Review of John G. Neihardt's "Black Elks speaks"

Essay by cd sanchezUniversity, Bachelor'sB+, December 1996

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The book Black Elk Speaks was written in the early 1930's by author John G.

Neihardt, after interviewing the medicine man named Black Elk. Neihardt was already

a published writer, and prior to this particular narrative he was at work publishing a

collection of poems titled Cycle of the West. Although he was initially seeking infor-

mation about a peculiar Native American religious movement that occurred at the end

of the 19th century for the conclusion his poetry collection, Neihardt was instead gifted

with the story of Black Elk's life. Black Elk's words would explain much about the na-

ture of wisdom as well as the lives of the Sioux and other tribes of that period.

The priest or holy man calling himself Black Elk was born in the December of

1863, to a family in the Ogalala band of the Sioux. Black Elk's family was well known,

and he counted the famed Crazy Horse as a friend and cousin.

Black Elk's family was

likewise acknowledged as a family of wise men, with both his father and grandfather

themselves being holy men bearing the name Black Elk. The youngest Black Elk soon

experienced a vision as a young boy, a vision of the wisdom inherent in the earth that

would direct him toward his true calling of being a wichasha wakon or holy man like his

predecessors. Black Elk's childhood vision stayed with him throughout his life, and it

offered him aid and wisdom whenever he sought it. It is from the strength of this vision,

and the wisdom in his heart that Black Elk eventually realized his place as a leader and

wise man in the Ogalala band of the Sioux.

The wisdom possessed by Black Elk is immediately present in his recollections

of various lessons learned by himself...