Black Elk Speaks
Wasichus in the Hills
It was the next summer, when I was 11 years old , that the
first sign of a new trouble came to us. Our band had been camping
on Split-Toe Creek in the Black Hills, and from there we moved to
Spring Creek, then to Rapid Creek where it comes out into the prairie.
That evening just before sunset, a big thunder cloud came up from
the west, and just before the wind struck, there were clouds of
split-tail swallows flying all around above us. It was like a part
of my vision, and it made me feel queer. The boys tried to hit the
swallows with stones and it hurt me to see them doing this, but
I could not tell them. I got a stone and acted as though I were
going to throw, but I did not. The swallows seemed holy. Nobody
hit one, and when I thought about this I knew that of course they
The next day some of the people were building a sweat tepee for
a medicine man by the name of Chips, who was going to perform a
ceremony and had to be purified first. They say he was the first
man who made a sacred ornament for our great chief, Crazy Horse.
While they were heating the stones for the sweat tepee, some boys
asked me to go with them to shoot squirrels. We went out, and when
I was about to shoot at one, I felt very uneasy all at once. So
I sat down, feeling queer, and wondered about it. While I sat there
I heard a voice that said: "Go at once! Go home!" I told
the boys we must go home at once, and we all hurried. When we got
back, everybody was excited, breaking camp, catching the ponies
and loading the drags; and I heard that while Chips was in the sweat
tepee a voice had told him that the band must flee at once because
something was going to happen there.
It was nearly sundown when we started, and we fled all that night
on the back trail toward Spring Creek, then down that creek to the
south fork of the Good River. I rode most of the night in a pony
drag because I got too sleepy to stay on a horse. We camped at Good
River in the morning, but we stayed only long enough to eat. Then
we fled again, upstream, all day long until we reached the mouth
of Horse Creek. We were going to stay there, but scouts came to
us and said that many soldiers had come into the Black Hills; and
that was what Chips saw while he was in the sweat tepee. So we hurried
on in the night towards Smoky Earth River (the White), and when
we got there, I woke up and it was daybreak. We camped a while to
eat, and then went up the Smoky Earth, two camps, to Robinson, for
we were afraid of the soldiers up there.
Afterward I learned that it was Pahuska who had led his soldiers
into the Black Hills that summer to see what he could find. He had
no right to go in there, because all that country was ours. Also
the Wasichus had made a treaty with Red Cloud  that said it
would be ours as long as grass should grow and water flow. Later
I learned too that Pahuska had found there much of the yellow metal
that makes the Wasichus crazy; and that is what made the bad trouble,
just as it did before, when the hundred were rubbed out.
Our people knew there was yellow metal in little chunks up there;
but they did not bother with it, because it was not good for anything.
We stayed all winter at the Soldiers' Town, and all the while the
bad trouble was coming fast; for in the fall we heard that some
Wasichus had come from the Missouri River to dig in the Black Hills
for the yellow metal, because Pahuska had told about it with a voice
that went everywhere. Later he got rubbed out for doing that.
The people talked about this all winter. Crazy Horse was in the
Powder River country and Sitting Bull was somewhere north of the
Hills. Our people at the Soldiers' Town thought we ought to get
together and do something. Red Cloud's people said that the soldiers
had gone in there to keep the diggers out, but we, who were only
visiting, did not believe it. We called Red Cloud's people "Hangs-Around-The-Fort,"
and our people said they were standing up for the Wasichus, and
if we did not do something we should lose the Black Hills.
In the spring when I was twelve years old , more soldiers
with many wagons came up from the Soldiers' Town at the mouth of
the Laramie River and went into the Hills.
