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Black Elk Speaks

The Complete Edition

John G. Neihardt

Publication Year: 2014

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 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 historian 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.


Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Vine Deloria Jr.

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pp. xiii-xvi

The twentieth century has produced a world of conflicting visions, intense emotions, and unpredictable events, and the opportunities for grasping the substance of life have faded as the pace of activity has increased. Electronic media shuffle us through a myriad of experiences which would...

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Preface to the 1932 Edition

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pp. xvii-xx

The first time I went out to talk to Black Elk about the Ogalala Sioux, I found him sitting alone under a shelter of pine boughs near his log cabin that stands on a barren hill about two miles west of Manderson Post Office. I had learned that Black Elk was related to the great Chief Crazy Horse...

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Preface to the 1961 Edition

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pp. xxi-xxvi

It was during August, 1930, that I first met Black Elk. I was then working on The Song of the Messiah, which now stands as the fifth and final narrative poem in my Cycle of the West. This Song is concerned with what white men have called the “Messiah craze”— the great Messianic dream that came...

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Preface to the 1972 Edition

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pp. xxvii-xxviii

It was my function to translate the old man’s story, not only in the factual sense— for it was not the facts that mattered most— but rather to recreate in English the mood and manner of the old man’s narrative. This was often a grueling and difficult task, requiring much patient effort and...

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Introduction by Philip J. Deloria

Philip J. Deloria

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pp. xxix-xxxvi

I first read Black Elk Speaks in the early 1970s. I still have the actual copy (published by Pocket Books in 1972) and it sits beside me now, binding cracked, cover worn, pages loose. Why did I pick up the book that first time? Family legacy issues, to be sure, for my grandfather had known Black...

National and International Honors Received by John G. Neihardt

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pp. xxxvii-xxxviii

Black Elk Speaks

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1. The Offering of the Pipe

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pp. 1-4

My friend, I am going to tell you the story of my life, as you wish; and if it were only the story of my life I think I would not tell it; for what is one man that he should make much of his winters, even when they bend him like a heavy snow? So many other men have lived and shall live that...

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2. Early Boyhood

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pp. 5-12

I am a Lakota of the Ogalala band.¹ My father’s name was Black Elk, and his father before him bore the name, and the father of his father, so that I am the fourth to bear it. He was a medicine man and so were several of his brothers. Also, he and the great Crazy Horse’s father were cousins...

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3. The Great Vision

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pp. 13-29

What happened after that until the summer I was nine years old is not a story. There were winters and summers, and they were good; for the Wasichus had made their iron road* along the Platte and traveled there. This had cut the bison herd in two, but those that stayed in our country with us were...

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4. The Bison Hunt

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pp. 30-37

When I got back to my father and mother and was sitting up there in our tepee, my face was still all puff ed and my legs and arms were badly swollen; but I felt good all over and wanted to get right up and run around. My parents would not let me. They told me I had been sick twelve days...

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5. At the Soldiers’ Town

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pp. 38-41

After all the meat was dried, the six bands* of our nation that had come together about the time when the great vision came to me, broke camp at the mouth of Willow Creek and scattered in all directions. A small part of our band, the Ogalalas, started south for the Soldiers’ Town† on...

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6. High Horse’s Courting

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pp. 42-47

You know, in the old days, it was not so very easy to get a girl when you wanted to be married. Sometimes it was hard work for a young man and he had to stand a great deal. Say I am a young man and I have seen a young girl who looks so beautiful to me that I feel all sick when I think...

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7. Wasichus in the Hills

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pp. 48-56

It was the next summer, when I was 11 years old (1874), that the first sign of a new trouble came to us. Our band had been camping on Split- Toe Creek in the Black Hills, and from there we moved to Spring Creek, then to Rapid Creek where it comes out into the prairie. That evening just...

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8. The Fight with Three Stars

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pp. 57-64

We stayed at the Soldiers’ Town this time until the grass was good in the Moon When the Ponies Shed (May). Then my father told me we were going back to Crazy Horse and that we were going to have to fight from then on, because there was no other way to keep our country. He said...

