacred hoop and the tree that was to bloom. To the centre of the world you have taken me and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother --- and there the spirit shapes of things, as they should be, you have shown to me and I have seen. At the centre of this sacred hoop you have said that I should make the tree to bloom.With tears running, O Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, with tears running I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. A pitiful old man, you see me here, and I have fallen away and have done nothing. Here at the centre of the world, where you took me when I was young and taught me; here, old, I stand, and the tree is withered, Grandfather, my Grandfather!Again, and maybe the last time on this earth, I recall the great vision you sent me. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me, but not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back to the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree!In sorrow I am sending a feeble voice, O Six Powers of the World. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O mkae my people live!" -Black Elk, at Harney Peak, SD

  • Paul
    2019-02-22 14:41

    I read an edition of this book which lists where the contents of Black Elk's telling of this portion of his life was greatly enhanced emotionally and symbolically by Neihardt. Were I not aware of these changes until after reading it, I would feel cheated and as though this book were a fake. Despite these added notes, however, the book is still fantastic, most of the perversion of the text being whiny, emotional additions and romantic lamentations Neihardt adds in his cultural guilt and ethical fervor. The inside view offered by this book is intense and beautiful. There is a wealth of scholarly work around it, grappling with the problem of whether its portrayal does justice to Black Elk because he converted to Catholicism after being confined to the reservation. Some argue he converted out of necessity for the future of himself and his children, while some argue he had a true, significant conversion experience. One writer, Stalkenkamp, gave one of those creepy, overly detailed catholic-style conversion stories, where the clothes everyone wore, etc., are listed in impossible detail for affect and ultimate "accuracy." Some are focused more on Neihardt and his inculcation of western notions of success, time, etc. into the book. Either way (and the scholarship is useful, ultimately) I really enjoyed the book and think it is extremely useful and valuable as a source to look into Native American Indian Culture.

  • Jimmy
    2019-03-18 09:43

    An abridged cd with a magnificent reading by Fred Contreras. The other day as I went to a car repair appointment, I arrived all misty-eyed and runny-nosed. Very sad story. Black Elk speaks of the creatures with roots, legs, and wings. I add the creatures that crawl and swim. And any other creatures that are left out. I hope to read the full unabridged version in book form some day so I can copy down a few quotes. Riding home from my appointment, I noticed the melting snow. The seven-day forecast was all temperatures over 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Monday, February 1, was predicted to have a high of 49 degrees. Winter didn't even start until January. Winters are getting shorter every year. And I live in Central New Hampshire. This is what we have done to this planet and continue to do. Yet ignorance and supernaturalism reign. Haters inspire people around the world. Or they turn to some sort of spiritual world. The difficult work of protecting the planet is often forgotten. Rest in peace, Black Elk. You would not want to witness this.

  • Marielle
    2019-03-08 10:22

    I read the Premier Edition, which is wonderfully annotated with historical references and clarifications on the interpretations and additions that are Neihardt's and not in the transcripts of Black Elk's words. I have had this on my "to read" list for years — everything in its time. I read this while in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Black Elk's homeland. It seemed especially powerful to read it in the very hills where he lived and walked, had visions, dreams, and went about the work of a holy man and medicine man for his people. When the thunder storms rolled in almost daily, I heard, saw and felt the storms differently than before: with Black Elk's wisdom, I understood them as "thunder beings" — living energy, so real to the Lakota holy man because of his vision, that during the winter when there were no thunder storms, he missed and longed for his friends, the thunder beings. In the Black Hills, with the buffalo reestablished and roaming freely, and saw and felt their power and energy in a way brought alive by Black Elk's reverence for these mighty creatures too. The hills were brought alive by Black Elk's words, and it was the right time and place to read and absorb this spiritual classic. A terrible beauty was wrought here and captured in Black Elk's words.

  • Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
    2019-02-25 11:46

    I do not rate, because who rates the truth? How would you even rate it?If you're American, read this. Know whose land you walk. Know whose children's and women's bodies cover that land. The very least you can do is pay respect to their memory.

