Black Elk Speaks
Across the Big Water
As I told you, it was in the summer of my twentieth year 
that I performed the ceremony of the elk. That fall, they say, the
last of the bison herds was slaughtered by the Wasichus. I can remember
when the bison were so many that they could not be counted, but
more and more Wasichus came to kill them until there were only heaps
of bones scattered where they used to be. The Wasichus did not kill
them to eat; they killed them for the metal that makes them crazy,
and they took only the hides to sell. Sometimes they did not even
take the hides, only the tongues; and I have heard that fire-boats
came down the Missouri River loaded with dried bison tongues. You
can see that the men who did this were crazy. Sometimes they did
not even take the tongues; they just killed and killed because they
liked to do that. When we hunted bison, we killed only what we needed.
And when there was nothing left but heaps of bones, the Wasichus
came and gathered up even the bones and sold them.
All our people now were settling down in square gray houses, scattered
here and there across this hungry land, and around them the Wasichus
had drawn a line to keep them in. The nation's hoop was broken,
and there was no center any longer for the flowering tree. The people
were in despair. They seemed heavy to me, heavy and dark; so heavy
that it seemed they could not be lifted; so dark that they could
not be made to see any more. Hunger was among us often now, for
much of what the Great Father in Washington sent us must have been
stolen by Wasichus who were crazy to get money. There were many
lies, but we could not eat them. The forked tongue made promises.
I kept on curing the sick for three years more, and many came to
me and were made over; but when I thought of my great vision, which
was to save the nation's hoop and make the holy tree to bloom in
the center of it, I felt like crying, for the sacred hoop was broken
and scattered. The life of the people was in the hoop, and what
are many little lives if the life of those lives be gone?
But late in my twenty-third summer , it seemed that there
was a little hope. There came to us some Wasichus who wanted a band
of Ogalalas for a big show that the other Pahuska had. They told
us this show would go across the big water to strange lands, and
I thought I ought to go, because I might learn some secret of the
Wasichu that would help my people somehow. In my great vision, when
I stood at the center of the world, the two men from the east had
brought me the daybreak-star herb and they had told me to drop it
on the earth; and where it touched the ground it took root and bloomed
four-rayed. It was the herb of understanding. Also, where the red
man of my vision changed into a bison that rolled, the same herb
grew and bloomed when the bison had vanished, and after that the
people in my vision found the good red road again. Maybe if I could
see the great world of the Wasichu, I could understand how to bring
the sacred hoop together and make the tree to bloom again at the
center of it.
I looked back on the past and recalled my people's old ways, but
they were not living that way any more. They were traveling the
black road, everybody for himself and with little rules of his own,
as in my vision. I was in despair, and I even thought that if the
Wasichus had a better way, then maybe my people should live that
way. I know now that this was foolish, but I was young and in despair.
My relatives told me I should stay at home and go on curing people,
but I would not listen to them.
The show people sent wagons from Rushville on the iron road to
get us, and we were about a hundred men and women. Many of our people
followed us half way to the iron road and there we camped and ate
together. Afterward we left our people crying there, for we were
going very far across the big water.
That evening where the big wagons were waiting for us on the iron
road, we had a dance. Then we got into the wagons. When we started,
it was dark, and thinking of my home and my people made me very
sad. I wanted to get off and run back. But we went roaring all night
long, and in the morning we ate at Long Pine. Then we started again
and went roaring all day and came to a very big town in the evening.
Then we roared along all night again and came to a much bigger
town. There we stayed all day and all night; and right there I could
compare my people's ways with Wasichu ways, and this made me sadder
than before. I wished and wished that I had not gone away from home.
Then we went roaring on again, and afterwhile we came to a still
bigger town--a very big town. We walked through this town to the
place where the show was. Some Pawnees and Omahas were there, and
when they saw us they made war-cries and charged, couping us. They
were doing this for fun and because they felt glad to see us. I
was surprised at the big houses and so many people, and there were
bright lights at night, so that you could not see the stars, and
some of these lights, I heard, were made with the power of thunder.
We stayed there and made shows for many, many Wasichus all that
winter. I liked the part of the show we made, but not the part the
Wasichus made. Afterwhile I got used to being there, but I was like
a man who had never had a vision. I felt dead and my people seemed
lost and I thought I might never find them again. I did not see
anything to help my people. I could see that the Wasichus did not
care for each other the way our people did before the nation's hoop
was broken. They would take everything from each other if they could,
and so there were some who had more of everything than they could
use, while crowds of people had nothing at all and maybe were starving.
They had forgotten that the earth was their mother. This could not
be better than the old ways of my people. There was a prisoner's
house on an island where the big water came up to the town, and
we saw that one day. Men pointed guns at the prisoners and made
them move around like animals in a cage. This made me feel very
sad, because my people too were penned up in islands, and maybe
that was the way the Wasichus were going to treat them.
In the spring it got warmer, but the Wasichus had even the grass
penned up. We heard then that we were going to cross the big water
to strange lands. Some of our people went home and wanted me to
go with them, but I had not seen anything good for my people yet;
maybe across the big water there was something to see, so I did
not go home, although I was sick and in despair.
They put us all on a very big fire-boat, so big that when I first
saw, I could hardly believe it; and when it sent forth a voice,
I was frightened. There were other big fire-boats sending voices,
and little ones too.