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9. The Rubbing Out of Long Hair

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pp. 65-80

Crazy Horse whipped Three Stars on the Rosebud that day, and I think he could have rubbed the soldiers out there. He could have called many more warriors from the villages and he could have rubbed the soldiers out at daybreak, for they camped there in the dark after the fight. He whipped the cavalry of Three Stars when they attacked his village...

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10. Walking the Black Road

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pp. 81-86

We stayed in that country near the Bighorn Mountains for about a moon, maybe a little more. My father told me all the fighting had not done any good, because the Hang- Around- the- Fort people were getting ready to sell the Black Hills to the Wasichu anyway, and that more soldiers were...

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11. The Killing of Crazy Horse

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pp. 87-90

One night early in the Moon When the Calf Grows Hair (September) we broke camp there at Red Cloud Agency without making any noise, and started. My father told me we were going to Spotted Tail’s camp, but he did not tell me why until later. We traveled most of the night and then...

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12. Grandmother’s Land

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pp. 91-96

At the end of the Moon of Falling Leaves (October), after they had killed Crazy Horse, the Wasichus told us we must move from where we were over to the Missouri River and live there at different agencies they had made for us. One big band started with Red Cloud, and we started with...

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13. The Compelling Fear

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pp. 97-100

When the grasses were showing their tender faces again, two families of us started for our own country where we used to be happy. We had only five horses among us, because all the others had died in the cold, and we traveled on foot. It was a very rainy time. After awhile we came to All- Gone- Tree Creek. We came there in the afternoon and camped, and I thought...

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14. The Horse Dance

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pp. 101-109

There was a man by the name of Bear Sings, and he was very old and wise. So Black Road asked him to help, and he did. First they sent a crier around in the morning who told the people to camp in a circle at a certain place a little way up the Tongue from where the soldiers were. They did this, and in the middle of the circle Bear Sings and Black...

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15. The Dog Vision

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pp. 110-116

We stayed there near the mouth of the Tongue until the end of the Moon of Making Fat (June). Then the soldier chief¹ told us that we could not be in that country because we had sold it and it was not ours any more.² We had not sold it; but the soldiers took all the rest of our horses from us³ and...

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16. Heyoka Ceremony

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pp. 117-120

Twenty days passed, and it was time to perform the dog vision with heyokas. But before I tell you how we did it, I will say something about heyokas and the heyoka ceremony, which seems to be very foolish, but is not so.¹ Only those who have had visions of the thunder beings of the west can...

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17. The First Cure

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pp. 121-126

After the heyoka ceremony, I came to live here where I am now between Wounded Knee Creek and Grass Creek. Others came too, and we made these little gray houses of logs that you see, and they are square. It is a bad way to live, for there can be no power in a square. You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that...

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18. The Powers of the Bison and the Elk

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pp. 127-132

I think I have told you, but if I have not, you must have understood, that a man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed the vision on earth for the people to see. You remember that my great vision came to me when I was only nine years old, and you...

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19. Across the Big Water

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pp. 133-139

As I told you, it was in the summer of my twentieth year (1883) that I performed the ceremony of the elk. That fall, they say, the last of the bison herds was slaughtered by the Wasichus. I can remember when the bison were so many that they could not be counted, but more and more Wasichus...

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20. The Spirit Journey

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pp. 140-143

Yes, that was a happy time; but it was all over. We went to Manchester and had a show there for several moons.¹ When the show was going to leave very early next morning, three other young men and myself got lost in Manchester, and the fire-boat...

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21. The Messiah

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pp. 144-149

There was hunger among my people before I went away across the big water, because the Wasichus did not give us all the food they promised in the Black Hills treaty. They made that treaty themselves; our people did not want it and did not make it. Yet the Wasichus who made it had...

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22. Visions of the Other World

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pp. 150-155

So I dressed myself in a sacred manner,¹ and before the dance began next morning I went among the people who were standing around the withered tree. Good Thunder, who was a relative of my father and later married my mother,² put his arms around me and took me to the sacred tree...