  • C.g. Ayling
    2019-02-26 12:33

    “History is written by the victors, not by the vanquished.”Rarely do we have an opportunity to view history from the perspective of the vanquished. “Black Elks Speaks”, by John Neihardt, gives us another window through which we may look at the past. Neihardt’s window shows us a completely different view of history. A view in which honor and dignity belongs not to the victors, but to the vanquished.“Black Elk Speaks” grants a Lakota medicine man named Black Elk a voice, and every reader an opportunity to revisit the past. Be warned that this is not a pretty past, it is a troubled one, but one from which each of us can learn a great deal.Black Elk has a powerful voice, and Neihardt’s work lets us hear it. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the rustling of the winds, you’ll see the symbols he sees, and you’ll understand that deep down, Black Elk was simply a human – just like you or I.Black Elk, was one of the vanquished. As a youth, he survived the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. Fourteen years later, in 1890, he managed to escape death at the Wounded Knee Massacre. Neihardt’s work is presented as a narration of Black Elk’s words, it includes but is not limited to these incidents.I have long held that there are two sides to truth. “Black Elk Speaks” is the other side of the truth Americans generally see. Through Neihardt’s lens the glorious past does not look as glorious, it looks downright shameful.What is “Black Elk Speaks”?It is not some fanciful romanticized Cowboys and Indians tale of the sort on which I was raised. It is another version of the truth, one in which an honorable, dignified, and ancient culture were systematically cheated, misled, murdered, and ultimately destroyed in the name of western progress.It is a powerful revelation of how misuse and abuse of power inevitably results in tragedy. It is a tale of rampant greed allowed to go entirely unchecked. It is a tale of a government spurring its people on, allowing them to ride roughshod over those who get in the way of their vision of progress. It is a tale of symbolism misunderstood. It is a tale of tragedy.Is “Black Elk Speaks” a fun read? Absolutely not. It disturbed me deeply to learn that, in regard to US History, I had never been told the whole truth. Equally disturbing is the realization that came with this knowledge, that many of the supposed truths I had accepted were so badly biased toward one side that they amounted to outright lies.Why read something that isn’t enjoyable? Where do you derive enjoyment and satisfaction, from learning, or from being blissfully unaware?If we can’t learn from the past, then we should hold no hope for the future. Black Elk Speaks grants us a glimpse of a past in which many mistakes were made. It really is a learning opportunity for the future.“Black Elk Speaks” is not a “story” or a “tale”, it is another peoples’ truth.If you're interested, you may find my further thoughts on “Black Elk Speaks” on my blog, located on the web at

  • *Giulia*
    2019-03-18 14:42

    4.5Ho ritrovato questo libro tra quelli delle elementari. Ammetto fosse una lettura insolita, ma sono certa che nell’anno in cui la maestra ce lo impose, le madri ne avranno parlato tra loro nei circoli di golf, e allora avranno pensato fosse molto chic per noi leggerlo. Peccato che non l’avessimo mai finito, ho ritrovato il segnalibro a metà. E peccato, che non ne avessi capito una mazza, di sicuro. A distanza di tempo mi son ripromessa di leggerlo di nuovo, e l’ho preso ora per puro caso, per questa sfida. Ne ho capito di più d’allora? Sicuramente, ma ha i suoi lati positivi e quelli negativi. Partendo dagli ultimi posso dire che le “visioni”, siano esse buddiste, islamiche, di chiunque, o sioux in questo caso, mi fanno venire l’orticaria. Alce Nero si ammala gravemente da bambino, e sostiene di aver avuto una visione in quei 12 giorni di malattia. E come ogni visione è un trip allucinogeno, con tanti numeri e animali, che per capirne la simbologia devi essere drogato immagino. Ok, sono scettica, credo che fosse il sogno di un bambino e nulla più, credo le suggestioni siano molto potenti in tutti. Quello che veramente mi è piaciuto del racconto, è l’insieme di memorie che raccontano il periodo storico. Di come i bianchi alla ricerca dell’oro abbiano invaso le loro terre, delle battaglie e della vita di tutti i giorni. E mi son resa conto che c’era molta crudeltà da entrambe le parti, seppure per motivi diversi. Gli indiani vivevano di fatto come selvaggi, facendosi anche a pezzi fra loro per la ruberia di un cavallo. Questo non li pone al di sopra o al di sotto dei bianchi, ed esula da ogni giudizio. Il bello della lettura, è proprio vedere, anzi sentirsi raccontare, com’è stata la vita per un uomo molto diverso da noi. Lettura fortemente consigliata!

