Black Elk Speaks
Bad Trouble Coming
While these things were happening, the summer  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, and then let them go. This showed the Wasichus were afraid
of something. In the Moon of Black Cherries [August] many people
were dancing at No Water's Camp on Clay Creek, and the agent came
and told them to stop dancing. They would not stop, and they said
they would fight for their religion if they had to do it. The agent
went away, and they kept on dancing. They called him Young-Man-Afraid-of-Lakotas.
Later, I heard that the Brules were dancing over east of us; and
then I heard that Big Foot's people were dancing on the Good River
reservation; also that Kicking Bear had gone to Sitting Bull's camp
on Grand River, and that the people were dancing there too. Word
came to us that the Indians were beginning to dance everywhere.
The people were hungry and in despair, and many believed in the
good new world that was coming. The Wasichus gave us less than half
the beef cattle they promised us in the treaty, and these cattle
were very poor. For a while our people would not take the cattle,
because there were so few of them and they were so poor. But afterwhile
they had to take them or starve to death. So we got more lies than
cattle, and we could not eat lies. When the agent told the people
to quit dancing, their hearts were bad.
From the dancing on Wounded Knee I went over to the Brules, who
were camping on Cut Meat Creek at this time, and I took with me
six shirts like those I had seen the twelve men wearing in my vision,
and six dresses like the twelve women wore. I gave these to the
Brules and they made others for themselves.
We danced there, and another vision came to me. I saw a Flaming
Rainbow, like the one I had seen in my first great vision. Below
the rainbow was a tepee made of cloud. Over me there was a spotted
eagle soaring, and he said to me: "Remember this." That
was all I saw and heard.
I have thought much about this since, and I have thought that this
was where I made my great mistake. I had had a very great vision,
and I should have depended only upon that to guide me to the good.
But I followed the lesser visions that had come to me while dancing
on Wounded Knee Creek. The vision of the Flaming Rainbow was to
warn me, maybe; and I did not understand. I did not depend upon
the great vision as I should have done; I depended upon the two
sticks that I had seen in the lesser vision. It is hard to follow
one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing
shadows. Among those shadows men get lost.
When I came back from the Brules, the weather was getting cold.
Many of the Brules came along when I came back, and joined the Ogalalas
in the dancing on Wounded Knee. We heard that there were soldiers
at Pine Ridge and that others were coming all the time. Then one
morning we heard that the soldiers were marching toward us, so we
broke camp and moved west to Grass Creek. From there we went to
White Clay and camped awhile and danced.
There came to us Fire Thunder, Red Wound and Young American Horse
with a message from the soldiers that this matter of the ghost dance
must be looked into, and that there should be rulings over it; and
that they did not mean to take the dance away from us. But could
we believe anything the Wasichus ever said to us? They spoke with
We moved in closer to Pine Ridge and camped. Many soldiers were
there now, and what were they there for?
There was a big meeting with the agent, but I did not go to hear.
He made a ruling that we could dance three days every moon, and
the rest of the time we should go and make a living for ourselves
somehow. He did not say how we could do that. But the people agreed
The next day, while I was sitting in a tepee with Good Thunder,
a policeman came to us and said: "I was not sent here, but
I came for your good to tell you what I have heard--that they are
going to arrest you two."
Good Thunder thought we ought to go to the Brules, who had a big
camp on Wounded Knee below Manderson. So that evening we saddled
and started. We came through Pepper Creek and White Horse Creek
to Wounded Knee and followed it down to the Brule camp. They were
glad to see us.
In the morning the crier went around and called a meeting. I spoke
to the Brules, and this is what I said: "My relatives, there
is a certain thing that we have done. From that certain sacred thing,
we have had visions. In those visions we have seen, and also we
have heard, that our relatives who have gone before us are in the
Other World that has been revealed to us, and that we too shall
go there. They are right now with the Wanekia. If the Wasichus want
to fight us, let them do it. Have in your minds a strong desire,
and take courage. We must depend upon the departed ones who are
in the new world that is coming."
More Brules came there from Porcupine and Medicine Root creeks,
and we all broke camp, moving down the Wounded Knee to Smoky Earth
River [the White]. There a Black Robe [Catholic Priest] came and
tried to coax us to return. Our people told him that Wasichu promises
were no good; that everything they had promised was a lie. Only
a few Ogalalas turned back with the Black Robe. He was a good man
and he was badly wounded that winter in the butchering of Big Foot's
band. He was a very good man, and not like the other Wasichus.
From Smoky Earth River we moved to High Pockets' place southwest
of the Top of the Badlands. While we were there, American Horse
and Fast Thunder came to us. They were both chiefs, and they came
to bring us in to Pine Ridge. We had to obey. The Brules would not
obey and tried to keep us from going. They struck us, and there
was quite a struggle for a while; but we went anyway, because we
had to go. Kicking Bear stayed with the Brules that time, but he
came in to Pine Ridge a little later. A very few of the Brules went
along with us.
We camped on White River, then on White Clay, then on Cheyenne
Creek north of Pine Ridge. Most of the Ogalalas were camping near
It was about this time that bad news came to us from the north.
We heard that some policemen from Standing Rock had gone to arrest
Sitting Bull on Grand River, and that he would not let them take
him; so there was a fight, and they killed him.
It was now near the end of the Moon of Popping Trees, and I was
twenty-seven years old [December, 1890]. We heard that Big Foot
was coming down from the Badlands with nearly four hundred people.
Some of these were from Sitting Bull's band. They had run away when
Sitting Bull was killed, and joined Big Foot on Good River. There
were only about a hundred warriors in this band, and all the others
were women and children and some old men. They were all starving
and freezing, and Big Foot was so sick that they had to bring him
along in a pony drag. They had all run away to hide in the Badlands,
and they were coming in now because they were starving and freezing.
When they crossed Smoky Earth River, they followed up Medicine Root
Creek to its head. Soldiers were over there looking for them. The
soldiers had everything and were not freezing and starving. Near
Porcupine Butte the soldiers came up to the Big Foots, and they
surrendered and went along with the soldiers to Wounded Knee Creek
where the Brenan store is now.
It was in the evening when we heard that the Big Foots were camped
over there with the soldiers, about fifteen miles by the old road
from where we were. It was the next morning [December 29, 1890]
that something terrible happened.
Return to Native American Articles.
Back to top