Black Elk Speaks
I am a Lakota
of the Ogalala
band. 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, having
the same grandfather. My mother's name was White Cow Sees; her father
was called Refuse-to-Go, and her mother, Plenty Eagle Feathers.
I can remember my mother's mother and her father. My father's father
was killed by the Pawnees when I was too little to know, and his
mother, Red Eagle Woman, died soon after.
I was born in the Moon of the Popping Trees [December] on the Little
Powder River in the Winter When the Four Crows Were Killed ,
and I was three years old when my father's right leg was broken
in the Battle
of the Hundred Slain. From that wound he limped until the
day he died, which was about the time when Big Foot's band was butchered
on Wounded Knee . He is buried here in these hills.
I can remember that Winter of the Hundred Slain as a man may remember
some bad dream he dreamed when he was little, but I can not tell
just how much I heard when I was bigger and how much I understood
when I was little. It is like some fearful thing in a fog, for it
was a time when everything seemed troubled and afraid.
I had never seen a Wasichu
then, and did not know what one looked like; but every one was saying
that the Wasichus were coming and that they were going to take our
country and rub us all out and that we should all have to die fighting.
It was the Wasichus who got rubbed out in that battle, and all the
people were talking about it for a long while; but a hundred Wasichus
was not much if there were others and others without number where
those came from.
I remember once that I asked my grandfather about this. I said:
"When the scouts come back from seeing the prairie full of
bison somewhere, the people say the Wasichus are coming; and when
strange men are coming to kill us all, they say the Wasichus are
coming. What does it mean?" And he said, "That they are
When I was older, I learned what the fighting was about that winter
and the next summer. Up on the Madison Fork the Wasichus had found
much of the yellow
metal that they worship and that makes them crazy, and they
wanted to have a road
up through our country to the place where the yellow metal was;
but my people did not want the road. It would scare the bison and
make them go away, and also it would let the other Wasichus come
in like a river. They told us that they wanted only to use a little
land, as much as a wagon would take between the wheels; but our
people knew better. And when you look about you now, you can see
what it was they wanted.
Once we were happy in our own country and we were seldom hungry,
for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like
relatives, and there was plenty for them and for us. But the Wasichus
came, and they have made little islands for us and other little
islands for the four-leggeds, and always these islands are becoming
smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the Wasichu;
and it is dirty with lies and greed.
A long time ago my father told me what his father told him, that
there was once a Lakota holy man, called Drinks Water, who dreamed
what was to be; and this was long before the coming of the Wasichus.
He dreamed that the four-leggeds were going back into the earth
and that a strange race had woven a spider's web all around the
Lakotas. And he said: "When this happens, you shall live in
square gray houses, in a barren land, and beside those square gray
houses you shall starve." They say he went back to Mother Earth
soon after he saw this vision, and it was sorrow that killed him.
You can look about you now and see that he meant these dirt-roofed
houses we are living in, and that all the rest was true. Sometimes
dreams are wiser than waking.
And so when the soldiers came and built themselves a town of logs
there on the Piney Fork of the Powder, my people knew they meant
to have their road and take our country and maybe kill us all when
they were strong enough. Crazy Horse was only about 19 years old
then, and Red Cloud was still our great chief. In the Moon of the
Changing Season (October) he called together all the scattered bands
of the Lakota for a big council on the Powder River, and when we
went on the warpath against the soldiers, a horseback could ride
through our villages from sunrise until the day was above his head,
so far did our camp stretch along the valley of the river; for many
of our friends, the Shyela and the Blue Clouds, had come to help
And it was about when the bitten moon was delayed [last quarter]
in the Time of the Popping Trees when the hundred were rubbed out.
My friend, Fire Thunder here, who is older than I, was in that fight
and he can tell you how it was.
Fire Thunder Speaks:
I was 16 years old when this
happened, and after the big council on the Powder we had moved
over to the Tongue River where we were camping at the mouth of Peno
Creek. There were many of us there. Red Cloud was over all of us,
but the chief of our band was Big Road.
We started out on horseback just about sunrise, riding up the creek
toward the soldiers' town on the Piney, for we were going to attack
it. The sun was about half way up when we stopped at the place where
the Wasichu's road came down a steep, narrow ridge and crossed the
creek. It was a good place to fight, so we sent some men ahead to
coax the soldiers out.