  • Leisa
    2019-03-09 17:43

    I don't exactly know how to 'star' this book, so I won't.All of the metaphorical + verbal clichés used relative to the time period this was written in are extremely annoying to read repeatedly & makes this feel even more inauthentic & embellished than I already know it is. A Native American man who could not speak English would not be speaking in these clichés that were completely foreign to him & his culture. Not only is this annoying to me, it is offensive. Even though Black Elk's words + ideas were filtered through a translator I think more care should have been taken to not make him sound so 'white' / European, when this is already an obviously sensitive issue. I did love reading about his visions, especially the Thunder Beings. Although I do not think for one minute that I'm getting the purest rendering of them or other 'history' throughout the book. But, at the same time, this was also magically surreal to read, because I unknowingly (at first), during my reading of this had been sharing some words with Black Elk's great-great-grandson, a very successful actor (ect.), who just happens to play the part of a Medicine / Holy man in one of my very favourite parts of my favourite movie of all time... 'Dreamkeeper'. Always with the beautifully strange & dreamlike timing in my life.

  • Sophfronia Scott
    2019-03-22 17:35

    I had the tremendous experience of reading this important work while staying in the Black Hills of South Dakota and visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation, both areas described in detail. I also met Black Elk's granddaughter Betty, a noble and kind-hearted woman who welcomes hungry travelers daily for a home-cooked meal in the small restaurant she runs out of her house on the reservation. She told me how her grandfather dictated the book on the property and where he sat under the trees with John Neihardt. I know I was transformed both by the experience of walking the Lakotas' sacred lands and of reading this book. I hope to write more as I process it over time.

  • John
    2019-03-02 17:37

    This is the story of the life of the Oglala Sioux holy man and the ways, culture and late 19th century history of his and surrounding Native American tribes. This was told by Black Elk himself to the author. Black Elk had a vision as a young boy while very sick that influenced him throughout his life. The book’s descriptions of his unfolding interpretation of this vision and his experience of the difficult events marking the history of the USA’s relationship with native Americans provides insights into the social norms, religious beliefs and philosophical and psychological understandings of the plains Indian tribes—not to mention a native American’s first-person perspective of the actions of the US during this time. I would like to read this book again to more deliberately look at Black Elk’s various visions (he had more than one) through psychological and archetype-mystical lenses. It is easy to see how psychological pain experienced by someone living while his people and culture’s way of life is destroyed could produce such affect resulting in visions of the types that Black Elk had that were characterized on one hand by ominous forebodings and on the other by glimpses of a promised land.Although harder for our scientific western culture to fathom, it is also possible to see these visions as visions, experienced by a person who was open to them by either illness or ability. Either way, whether such visions were ego-based & psychologically driven or visions in the mystical, spiritual sense—Black Elk’s descriptions of how he progressively came to understand them and use them, their imagery and associated feelings to guide his life paints a picture of a culture very different and more mystical in nature than ours. We often make comments in our culture along the lines of, “when I quit looking for X, X just naturally showed up” or, “when I quit trying so hard for X, X just fell right into my lap.” Or “Everything happens for a reason”. Such comments generally imply that there is a natural order to things and point in the direction of a belief that when one makes an effort to be balanced there is an attunement with “the universe” that increases the probability of good things happening. So while on the surface, Black Elk’s explicitly conscious effort to guide his life by these visions may seem particularly strange to us, it is clear that we do harbor at least some similar conventions of faith and belief. Given the stories surrounding Black Elk’s life, one can wonder if such attunement were possible, could there be competencies involved? While one perhaps could not change the course of history, is it possible that one could at least influence events for the benefit of one’s family and friends—as it appears Black Elk did—if one explicitly attempts to order one’s life in an “attuned” way?

