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Black Elk Speaks Summary

Black Elk Speaks is a 1932 book written by John G. Neihardt, who interviewed the Oglala Medicine Man Black Elk in 1930. Black Elk, who only spoke Lakota, used his son Ben Black Elk, as his translator, and Neihardt took copious notes during the interviews, later compiling them into the book. Since its original publication, Black Elk Speaks has received critical acclaim.

Black Elk Speaks Summary

Central to the story is Black Elk’s first vision, which he had when he was nine years old. Black Elk described a journey to a cloud world in the sky, where the six grandfathers gave him sacred objects which would allow him to maintain the sacred hoop of the Lakota. It was with this vision that Black Elk knew he was different that the other Lakota, but a difference that brought great responsibility as well.

Black Elk also discussed the increasing hostility between the Lakota the United States, and Black Elk recounts key details from the Battle of Little Big Horn, where the Lakota and Cheyenne defeated Custer’s 7th Cavalry. Eventually, Black Elk begins to question his vision, as it does not seem possible for him to be able to save his people. After the death of Crazy Horse, in 1877, Black Elk and several others fled to Canada.

Later, Black Elk describes his time with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, traveling to Chicago, New York, and Europe. In Paris, he has a new vision, and returns home only to suffer the massacre at Wounded Knee and the assassination of Sitting Bull in 1890. In the end, Black Elk is disappointed and believes his was never able to use the powers granted in his vision.

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