While they were gone, we divided into two parts and hid in the
gullies on both sides of the ridge and waited. After a long while
we heard a shot up over the hill, and we knew the soldiers were
coming. So we held the noses of our ponies that they might not whinny
at the soldiers' horses.
Soon we saw our men coming back, and some of them were walking
and leading their horses, so that the soldiers would think they
were worn out. Then the men we had sent ahead came running down
the road between us, and the soldiers on horseback followed, shooting.
When they came to the flat at the bottom of the hill, the fighting
began all at once. I had a sorrel horse, and just as I was going
to get on him, the soldiers turned around and began to fight their
way back up the hill. I had a six-shooter that I had traded for,
and also a bow and arrows. When the soldiers started back, I held
my sorrel with one hand and began killing them with the six-shooter,
for they came close to me. There were many bullets, but there were
more arrows--so many that it was like a cloud of grasshoppers all
above and around the soldiers; and our people, shooting across,
hit each other.
Their soldiers were falling all the while they were fighting back
up the hill, and their horses got loose. Many of our people chased
the horses, but I was not after horses; I was after Wasichus.
When the soldiers got on top, there were not many of them left
and they had no place to hide. They were fighting hard. We were
told to crawl up on them, and we did. When we were close, someone
yelled: "Let us go! This is a good day to die. Think of the
helpless ones at home!" Then we all cried, " Hoka
hey!" and rushed at them.
I was young then and quick on my feet, and I was one of the first
to get in among the soldiers. They got up and fought very hard until
not one of them was alive. They had a dog with them, and he started
back up the road for the soldiers' town, howling as he ran. He was
the only one left. I did not shoot at him because he looked too
sweet; but many did shoot, and he died full of arrows. So there
was nobody left of the soldiers.
Dead men and horses and wounded Indians were scattered all the
way up the hill, and their blood was frozen, for a storm had come
up and it was very cold and getting colder all the time. We left
all the dead lying there, for the ground was solid, and we picked
up our wounded and started back; but we lost most of them before
we reached our camp at the mouth of the Peno. There was a big blizzard
that night; and some of the wounded who did not die on the way,
died after we got home. This was the time when Black Elk's father
had his leg broken.
Black Elk Continues:
I am quite sure that I remember the time when my father came home
with a broken leg that he got from killing so many Wasichus, and
it seems that I can remember all about the battle too, but I think
I could not. It must be the fear that I remember most. All this
time I was not allowed to play very far away from our tepee, and
my mother would say, "If you are not good the Wasichus will
We must have broken camp at the mouth of the Peno soon after the
battle, for I can remember my father lying on a pony drag with bison
robes all around him, like a baby, and my mother riding the pony.
The snow was deep and it was very cold, and I remember sitting in
another pony drag beside my father and mother, all wrapped up in
fur. We were going away from where the soldiers were, and I do not
know where we went, but it was west.
It was a hungry winter, for the deep snow made it hard to find
the elk; and also many of the people went snowblind. We wandered
a long time, and some of the bands got lost from each other. Then
at last we were camping in the woods beside a creek somewhere, and
the hunters came back with meat.
I think it was this same winter when a medicine man, by the name
of Creeping, went around among the people curing snowblinds. He
would put snow upon their eyes, and after he had sung a certain
sacred song that he had heard in a dream, he would blow on the backs
of their heads and they would see again, so I have heard. It was
about the dragonfly that he sang, for that was where he got his
power, they say.
When it was summer again we were camping on the Rosebud, and I
did not feel so much afraid, because the Wasichus seemed farther
away and there was peace there in the valley and there was plenty
of meat. But all the boys from five or six years up were playing
war. The little boys would gather together from the different bands
of the tribe and fight each other with mud balls that they threw
with willow sticks. And the big boys played the game called Throwing-Them-Off-Their-Horses,
which is a battle all but the killing; and sometimes they got hurt.
The horsebacks from the different bands would line up and charge
upon each other, yelling; and when the ponies came together on the
run, they would rear and flounder and scream in a big dust, and
the riders would seize each other, wrestling until one side had
lost all its men, for those who fell upon the ground were counted
When I was older, I, too, often played this game. We were always
naked when we played it, just as warriors are when they go into
battle if it is not too cold, because they are swifter without clothes.