  • Alarie
    2019-03-12 13:41

    This book has been on my wish list for several years. I finally checked it out of the library. I’ve long been fascinated by the metaphor, imagery, and poetry of Native American myth and legend. That’s why I wanted to read this book, but I also believe we Americans have a responsibility to honor and listen to the heritage of the people we exterminated. History is reported through the eyes of the victors, who discount the cost to the other side.This is obviously a brutal, violent, and grim story. Black Elk fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn when he was only 14. In his late 20s, he witnessed the massacre at Wounded Knee. He saw his people robbed not only of their land, but of their horses, guns, mobility, customs, and way of life. Despite that, when he gave these interviews in his late 60s, he was able to read people for what was in their hearts. Instead of being bitter toward all white men (the fork-tongued, who didn’t honor their treaties), he acknowledged all those who had done him good or impressed him. This included Queen Victoria, priests, Wild Bill Hicok, and the author, Neihardt, who was Poet Laureate of Nebraska at one time.Black Elk was a warrior by necessity, but his main role within his tribe, the Ogala Lakota, was as a visionary, medicine man, and leader. For this reason, the book is nicely balanced: the beauty of his visions and ceremonies, his fondness for family, and the tribe’s respect for nature to offset some of the hard-to-stomach history. I especially loved that the 19th c. Lakota called Canada "Grandmother’s Land,” for Queen Victoria, whom he shook hands with in London. Another detail that touched me was Black Elk's sorrow at being forced to live in square houses. His people lived in round tepees, not only to be mobile, but because circles hold power and life (like round wombs, the sun and moon).

  • Carolyn
    2019-03-17 11:49

    This expands my knowledge of the Native American culture. Black Elk's vision of the sacred tree and the hoop tend to go along with some of my thoughts. However his vision was from a very masculine perspective and had only little reference to the feminine aspects. Black Elk lived in the time of the battle of The Little Big Horn and the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He went to Europe with Buffalo Bill and met Queen Victoria. His experiences with the Ghost Dance were intriguing. The fact that he ended his life as a Catholic also interest me. Somehow he combined the spirituality of both. I wonder how he did this. This book encourages me to read more about the Ghost Dance and learn about the Messiah that came to the Native Americans. Is it possible that they were visited by Jesus and misinterpreted the vision he showed them? Did they look for a worldly or secular savior instead of a spiritual one? They expected to be protected by bullets but were not. More to study and think about.

  • Gail
    2019-02-21 17:37

    What a powerful story. Black Elk agreed to interviews with the author, and revealed for the first time a series of visions he had while ill as a 9-year-old child. He carried the weight of the visions for the remainder of his life, and continued to experience visions for most of his adult life. Black Elk describes, with help from some old friends present during some of the interviews, the coming of white settlers to the land held by native Americans, the selling out of some tribal leaders and the consequent herding of the majority of Indian tribes into what he calls 'islands' and being ambushed and killed en masse. It is a shocking story, and he and his friends describe the battles with white soldiers. Black Elk and some other native Americans agreed to go to Europe for awhile to be in shows staged by some promoter. Black Elk went thinking he would learn something about whites that would help him save his people, but was really exploited and--apparently--lucky to ever get back home. This is a riveting story.

  • Terry Madden
    2019-03-20 11:39

    It's hard to believe that people like Black Elk lived through a span of history that so thoroughly crushed a way of life. He lived from the time of Lakota independence, with bison enough for all and the freedom to travel the land wherever they wished, to the horror of Wounded Knee and the end of a way of life. His story is a microcosm of native destiny. Very powerful reading.

  • R.G. Phelps
    2019-03-02 11:42

    Black Elk Speaks is the life story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Black Elk tells his story to John G. Neihardt saying early on that it is not the tale of a great hunter or of a great warrior, or of a great traveler; as it is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell. Black Elk shares the many disappointments in his life caused by the many broken treaties of the Wasichus (A term used to designate the white man, but having no reference to the color of his skin). Black Elk was born in the Moon of the Popping Trees (December) on the Little Powder River in the Winter When the Four Crows Were Killed (1863). He was three years old when his father's right leg was broken in the Battle of the Hundred Slain (The Fetterman Fight, commonly described as a "massacre," in which Captain Fetterman and 81 men were wiped out on Peno Creek near Fort Phil Kearney, December 21, 1866). His father limped until the day he died, which was about the time when Big Foot's band was butchered on Wounded Knee in 1890. Black Elk tells about the Wounded Knee massacre toward the end of his story. When Black Elk was nine years old he had a Great Vision. He said that the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills (But anywhere is the center of the world," he added). Black Elks "Great Vision" led him to become a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux eight to nine years after receiving it. He could not use the abilities gained from the "Great Vision" as a Medicine or Holy man until he acted it out with the help of another Medicine man. Black Elk shares the many trials that his band of Oglala Sioux went trough while being mistreated by the Wasichus (white soldiers) as well as the many broken treaties they suffered through along the way. All of the Native Americans living his area around Pine Ridge and the Black Hills were mistreated, and were forced to sell their land even though they didn't want to. Even after parts of the land were taken through unfilled promises these Native Americans were mistreated, with unfilled promises and less food and supplies than were promised them. The white man wanted the land for its gold, killed all the buffaloes that was the main source of the Native Americans food supply at the time, and even massacred many of them throughout the period of Black Elks Life. He tells of the Great Chiefs in the area at that time; Red Cloud and Crazy Horse. He said that Crazy Horse was one of the greatest Ogalala Chiefs and how he did so many things to help his people, but was killed by a soldier at Fort Robinson (Soldiers' Town).I was amazed after reading "Black Elk Speaks" both by their beliefs and religions as well as the depth of their ability to utilize their visions. Also, how their Medicine & Holy Man were able to utilize their healing skills to heal their people utilizing herbs and special treatments for everything from stomach problems to snow blindness. You will not like how the Native Americans were treated and maybe will have a better understanding why some of them feel and act like they do to this day. We all should read this history to have a better knowledge where the Native Americans history comes from and how their beliefs and medical and religious treatments were developed. Read this book with an open mind, allowing Black Elk to Speak to you...