There was much talk all summer, and in the Moon of Making Fat [June]
there was a sun dance there at the Soldiers' Town to give the people
strength, but not many took part; maybe because everybody was so
excited talking about the Black Hills. I remember two men who danced
together. One had lost a leg in the Battle of the Hundred Slain
and one had lost an eye in the Attacking of the Wagons, so they
had only three eyes and three legs between them to dance with. We
boys went down to the creek while they were sun dancing and got
some elm leaves that we chewed up and threw on the dancers while
they were all dressed up and trying to look their best. We even
did this to some of the older people, and nobody got angry, because
everybody was supposed to be in a good humor and to show their endurance
in every kind of way; so they had to stand teasing too. I will tell
about a big sun dance later when we come to it.
In the Moon When the Calves Grow Hair [September] there was a big
council with the Wasichus on the Smoky Earth River at the mouth
of White Clay Creek. I can remember the council, but I did not understand
much of it then. Many of the Lakotas were there, also Shyelas and
Blue Clouds; but Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull stayed away. In the
middle of the circle there was a shade made of canvas. Under this
the councilors sat and talked, and all around them there was a crowd
of people on foot and horseback. They talked and talked for days,
but it was just like wind blowing in the end. I asked my father
what they were talking about in there, and he told me that the Grandfather
at Washington wanted to lease the Black Hills so that the Wasichus
could dig yellow metal, and that the chief of the soldiers had said
if we did not do this, the Black Hills would be just like melting
snow held in our hands, because the Wasichus would take that country
It made me sad to hear this. It was such a good place to play and
the people were always happy in that country. Also I thought of
my vision, and of how the spirits took me there to the center of
After the council we heard that creeks of Wasichus were flowing
into the Hills and becoming rivers, and that they were already making
towns up there. It looked like bad trouble coming, so our band broke
camp and started out to join Crazy Horse on Powder River. We camped
on Horsehead Creek, then on the War Bonnet after we crossed the
old Wasichu's road that made the trouble that time when the hundred
were rubbed out. Grass was growing on it. Then we camped at Sage
Creek, then on the Beaver, then on Driftwood Creek, and came again
to the Plain of Pine Trees at the edge of the Hills.
The nights were sharp now, but the days were clear and still; and
while we were camping there I went up into the Hills alone and sat
a long while under a tree. I thought maybe my vision would come
back and tell me how I could save that country for my people, but
I could not see anything clear.
This made me sad, but something happened a few days later that
made me feel good. We had gone over to Taking-The-Crow-Horses Creek,
where we found many bison and made plenty of meat and tanned many
hides for winter. In our band there was a man by the name of Fat,
who was always talking about how fast his horse could run. One day
while we were camping there I told Fat my pony could run faster
than his could, and he laughed at me and said that only crows and
coyotes would think my pony was any good. I asked him what he would
give me if my pony could beat his, and he said he would give me
some black medicine [coffee]. So we ran, and I got the black medicine.
All the while we were running I thought about the white wing of
the wind that the Second Grandfather of my vision gave me; and maybe
that power went into my pony's legs.
On Kills-Himself Creek we made more meat and hides and were ready
to join Crazy Horse's camp on the Powder. There were some Hang-Around-The-Fort
people with us, and when they saw that we were going to join Crazy
Horse, they left us and started back to the Soldiers' Town. They
were afraid there might be trouble, and they knew Crazy Horse would
fight, so they wanted to be safe with the Wasichus. We did not like
them very much.
We had no advisers, because we were just a little band, and when
we were moving, the boys could ride anywhere. One day while we were
heading for Powder River I was riding ahead with Steals Horses,
another boy my age, and we saw some footprints of somebody going
somewhere. We followed the footprints and there was a knoll beside
a creek where a Lakota was lying. We got off and looked at him,
and he was dead. His name was Root-of-the-Tail, and he was going
over to Tongue River to see his relatives when he died. He was very
old and ready to die, so he just lay down and died right there before
he saw his relatives again.
Afterwhile we came to the village on Powder River and went into
camp at the downstream end. I was anxious to see my cousin, Crazy
Horse, again, for now that it began to look like bad trouble coming,
everybody talked about him more than ever and he seemed greater
than before. Also I was getting older.
