Review of J Neighardt\'s 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 na-
ture 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