  • Laura (booksnob)
    2019-02-20 13:48

    John G. Neihardt met Black Elk in 1930. When they met, Black Elk recognized Niehardt as the man he must teach his vision to, so that it might be saved before he died. Niehardt reflects, "His chief purpose was to 'save his Great Vision for men.'"pg. xix At this time Black Elk was old, going blind and he lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place in 1890. Black Elk was a holy man, a visionary and a healer. He was also related to Crazy Horse through his father. Black Elk Speaks is the true history of the conflicts between the U.S. Government and the Plains Indians from the Native American perspective. Black Elk begins by describing his childhood and his sacred vision and from there he details the coming of the white man to the Black Hills, and the battles that ensued like The Battle at Little Big Horn. He talks about Crazy Horse and how he died, the killing of the buffalo and the Native way of life, and the horrible reservations they were forced on. He teaches about the coming of the Indian Messiah, Wovoka, and The Ghost Dance, Black Elk participated in, and the massacre at Wounded Knee. Everyone who travels to the Black Hills in South Dakota needs to read Black Elk Speaks. It will provide you with a comprehensive history of the area as well as important geographical places sacred to the Plains Indians. You will learn about the spiritual world of the Lakota, the medicine wheel, the six grandfathers, the importance of visions and the four directions. I read many parts of this book to my children as we traveled to the places that Black Elk speaks about in the book.Reading Black Elk Speaks was an amazing experience for me while in the Black Hills. I spent some time on the Pine Ridge Reservation (where Black Elk lived) while in the Badlands. I drove for miles and miles and noticed how beautiful the landscape is but could not believe how sparse and desolate the reservation appeared. I wanted to go to the site of Wounded Knee. We stopped at the Indian cultural center and I talked to the man working there. It was 7 pm at this time, we needed gas and food and we were still 2 hours away from where we were staying in Hill City. We got gas another 10 miles up the road where there were two pumps, and a long line to get gas and they accepted cash only. The convenience store seemed like the only store in a 40 miles radius (at least from where I drove from). Black Elk Speaks shows the hope and pride of an Indian nation fighting to preserve their traditional way of life. Today, the people are living on a reservation that is extremely poor, has a high alcoholism rate, a high dropout rate and are still fighting to maintain their cultural rights. We need to return to Black Elk's vision and embrace it.