Of course I had seen him now and then ever since I could remember,
and had heard stories of the brave things he did. I remember the
story of how he and his brother were out alone on horseback, and
a big band of Crows attacked them, so that they had to run. And
while they were riding hard, with all those Crows after them, Crazy
Horse heard his brother call out; and when he looked back, his brother's
horse was down and the Crows were almost on him. And they told how
Crazy Horse charged back right into the Crows and fought them back
with only a bow and arrows, then took his brother up behind him
and got away. It was his sacred power that made the Crows afraid
of him when he charged. And the people told stories of when he was
a boy and used to be around with the older Hump all the time. Hump
was not young any more at the time, and he was a very great warrior,
maybe the greatest we ever had until then. They say people used
to wonder at the boy and the old man always being together; but
I think Hump knew Crazy Horse would be a great man and wanted to
teach him everything.
Crazy Horse's father was my father's cousin, and there were no
chiefs in our family before Crazy Horse; but there were holy men;
and he became a chief because of the power he got in a vision when
he was a boy. When I was a man, my father told me something about
that vision. Of course he did not know all of it; but he said that
Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing
but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind
this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow
from that world. He was on his horse in that world, and the horse
and himself on it and the trees and the grass and the stones and
everything were made of spirit, and nothing was hard, and everything
seemed to float. His horse was standing still there, and yet it
danced around like a horse made only of shadow, and that is how
he got his name, which does not mean that his horse was crazy or
wild, but that in his vision it danced around in that queer way.
It was this vision that gave him his great power, for when he went
into a fight, he had only to think of that world to be in it again,
so that he could go through anything and not be hurt. Until he was
murdered by the Wasichus at the Soldiers' Town on White River, he
was wounded only twice, once by accident and both times by some
one of his own people when he was not expecting trouble and was
not thinking; never by an enemy. He was fifteen years old when he
was wounded by accident; and the other time was when he was a young
man and another man was jealous of him because the man's wife liked
They used to say too that he carried a sacred stone with him, like
one he had seen in some vision, and that when he was in danger,
the stone always got very heavy and protected him somehow. That,
they used to say, was the reason no horse he ever rode lasted very
long. I do not know about this; maybe people only thought it; but
it is a fact that he never kept one horse long. They wore out. I
think it was only the power of his great vision that made him great.
Now and then he would notice me and speak to me before this; and
sometimes he would have the crier call me into his tepee to eat
with him. Then he would say things to tease me, but I would not
say anything back, because I think I was a little afraid of him.
I was not afraid that he would hurt me; I was just afraid. Everybody
felt that way about him, for he was a queer man and would go about
the village without noticing people or saying anything. In his own
tepee he would joke, and when he was on the warpath with a small
party, he would joke to make his warriors feel good. But around
the village he hardly ever noticed anybody, except little children.
All the Lakotas like to dance and sing; but he never joined a dance,
and they say nobody ever heard him sing. But everybody liked him,
and they would do anything he wanted or go anywhere he said. He
was a small man among the Lakotas and he was slender and had a thin
face and his eyes looked through things and he always seemed to
be thinking hard about something. He never wanted to have many things
for himself, and did not have many ponies like a chief. They say
that when game was scarce and the people were hungry, he would not
eat at all. He was a queer man. Maybe he was always part way into
that world of his vision. He was a very great man, and I think if
the Wasichus had not murdered him down there, maybe we should still
have the Black Hills and be happy. They could not have killed him
in battle. They had to lie to him and murder him. And he was only
about thirty years old when he died.
One day after we had camped there on Powder River, I went upstream
to see him again, but his tepee was empty and he was gone somewhere,
maybe with a war-party against the Crows, for we were close to them
now and had to look out for them all the time. Later I did see him.
He put his arm across my shoulder and took me into his tepee and
we sat down together. I do not remember what he said, but I know
he did not say much, and he did not tease me. Maybe he was thinking
about the trouble coming.