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23. Bad Trouble Coming

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pp. 156-159

While these things were happening, the summer (1890) was getting old. I did not then know all that was going on at other places, but some things I heard, and much more I heard later. When Good Thunder and Kicking Bear came back in the spring from seeing the Wanekia, the Wasichus at Pine Ridge put them in prison awhile...

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24. The Butchering at Wounded Knee

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pp. 160-164

That evening before it happened, I went in to Pine Ridge and heard these things, and while I was there, soldiers started for where the Big Foots were. These made about five hundred soldiers that were there next morning. When I saw them starting I felt that something terrible was going to happen...

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25. The End of the Dream

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pp. 165-169

After the soldiers marched away, Red Crow and I started back toward Pine Ridge together, and I took the little baby that I told you about. Red Crow had one too. We were going back to Pine Ridge, because we thought there was peace back home; but it was not so. While we were gone, there was a fight around...

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26. Author’s Postscript

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pp. 170-172

After the conclusion of the narrative, Black Elk and our party were sitting at the north edge of Cuny Table, looking off across the Badlands (“the beauty and the strangeness of the earth,” as the old man expressed it).¹ Pointing at Harney Peak that loomed black above the far sky- rim, Black...

Appendix 1

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pp. 173-180

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Appendix 2

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pp. 181-184

When trying to understand an event as important as the creation of the book Black Elk Speaks, any additional resource can be helpful. Correspondence such as the letter below is an example of such a resource. This particular letter, from Neihardt to his close friend Julius House, gives us a glimpse into what was going...

Appendix 3

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pp. 185-236

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Appendix 4

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pp. 237-238

Dear Friend, Your letter of November 3 has just reached me and I am very happy to hear from you! I wondered why I did not hear from you. But I was sure that you would write to me, for I felt when we parted at your home in Manderson that we were friends and that you would not...

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Appendix 5

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pp. 239-241

In 1931 John G. Neihardt was not only a researcher preparing to write the story of the life and vision of the Oglala Lakota Holy Man Black Elk but was also a respected member of the staff of the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. Since 1926 he had been literary editor for the newspaper, providing the bulk of the material for “Of...

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Appendix 6

Raymond J. DeMallie

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pp. 242-266

Black Elk Speaks is arguably the single most widely read book in the vast literature relating to North American Indians. John G. Neihardt’s poetic rendering of the life story of an Oglala Lakota holy man captivates the imagination of readers, drawing them into a meaning- charged world of...

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Appendix 7

Alexis N. Petri

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pp. 267-281

Readers of John G. Neihardt may know this story. Certainly it is recorded in numerous places but it seems fitting to begin here, in the summer of 1930, with a long, dusty trip in a 1920s- model automobile from Branson, Missouri, to Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Neihardt— poet, writer, and literary...

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Appendix 8

Lori Utecht

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pp. 282-290

A casual observer looking at the circumstances that brought John G. Neihardt and Nicholas Black Elk together in the summer of 1930 might use the word “coincidence” to describe the encounter that ultimately resulted in the book Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the...

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Appendix 9

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pp. 291-296

During the Black Elk interviews, as John Neihardt has described in the preface to the 1961 edition, “a faithful record of the narrative and conversations” was kept by his daughter Enid, a skilled stenographer, and a transcript of her notes lay before him when he wrote Black Elk Speaks. To illustrate concretely how...

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Appendix 10

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pp. 297-298

John G. Neihardt spelled Lakota words as he heard them, attempting to use the sounds of English to convey the rhythm of Indian speech. Some of his translations of those terms into English were effective and evocative of deeper meanings, but they did not always get across the literal meanings...


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pp. 299-332


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pp. 333-340


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pp. 341-369

E-ISBN-13: 9780803283923
E-ISBN-10: 080328392X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803283916

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Oglala Indians -- Biography.
  • Black Elk, 1863-1950.
  • Oglala Indians -- Religion.
  • Teton Indians.
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