Once I fell off on my back right in the middle of a bed of prickly
pears, and it took my mother a long while to pick all the stickers
out of me. I was still too little to play war that summer, but I
can remember watching the other boys, and I thought that when we
all grew up and were big together, maybe we could kill all the Wasichus
or drive them far away from our country.
It was in the Moon When the Cherries Turn Black [August] that all
the people were talking again about a battle, and our warriors came
back with many wounded. It was The Attacking
of the Wagons, and it made me afraid again, for we did not
win that battle as we did the other one, and there was much mourning
for the dead. Fire Thunder was in that fight too, and he can tell
you how it was that day.
Fire Thunder Speaks:
It was very bad. There is a wide flat prairie with hills around
it, and in the middle of this the Wasichus had put the boxes of
their wagons in a circle, so that they could keep their mules there
at night. There were not many Wasichus, but they were lying behind
the boxes and they shot faster than they ever shot at us before.
We thought it was some new medicine of great power that they had,
for they shot so fast that it was like tearing a blanket.
Afterwards I learned that it was because they had new guns that
they loaded from behind, and this was the first time they used these
guns. We came on after sunrise. There were many, many of us,
and we meant to ride right over them and rub them out. But our ponies
were afraid of the ring of fire the guns of the Wasichus made, and
would not go over. Our women were watching us from the hills and
we could hear them singing and mourning whenever the shooting stopped.
We tried hard, but we could not do it, and there were dead warriors
and horses piled all around the boxes and scattered over the plain.
Then we left our horses in a gulch and charged on foot, but it was
like green grass withering in a fire. So we picked up our wounded
and went away. I do not know how many of our people were killed,
but there were very many. It was bad.
Black Elk Continues:
I do not remember where we camped that winter but it must have
been a time of peace and of plenty to eat.
Standing Bear Speaks:
I am four years older than Black Elk, and he and I have been good
friends since boyhood. I know it was on the Powder that we camped
where there were many cottonwood trees. Ponies like to eat the bark
of these trees and it is good for them. That was the winter when
High Shirt's mother was killed by a big tree that fell on her tepee.
It was a very windy night and there were noises that 'woke me, and
then I heard that an old woman had been killed, and it was High
Black Elk Continues:
I was four years old then, and I think it must have been the next
summer that I first heard the voices. It was a happy summer and
nothing was afraid, because in the Moon When the Ponies Shed [May]
word came from the Wasichus that there would be peace and that they
would not use the road
any more and that all the soldiers would go away. The soldiers did
go away and their towns were torn down; and in the Moon of Falling
Leaves [November], they made a treaty with Red Cloud that said our
country would be ours as long as grass should grow and water flow.
You can see that it is not the grass and the water that have forgotten.
Maybe it was not this summer when I first heard the voices, but
I think it was, because I know it was before I played with bows
and arrows or rode a horse, and I was out playing alone when I heard
them. It was like somebody calling me, and I thought it was my mother,
but there was nobody there. This happened more than once, and always
made me afraid, so that I ran home.
It was when I was five years old that my Grandfather made me a
bow and some arrows. The grass was young and I was horseback. A
thunder storm was coming from where the sun goes down, and just
as I was riding into the woods along a creek, there was a kingbird
sitting on a limb. This was not a dream, it happened. And I was
going to shoot at the kingbird with the bow my Grandfather made,
when the bird spoke and said: "The clouds all over are one-sided."
Perhaps it meant that all the clouds were looking at me. And then
it said: "Listen! A voice is calling you!" Then I looked
up at the clouds, and two men were coming there, headfirst like
arrows slanting down; and as they came, they sang a sacred song
and the thunder was like drumming. I will sing it for you. The song
and the drumming were like this:
- "Behold, a sacred voice is calling you;
- All over the sky a sacred voice is calling."
I sat there gazing at them, and they were coming from the place
where the giant lives [north]. But when they were very close to
me, they wheeled about toward where the sun goes down, and suddenly
they were geese. Then they were gone, and the rain came with a big
wind and a roaring.
I did not tell this vision to any one. I liked to think about it,
but I was afraid to tell it.
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