Black Elk Speaks


The book Black Elk Speaks was written in the early 1930\'s by author John
G. Neihardt, after interviewing the medicine man named Black Elk. Neihardt was
already a published writer, and prior to this particular narrative he was at
work publishing a collection of poems titled Cycle of the West. Although he was
initially seeking infor-mation about a peculiar Native American religious
movement that occurred at the end of the 19th century for the conclusion his
poetry collection, Neihardt was instead gifted with the story of Black Elk\'s
life. Black Elk\'s words would explain much about the nature of wisdom as well
as the lives of the Sioux and other tribes of that period.
The priest or holy man calling himself Black Elk was born in the
December of 1863, to a family in the Ogalala band of the Sioux. Black Elk\'s
family was well known, and he counted the famed Crazy Horse as a friend and
cousin. Black Elk\'s family was likewise acknowledged as a family of wise men,
with both his father and grandfather themselves being holy men bearing the name
Black Elk. The youngest Black Elk soon experienced a vision as a young boy, a
vision of the wisdom inherent in the earth that would direct him toward his true
calling of being a wichasha wakon or holy man like his predecessors. Black
Elk\'s childhood vision stayed with him throughout his life, and it offered him
aid and wisdom whenever he sought it. It is from the strength of this vision,
and the wisdom in his heart that Black Elk eventually realized his place as a
leader and wise man in the Ogalala band of the Sioux.
The wisdom possessed by Black Elk is immediately present in his
recollections of various lessons learned by himself and by others. These stories
ran the whole gambit of life experiences from the most innocent acts of a boy in
love, to the hard les-sons learned from the treachery of the whites. Through
these stories a greater insight can be gained into the ways of the Sioux, as
well as lessons into the nature of all men. Most important in these lessons on
the nature of man was wisdom, and in all of Black Elk\'s recollections somewhere
a deeper wisdom can be found.
The story of High Horse\'s Courting stands out as a perfect example of
one of Black Elk\'s narratives. Typically, Black Elk\'s narratives try to bestow
a lesson (or les-sons) that the listener can learn from, just as the subject of
the story sometimes does. High Horse\'s Courting begins when a youth named High
Horse falls madly in love with a girl of his tribe. High Horse neither
possessed the respect nor the wealth to obtain this girl from her parents, so he
had to resort to stealth and trickery to gain any access to her at all.
Eventually, High Horse did made contact with the girl and learned of her similar
feelings for him, but also learned that she wished to be earned from her father
like a lady and not to be stolen away dishonorably.
The disclosure by the girl only acted to frustrate High Horse more, and
he eventually had to turn to his cousin Red Deer for help. To help his cousin,
Red Deer advised High Horse on two separate occasions to sneak into the girl\'s
teepee and make off with her, both attempts ended as comical failures. Finally,
in a fit of disgust and embarrassment, High Horse proclaimed that he was going
on the warpath since he could not have the girl. Red Deer, still wanting to
help his friend and cousin, decided to follow. High Horse and Red Deer fell
upon a Crow encampment that night. The two youths killed the sentry guarding
the Crow horses, and each made off with a small herd for himself.
Returning to the tribe with his new herd, High Horse immediately rode up
to the girl\'s family teepee. When shown the herd of horses that High Horse
offered the girl\'s father acquiesced and allowed him to have his daughter, but
not solely because of the amount of horses High Horse had offered. Instead the
father revealed that the true price High Horse paid was in his showing that he
was a man in obtaining the horses in such a skillful manner, and thus able to
take care of his only daughter.
Thus the lessons of life are displayed to the listener of the story.
High Horse gets the girl through persistence and brave acts, Red Deer shows the
rewards of loyalty by