Black Elk

Published on November 30, 2010 by John

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Black Elk and Family
Black Elk with wife and daughter,
circa 1890-1910

Heȟáka Sápa (Black Elk) (c. December 1863 – August 17 or August 19, 1950) was a famous Wičháša Wakȟáŋ (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 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.

Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnett, 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.

Towards 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. He also claimed to have had several visions in which he met the spirit that guided the universe.


The visions and teachings of Black Elk are honored and studied by The National Spiritist Church of Alberta (Native Spirituality Church) in Canada.


Books by Black Elk
Black Elk Speaks: being the life story of a holy man of the Oglala Sioux (as told to John G. Neihardt), Bison Books, 2004 (originally published in 1932) : Black Elk Speaks
The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, edited by Raymond J. Demallie, University of Nebraska Press; new edition, 1985
The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux (as told to Joseph Epes Brown), MJF Books, 1997
Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian (as told to Joseph Epes Brown), World Wisdom, 2007
Books about Black Elk
Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, by Michael F. Steltenkamp, University of Oklahoma Press; 1993. ISBN 0806125411
Nicholas Black Elk: Medicine Man, Missionary, Mystic, by Michael F. Steltenkamp, University of Oklahoma Press; 2009. ISBN 0-8061-4063-1
The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk’s Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, edited by Raymond J. DeMallie; 1985
Black Elk and Flaming Rainbow: Personal Memories of the Lakota Holy Man, by Hilda Neihardt, University of Nebraska Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8032-8376-8
Black Elk’s Religion: The Sun Dance and Lakota Catholicism, by Clyde Holler, Syracuse University Press; 1995
Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism, by Damian Costello
Black Elk Reader, edited by Clyde Holler, Syracuse University Press; 2000

VHS Video and DVD

Writings of Black Elk (C-SPAN, 2001) ID: 165060. From the jacket: The program, telecast from the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, contained portions of an interview with Black Elk’s great-granddaughter, a re-enactment of the battle, and looked at several artifacts from the site. Length: 2:32.

Black Elk (C-SPAN, 2001) ID: 165105. From the jacket: Ms. Black Elk spoke about her great grandfather, his impact on U.S. history, Native American history, and tribal culture. Length: 0:34.

Native Spirit and the Sun Dance Way, DVD documentary, 2007, World Wisdom.

Source: Wikipedia Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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