Published on February 9, 2012 by Amy
Black Elk (December 1863-August 19, 1950) was a famous Medicine Man or Holy Man of the Oglala Lakota(Sioux). He was Heyoka and a second cousin of Crazy Horse.
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Black Elk said that several times during his life, he had several visions in which he learned things that would help his people. In his “great vision,” at the age of nine, he said he met the spirit that guided the universe and saw a great tree that symbolized the life of the earth and of the Indian people. He did not speak of this to anyone until he was much older, but his family apparently understood he was clairvoyant after his supposed “illness”.
Black Elk was involved in several battles with the U.S. cavalry. He participated, at about the age of twelve, in the Battle of Little Big Horn of 1876, and was injured in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. In 1887, Black Elk traveled to England with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, an unpleasant experience he described in chapter 20 of Black Elk Speaks. On May 11, 1887, the troop put on a command performance for Queen Victoria, whom they called “Grandmother England.” He also described being in the crowd at her Golden Jubilee.
Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnet, in 1892. She became a Catholic, and all three of their children were baptized as Catholic. After her death in 1903, he too was baptized, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk and serving as a catechist. He continued to serve as a spiritual leader among his people, seeing no contradiction in embracing what he found valid in both his tribal traditions concerning Wakan Tanka and those of Christianity. He remarried in 1905 to Anna Brings White, a widow with two daughters. Together they had three more children and remained married until she died in 1941.
Toward the end of his life, Black Elk revealed the story of his life, and a number of sacred Sioux rituals to John Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown for publication, and his accounts have won wide interest and acclaim.