  • Liz
    2019-02-23 12:40

    At first glance, this is an interesting book, though personally not particularly my favorite topic. But if you look further into the book, there are just too many discrepancies between Black Elk's life and the story that is written. In writing a life-history it is very important to take into consideration the producer (Neihardt) and the process, in order to understand the product. Neihardt sought Black Elk because Neihardt was writing an epic poem, and he needed to talk to an old spiritual leader that was alive during the Battle of the Little Horn and the Massacre of Wounded Knee, and who danced in the Ghost Dances. He had no interest in creating a life-history, that developed after the first meeting. They had a good relationship, but it was obvious they each had their own intentions, which were not the same. Neihardt wrote this "life-history" of Black Elk only up to the Massacre of Wounded Knee...but that was hardly the end of Black Elk's life. Neihardt poetically alters the wording so that Black Elk is perceived as this guilt-ridden "pitiful old man," who regrets his inability to fulfill his vision of saving his nation, but in reality, he is only 28, and only one part of his life is revealed, which is decided by Neihardt. Black Elk converted to Christianity, became Nicholas Black Elk, and became a very influential catechist...but this entire part was left out. Some argue Black Elk converted out of necessity, but it seems that he full heartedly embraced the spirituality of Christianity, and found many similarities between Christianity and Lakota religion. Neihardt might have had good intentions, but I believe his own reasons behind writing this life-history overshadow the life-history itself, and therefore is wrongfully denoted as Black Elk's life history. I would recommend reading DeMallie's The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt in follow-up to Black Elk Speaks.

  • Derek Davis
    2019-03-22 17:33

    There's a danger when the words of a native are arranged and tidied by a non-native that you can end up with a strange and suspicious amalgam. Though Neihardt did not speak Black Elk's Lakota dialect and Black Elk spoke no English, I don't see that here. If Neihardt embellished or skewed, he left no traces. What we are left with are the reminiscences of an aged, dispirited but honest and upright Native American who lived through the worst of our country's almost indifferent genocidal onslaught yet somehow kept his dignity intact.Black Elk relates, in astonishing detail, a vision he had while nine years old, during a long, feverish state near death. Though told in the vision that he would be given the power to save his people and "restore the hoop of life," he could not trust that he was worthy of such a duty and let the vision lie fallow until the age of 17, when it ate into him, bringing on depression and anxiety. With the help of medicine men and members of his Oglala tribe, he reenacted the vision and gained a measure of the promised power, enough to help heal the sick.Later, in the worst of the worst, he relates his insider recollections of the Little Big Horn (a blur of chaotic hand-to-hand fighting) and Wounded Knee (a landscape littered with dead women and children). As often hit by doubt as by inspiration, Black Elk never seems to feel that he was the proper person to have been handed the task given him. In the end, the hoop lies broken, irreparable, his people caged and useless.What were these visions? What did he actually see? Was he a true psychic or victim of a brain malady akin to grand mal? There's no way to know, but he was a man who lived as true to himself as it seems possible to accomplish, who knew some success and a foreordained larger failure. Would that he had lived in a better time.

  • Kat
    2019-03-02 10:31

    I'm trained to be suspicious of stories like this: an old Lakota shaman decides to tell all about his previously secret visions to a white poet so he can write them in English and publish them. ??! But a shallow-digging internet search does not turn up anything suggesting against this, so okay.So, okay. Black Elk fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn AND the Wounded Knee Massacre, AND travelled to Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, AND he was a powerful shaman who was taken on numerous spirit journeys. This book is a memoir of the first thirtyish years of his life, not-so-ghostwritten by John Neihardt, a white Nebraskan poet. (Earlier editions list Neihardt as the sole author, while later editions list Black Elk or both of them.) The story is amazing, obviously, and the language (however accurate) is beautiful. The parts that really push it over the edge for me are the passages when Black Elk speaks about his heartbreak over the sense that he failed to live up to his calling as a savior of his people--the way his intensely personal spiritual experiences are completely inseparable from his historical understanding and lived experiences of famous events. I don't think I've encountered another work that has so grounded and humanized historical events for me.

  • karlito delacasa
    2019-03-03 12:35

    "Vous avez remarqué que toute chose faite par un indien est dans un cercle. Nos tipis étaient ronds comme des nids d'oiseaux et toujours disposés en cercle. Il en est ainsi parce que le pouvoir de l'Univers agit selon des cercles et que toute chose tend à être ronde. Dans l'ancien temps, lorsque nous étions un peuple fort et heureux, tout notre pouvoir venait du cercle sacré de la nation, et tant qu'il ne fut pas brisé.Tout ce que fait le pouvoir de l'Univers se fait dans un cercle. Le ciel est rond et j'ai entendu dire que la terre est ronde comme une balle et que toutes les étoiles le sont aussi. Les oiseaux font leur nid en cercle parce qu'ils ont la même religion que nous. Le soleil s'élève et redescend dans un cercle, la lune fait de même, et tous deux sont rond.Même les saisons forment un grand cercle dans leur changements et reviennent toujours là où elles étaient. La vie de l'homme est dans un cercle de l'enfance jusqu'à l'enfance, et ainsi en est-il pour chaque chose où l'énergie se meut.""Les Wasichus nous ont mis dans ces boites carrées (maisons), notre pouvoir s'en est allé et nous allons mourir parce que le pouvoir n'est plus en nous.Nous sommes des prisonniers de guerre tant que nous attendons ici. Mais il y a un autre monde."Hehaka Sapa, ou Black Elk, indien Oglala, branche des Dakotas (Sioux)