Afterwhile I could see nothing but water, water, water, and we
did not seem to be going anywhere, just up and down; but we were
told that we were going fast. If we were, I thought that we must
drop off where the water ended; or maybe we might have to stop where
the sky came down to the water. There was nothing but mist where
the big town used to be and nothing but water all around.
We were all in despair now and many were feeling so sick that they
began to sing their death songs.
When evening came, a big wind was roaring and the water thundered.
We had things that were meant to be hung up while we slept in them.
This I learned afterward. We did not know what to do with these,
so we spread them out on the floor and lay down on them. The floor
tipped in every direction, and this got worse and worse, so that
we rolled from one side to the other and could not sleep. We were
frightened, and now we were all very sick too. At first the Wasichus
laughed at us; but very soon we could see that they were frightened
too, because they were running around and were very much excited.
Our women were crying and even some of the men cried, because it
was terrible and they could do nothing. Afterwhile the Wasichus
came and gave us things to tie around us so that we could float.
I did not put on the one they gave me. I did not want to float.
Instead, I dressed for death, putting on my best clothes that I
wore in the show, and then I sang my death song. Others dressed
for death too, and sang, because if it was the end of our lives
and we could do nothing, we wanted to die brave. We could not fight
this that was going to kill us, but we could die so that our spirit
relatives would not be ashamed of us. Everything we had eaten came
right up, and then it kept on trying to come up when there was nothing
We did not sleep at all, and in the morning the water looked like
mountains, but the wind was not so strong. Some of the bison and
elk that we had with us for the show died that day, and the Wasichus
threw them in the water. When I saw the poor bison thrown over,
I felt like crying, because I thought right there they were throwing
part of the power of my people away.
After we had been on the fire-boat a long while, we could see many
houses and then many other fire-boats tied close together along
the bank. We thought now we could get off very soon, but we could
not. There was a little fire-boat that had come through the gate
of waters and it stopped beside us, and the people on it looked
at everything on our fire-boat before we could get off. We went
very slowly nearly all day, I think, and afterwhile we came to where
there were many, many houses close together, and more fire-boats
than could be counted. These houses were different from what we
had seen before. The Wasichus kept us on the fire-boat all night
and then they unloaded us, and took us to a place where the show
was going to be. The name of this very big town was London. We were
on land now, but we still felt dizzy as though we were still on
water, and at first it was hard to walk.
We stayed in this place six moons; and many, many people came to
see the show.
One day we were told that Majesty was coming. I did not know what
that was at first, but I learned afterward. It was Grandmother England
[Queen Victoria], who owned Grandmother's Land where we lived awhile
after the Wasichus murdered Crazy Horse.
She came to the show in a big shining wagon, and there were soldiers
on both sides of her, and many other shining wagons came too. That
day other people could not come to the show--just Grandmother England
and some people who came with her.
Sometimes we had to shoot in the show, but this time we did not
shoot at all. We danced and sang, and I was one of the dancers chosen
to do this for the Grandmother, because I was young and limber then
and could dance many ways. We stood right in front of Grandmother
England. She was little but fat and we liked her, because she was
good to us. After we had danced, she spoke to us. She said something
like this: "I am sixty-seven years old. All over the world
I have seen all kinds of people; but to-day I have seen the best-looking
people I know. If you belonged to me, I would not let them take
you around in a show like this." She said other good things
too, and then she said we must come to see her, because she had
come to see us. She shook hands with all of us. Her hand was very
little and soft. We gave a big cheer for her, and then the shining
wagons came in and she got into one of them and they all went away.
In about a half-moon after that we went to see the Grandmother.
They put us in some of those shining wagons and took us to a very
beautiful place where there was a very big house with sharp, pointed
towers on it. There were many seats built high in a circle, and
these were just full of Wasichus who were all pounding their heels
and yelling: "Jubilee! Jubilee! Jubilee!" I never heard
what this meant.
They put us together in a certain place at the bottom of the seats.
First there appeared a beautiful black wagon with two black horses,
and it went all around the show place. I heard that the Grandmother's
grandson, a little boy, was in that wagon. Next came a beautiful
black wagon with four gray horses. On each of the two right hand
horses there was a rider, and a man walked, holding the front left
hand horse. I heard that some of Grandmother's relatives were in
this wagon. Next came eight buckskin horses, two by two, pulling
a shining black wagon. There was a rider on each right-hand horse
and a man walked, holding the front left hand horse. There were
soldiers, with bayonets, facing outward all around this wagon. Now
all the people in the seats were roaring and yelling "Jubilee!"
and "Victoria!" Then we saw Grandmother England again.
She was sitting in the back of the wagon and two women sat in the
front, facing her. Her dress was all shining and her hat was all
shining and her wagon was all shining and so were the horses. She
looked like a fire coming.
Afterward I heard that there was yellow and white metal all over
the horses and the wagon.
When she came to where we were, her wagon stopped and she stood
up. Then all those people stood up and roared and bowed to her;
but she bowed to us. We sent up a great cry and our women made the
tremolo. The people in the crowd were so excited that we heard some
of them got sick and fell over. Then when it was quiet, we sang
a song to the Grandmother.
That was a very happy time.
We liked Grandmother England, because we could see that she was
a fine woman, and she was good to us. Maybe if she had been our
Grandmother, it would have been better for our people.
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