Black Elk Speaks
The Dog Vision
We stayed there near the mouth of the Tongue until the end of the
Moon of Making Fat [June]. Then the soldier chief told us that we
could not be in that country because we had sold it and it was not
ours any more. We had not sold it; but the soldiers took all the
rest of our horses from us and what guns we had and loaded us on
a big fire-boat that carried us down the Yellowstone and the Missouri
to Fort Yates. There they unloaded us, and it was one of the new
reservations they had made for the Lakota. Many of Sitting Bull's
and Gall's people were there, but Gall and Sitting Bull were still
in Grandmother's Land. The soldiers had taken the ponies away from
all our people, and they said the Great Father in Washington would
pay us for them; but if he ever did I have not heard of it.
I learned that my own band, the Ogalalas, had been taken back to
the country where we are now, and I decided that I ought to go there
and perform my duty. So in the Moon When the Plums Are Scarlet [September]
I started with three others. We had to go afoot and we had only
bows and arrows for weapons.
The Brules had been taken to the place where they are now on Rosebud
Creek while I was in Grandmother's Land, and we set out first for
where they were, camping seven times on the way.
One evening we crossed Smoky Earth River [the White] and camped
on the south side. We camped by a plum thicket, and the plums were
ripe. That is all we had to eat. There was a bluff close by, and
I went up there alone and sat down with my face to where the sun
was setting. It was a clear evening with no wind, and it seemed
that everything was listening hard to hear something. While I was
looking over there I felt that somebody wanted to talk to me. So
I stood up and began to sing the first song of my vision, the one
that the two spirits had sung to me.
"Behold! A sacred voice is calling you!
All over the sky a sacred voice is calling!"
While I was singing this song, suddenly the two men of my vision
were coming again out of the sunset, head first like arrows slanting
down. They were pointing at me with their bows. Then they stopped
and stood, raising their bows above their heads and looking at me.
They said nothing, but I could feel what they wanted. It was that
I should do my duty among the Ogalalas with the power they had brought
me in the vision. I stood there singing to them, and afterwhile
they turned around and went back into the sunset, head first like
When I went back to our little camp by the plum thicket, the others
there, who knew of my power and had heard me on the bluff, asked
what I had seen up there. I told them I was only singing to some
people I knew in the outer world.
I stayed only a little while among the Brules on Rosebud Creek,
and then I came on alone to White Clay Creek where the Wasichus
were building Pine Ridge Agency for the Ogalalas. Our people called
it the Seat of Red Cloud or the Place Where Everything Is Disputed.
There I stayed, and that winter in the Moon of Popping Trees I was
eighteen years old.
That was a very hard winter, and it was just like one long night,
with me lying awake, waiting and waiting and waiting for daybreak.
For now the thunder beings were like relatives to me and they had
gone away when the frost came and would not come back until the
grasses showed their tender faces again. Without them I felt lost,
and I was alone there among my people. Very few of them had seen
the horse dance or knew anything about my vision and the power that
it gave me. They seemed heavy, heavy and dark; and they could not
know that they were heavy and dark. I could feel them like a great
burden upon me; but when I would go all through my vision again,
I loved the burden and felt pity for my people.
And now when I look about me upon my people in despair, I feel
like crying and I wish and wish my vision could have been given
to a man more worthy. I wonder why it came to me, a pitiful old
man who can do nothing. Men and women and children I have cured
of sickness with the power the vision gave me; but my nation I could
not help. If a man or woman or child dies, it does not matter long,
for the nation lives on. It was the nation that was dying, and the
vision was for the nation; but I have done nothing with it.
When I was still young, I could feel the power all through me,
and it seemed that with the whole outer world to help me I could
I had made a good start to fulfill my duty to the Grandfathers,
but I had much more to do; and so the winter was like a long night
of waiting for the daybreak.
When the grasses began to show their faces again, I was happy,
for I could hear the thunder beings coming in the earth and I could
hear them saying: "It is time to do the work of your Grandfathers."