  • Matt
    2019-02-19 11:26

    Black Elk’s was an atypical member of the Sioux Nation, due in large part to his youthful visions and eventual emergence as a Sioux Medicine man with prophetic and healing powers. His remarkable experiences provide a deep insight into the Sioux relationship with nature. By the time John Nehring, author of Black Elk Speaks, interviews Black Elk, he is near the end of his life. Black Elk is risking much in revealing the sacred details of his life story to a white man, but feels it necessary in order to preserve his sacred visions and message for posterity. His visions consist of detailed symbolism and instructions he received from his Grandfathers. These instructions constitute Black Elk’s life mission, a mission that in his twilight years he feels he has failed to accomplish. Unable to turn his nation from an inevitable course of subjugation and occupation by the white man, Black Elk dies alone, in a square house on the Sioux reservation in South Dakota, believing he has lost all divine power and that he has ultimately failed to restore the blossoming tree of life within his nation’s circular hoop. His last hope is to put his vision, and ultimately his life in print to the betterment of those who come after him.

  • David Monroe
    2019-02-20 17:31

    The story of an Oglala Souix Shaman, Black Elk, cousin of Crazy Horse. He witnessed the battles of Big Horn and Wounded Knee. He tells his story through a translator, to the poet Neihardt.I read this in High School and again when I worked as the historian for the Pres. Benjamin Harrison Home. Harrison was the Pres. during the Wounded Knee battle and I needed to refresh the story and started an educational program using some quotes from this, Harrison letters, tlelgrams, news paper reports, ets. It was brave of the Board to allow me to do that. It was pretty audacious to do. I just felt strongly that Harrison, after reading his letters and getting to know his voice and mind, really hated that this had happened but was trapped by being a product of his time. We can't judge the past, just present it and learn from it.

  • Ryl
    2019-03-22 10:44

    The life story of Black Elk, a Lakota healer, during the Indian Wars of 1860-1890. Black Elk grew up in the thick of it all, constantly moving away from the Wasichus with his people, watching his land disappear, and having visions about how he could help the people save their way of life. He had a pretty interesting life: he joined up with Buffalo Bill's Wild West show for a few years, he was involved in several battles, and he was at the massacre at Wounded Knee all before he was thirty. The best part, to me anyway, is how he revealed his visions to his people and the good it did them. It's not the feel-good book of the year, but there is a slight hope at the end. Ernest Hemingway could learn how to write a hopeful rainy ending from Neihardt and Black Elk.

  • Brandon
    2019-03-14 12:31

    wha? i read this in a class where the blond/blue eyed professor thought he was native american.

  • Karen
    2019-02-24 17:43

    Although this work was produced under conditions that make a modern historian cringe (Black Elk to translator to transcriber to editor - decades after the events), it remains a core work for both modern natives and historians alike. Black Elk was one of the most influential natives of his generation and this story, recorded when it was, helped to bridge the gap of knowledge and declining native spirituality across the 'lost generations' of the reservation and boarding school Indians through to the 1960s founders of Red Power movement. Black Elk's beliefs as they were recorded in this work became a core component for this movement and Alvin Josephy used a quotation from Black Elk to begin his foundational compendium "Red Power". (Intriguingly in the quotation he used, Josephy mistranslated 'Wasichus' as "white men," which Black Elk made clear meant "other" or "outsider" and did not connote a specific race.) Black Elk was one of the few survivors of the Battle of Wounded Knee, which became a rallying cry for the Indians of the 1960s, thus giving his story even more weight and purpose for the modern generations. For historians this work flawed as it is, still provides valuable insight into topics for which first person narratives are difficult to find, and it is a very in depth view into an otherwise hidden world of the importance of dreams, coming of age, and spiritual beliefs and practices. This should be a must read for all Native Americans and Native American Historians.