We did not stay together there very long, but scattered out and
camped in different places so that the people and the ponies would
all have plenty. Crazy Horse kept his village on Powder River with
about a hundred tepees, and our band made camp on the Tongue. We
built a corral of poles for the horses at night and herded them
all day, because the Crows were great horse-thieves and we had to
be careful. The women chopped and stripped cottonwood trees during
the day and gave the bark to the horses at night. The horses liked
it and it made them sleek and fat.
Beside the mouth of the corral there was a tepee for the horse
guard, and one night Crow Nose was staying there and his wife was
with him. He had a hole in the tepee so that he could look through.
Afterwhile he got very sleepy, so he woke his wife and told her
to get up and watch while he had a little rest. By and by she saw
something dark moving slowly on the snow out there, so she woke
her husband and whispered, "Old man, you'd better get up, for
I think I see something." So Crow Nose got up and peeped out
and saw a man moving around the corral in the starlight looking
for the best horse. Crow Nose told his wife to keep her eye at the
hole and let him know when the man was coming out with a horse,
and he lay down at the opening of the tepee with the muzzle of his
gun sticking out of the flap. By and by they could hear the bar
lifted at the mouth of the corral. When his wife touched him, Crow
Nose thrust his head outside and saw the man just getting on a horse
to ride away. He was black against the sky, so Crow Nose shot him,
and the shot woke the whole camp so that many came running with
guns and coup sticks. Yellow Shirt was the first to count coup on
the dead Crow, but many followed. A man who has killed an enemy
must not touch him, for he has already had the honor of killing.
He must let another count coup. When I got there to see, a pile
of coup sticks was lying beside the Crow and the women had cut him
up with axes and scattered him around. It was horrible. Then the
people built a fire right there beside the Crow and we had a kill
dance. Men, women, and children danced right in the middle of the
night, and they sang songs about Crow Nose who had killed and Yellow
Shirt who had counted the first coup.
Then it was daylight, and the crier told us we would move camp
to the place where Root-of-the-Tail died. Crow Nose dressed up for
war, painted his face black and rode the horse the enemy had tried
to steal. When the men paint their faces black, the women all rejoice
and make the tremolo, because it means their men are going to kill
When we camped again, one of Red Cloud's loafers who had started
back for the Soldiers' Town because they were afraid there might
be trouble, came in and said the Crows had killed all his party
but himself, while they were sleeping, and he had escaped because
he was out scouting.
During the winter, runners came from the Wasichus and told us we
must come into the Soldiers' Town right away or there would be bad
trouble. But it was foolish to say that, because it was very cold
and many of our people and ponies would have died in the snow. Also,
we were in our own country and were doing no harm.
Late in the Moon of the Dark Red Calves [February] there was a
big thaw, and our little band started for the Soldiers' Town, but
it was very cold again before we got there. Crazy Horse stayed with
about a hundred tepees on Powder, and in the middle of the Moon
of the Snowblind [March] something bad happened there. It was just
daybreak. There was a blizzard and it was very cold. The people
were sleeping. Suddenly there were many shots and horses galloping
through the village. It was the cavalry of the Wasichus, and they
were yelling and shooting and riding their horses against the tepees.
All the people rushed out and ran, because they were not awake yet
and they were frightened. The soldiers killed as many women and
children and men as they could while the people were running toward
a bluff. Then they set fire to some of the tepees and knocked the
others down. But when the people were on the side of the bluff,
Crazy Horse said something, and all the warriors began singing the
death song and charged back upon the soldiers; and the soldiers
ran, driving many of the people's ponies ahead of them. Crazy Horse
followed them all that day with a band of warriors, and that night
he took all the stolen ponies away from them, and some of their
own horses, and brought them all back to the village.
These people were in their own country and were doing no harm.
They only wanted to be let alone. We did not hear of this until
quite awhile afterward; but at the Soldiers' Town we heard enough
to make us paint our faces black.
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