After the long winter of waiting, it was my first duty to go out
lamenting. So after the first rain storm I began to get ready.
When going out to lament it is necessary to choose a wise old medicine
man, who is quiet and generous, to help. He must fill and offer
the pipe to the Six Powers and to the four-leggeds and the wings
of the air, and he must go along to watch. There was a good and
wise old medicine man by the name of Few Tails, who was glad to
help me. First he told me to fast four days, and I could have only
water during that time. Then, after he had offered the pipe, I had
to purify myself in a sweat lodge, which we made with willow boughs
set in the ground and bent down to make a round top. Over this we
tied a bison robe. In the middle we put hot stones, and when I was
in there, Few Tails poured water on the stones. I sang to the spirits
while I was in there being purified. Then the old man rubbed me
all over with the sacred sage. He then braided my hair, and I was
naked except that I had a bison robe to wrap around me while lamenting
in the night, for although the days were warm, the nights were cold
yet. All I carried was the sacred pipe.
It is necessary to go far away from people to lament, so Few Tails
and I started from Pine Ridge toward where we are now.
We came to a high hill close to Grass Creek, which is just a little
way west from here. There was nobody there but the old man and myself
and the sky and the earth. But the place was full of people; for
the spirits were there.
The sun was almost setting when we came to the hill, and the old
man helped me make the place where I was to stand. We went to the
highest point of the hill and made the ground there sacred by spreading
sage upon it. Then Few Tails set a flowering stick in the middle
of the place, and on the west, the north, the east, and the south
sides of it he placed offerings of red willow bark tied into little
bundles with scarlet cloth.
Few Tails now told me what I was to do so that the spirits would
hear me and make clear my next duty. I was to stand in the middle,
crying and praying for understanding. Then I was to advance from
the center to the quarter of the west and mourn there awhile. Then
I was to back up to the center, and from there approach the quarter
of the north, wailing and praying there, and so on all around the
circle. This I had to do all night long.
It was time for me to begin lamenting, so Few Tails went away somewhere
and left me there all alone on the hill with the spirits and the
Standing in the center of the sacred place and facing the sunset,
I began to cry, and while crying I had to say: "O Great Spirit,
accept my offerings! O make me understand!"
As I was crying and saying this, there soared a spotted eagle from
the west and whistled shrill and sat upon a pine tree east of me.
I walked backwards to the center, and from there approached the
north, crying and saying: "O Great Spirit, accept my offerings
and make me understand!" Then a chicken hawk came hovering
and stopped upon a bush towards the south.
I walked backwards to the center once again and from there approached
the east, crying and asking the Great Spirit to help me understand,
and there came a black swallow flying all around me, singing, and
stopped upon a bush not far away.
Walking backwards to the center, I advanced upon the south. Until
now I had only been trying to weep, but now I really wept, and the
tears ran down my face; for as I looked yonder towards the place
whence come the life of things, the nation's hoop and the flowering
tree, I thought of the days when my relatives, now dead, were living
and young, and of Crazy Horse who was our strength and would never
come back to help us any more.
I cried very hard, and I thought it might be better if my crying
would kill me; then I could be in the outer world where nothing
is ever in despair.
And while I was crying, something was coming from the south. It
looked like dust far off, but when it came closer, I saw it was
a cloud of beautiful butterflies of all colors. They swarmed around
me so thick that I could see nothing else.
I walked backwards to the flowering stick again, and the spotted
eagle on the pine tree spoke and said: "Behold these! They
are your people. They are in great difficulty and you shall help
them." Then I could hear all the butterflies that were swarming
over me, and they were all making a pitiful, whimpering noise as
though they too were weeping.
Then they all arose and flew back into the south.
Now the chicken hawk spoke from its bush and said: "Behold!
Your Grandfathers shall come forth and you shall hear them!"
Hearing this, I lifted up my eyes, and there was a big storm coming
from the west. It was the thunder being nation, and I could hear
the neighing of horses and the sending of great voices.
It was very dark now, and all the roaring west was streaked fearfully
with swift fire.
And as I stood there looking, a vision broke out of the shouting
blackness torn with fire, and I saw the two men who had come to
me first in my great vision. They came head first like arrows slanting
earthward from the long flight; and when they neared the ground,
I could see a dust rising there and out of the dust the heads of
dogs were peeping. Then suddenly I saw that the dust was the swarm
of many-colored butterflies hovering all around and over the dogs.
By now the two men were riding sorrel horses, streaked with black
lightning, and they charged with bows and arrows down upon the dogs,
while the thunder beings cheered for them with roaring voices.
Then suddenly the butterflies changed, and were storm-driven swallows,
swooping and whirling in a great cloud behind the charging riders.
The first of these now plunged upon a dog's head and arose with
it hanging bloody on his arrow point, while the whole west roared
with cheering. The second did the same; and the black west flashed
and cheered again. Then as the two arose together, I saw that the
dogs' heads had changed to the heads of Wasichus; and as I saw,
the vision went out and the storm was close upon me, terrible to
see and roaring.
I cried harder than ever now, for I was much afraid. The night
was black about me and terrible with swift fire and the sending
of great voices and the roaring of the hail. And as I cried, I begged
the Grandfathers to pity me and spare me and told them that I knew
now what they wanted me to do on earth, and I would do it if I could.
All at once I was not afraid any more, and I thought that if I
was killed, probably I might be better off in the other world. So
I lay down there in the center of the sacred place and offered the
pipe again. Then I drew the bison robe over me and waited. All around
me growled and roared the voices, and the hail was like the drums
of many giants beating while the giants sang: "Hey-a-hey!"
No hail fell there in the sacred circle where I lay, nor any rain.
And when the storm was passed, I raised my robe and listened; and
in the stillness I could hear the rain-flood singing in the gulches
all around me in the darkness, and far away to eastward there were
dying voices calling: "Hey-a-hey!"
The night was old by now, and soon I fell asleep. And as I slept
I saw my people sitting sad and troubled all around a sacred tepee,
and there were many who were sick. And as I looked on them and wept,
a strange light leaped upward from the ground close by--a light
of many colors, sparkling, with rays that touched the heavens. Then
it was gone, and in the place from whence it sprang a herb was growing
and I saw the leaves it had. And as I was looking at the herb so
that I might not forget it, there was a voice that 'woke me, and
it said: "Make haste! Your people need you!"
I looked and saw the east was just beginning to turn white. Standing
up, I faced the young light and began to mourn again and pray. Then
the daybreak star came slowly, very beautiful and still; and all
around it there were clouds of baby faces smiling at me, the faces
of the people not yet born. The stars about them now were beautiful
with many colors, and beneath these there were heads of men and
women moving around, and birds were singing somewhere yonder and
there were horses nickering and blowing as they do when they are
happy, and somewhere deer were whistling and there were bison mooing
too. What I could not see of this, I heard.
I think I fell asleep again, for afterwhile I was startled by a
voice that said: "Get up, I have come after you!" I looked
to see a spirit, but it was the good old man, Few Tails, standing
over me. And now the sun was rising.
So we brought the sacred pipe back home and I went into the sweat
lodge after offering the pipe to the Six Powers. When I was purified
again, some very old men who were good and wise asked me to tell
them what I had heard and seen. So after offering and smoking the
sacred pipe again, I told it all to them, and they said that I must
perform the dog vision on earth to help the people, and because
the people were discouraged and sad, I should do this with heyokas,
who are sacred fools, doing everything wrong or backwards to make
the people laugh. They said they did not know but I would be a great
man, because not many men were called to see such visions. I must
wait twenty days, they said, and then perform my duty. So I waited.
Return to Native American Articles.
Back to top