Black Elk Speaks


John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

During the Moon When the Calf Grows Hair (September), Black Elk’s people pack up their things at Red Cloud Agency and head to Spotted Tail’s camp, but Red Cloud’s people catch up to them and make them turn back. Black Elk learns later that Crazy Horse had made them turn around, as he feared there would be trouble at Spotted Tail’s camp. The Wasichus had recently made Spotted Tail chief of all the Lakota because they knew he would do whatever the Wasichus asked. Apparently, Wasichus are spreading rumors that Crazy Horse wants to go to war again, though Black Elk doesn’t believe this, as the Wasichus already confiscated their guns. Another supposed sign of Crazy Horse’s dissidence is his refusal to go to see the “Great Father” in Washington that summer. 
Shortly after signing the Black Hills Agreement of 1876, the U.S. government took control over Sioux Agencies, confiscated the Lakotas’ guns and horses, and made them relocate to agencies where the government could monitor them. After taking their guns, General Crook (Three Stars) announced that Red Chief would be removed from power and Spotted Tail would be in charge of the Lakota at both his and Red Chief’s agency. Crazy Horse, unlike Spotted Tail and Red Cloud, refused the U.S. government’s offer to go to Washington and meet President Ulysses S. Grant. This scene gives further insight into the ways the U.S. government systematically weakened Native peoples by taking away their weapons and disrupting their power structures.
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The next evening, Black Elk’s people are at Red Cloud’s agency when some soldiers take Crazy Horse to the Soldiers’ Town nearby. Black Elk and  Black Elk’s father follow to see what’s going on. When they arrive, Crazy Horse is surrounded by soldiers and Lakota police. Black Elk gets the feeling that something bad is about to happen. Suddenly, Crazy Horse shouts, and Black Elk hears that he has been hurt. Black Elk learns later that the Wasichus had told Crazy Horse that they would not harm him if he went willingly to the Soldiers’ Town to talk to their leader, but they lied and took him to a jail cell instead. When Crazy Horse saw what was happening, he took a knife out of his robe and tried to defend himself. A soldier stabbed Crazy Horse with a bayonet, killing him.
Crazy Horse’s death is another example of the Wasichus saying one thing and doing another: just as they had originally promised the Lakota that the Black Hills would be theirs forever before going back on this promise and opening up the land for Wasichu mining, the U.S. soldiers give Crazy Horse the impression that they won’t harm him before doing just the opposite. The Lakotas’ conditions have gotten progressively worse as Black Elk’s narrative unfolds, but Crazy Horse’s death is a tragedy of unparalleled significance. 
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Black Elk and Black Elk’s father return to camp. Everyone mourns the loss of Crazy Horse, who was brave and good and only fought to save his people. He was just 30 years old. The next day, Crazy Horse’s parents return his body to the camp. They place it in a box and go off alone with the body. Nobody knows where they brought the body; regardless, Black Elk knows that it doesn’t matter where Crazy Horse’s physical body lies, only that wherever “his spirit is, it will be good to be.”
Crazy Horse’s death marks the end of a major figure in the Lakota’s fight against cultural assimilation. Interestingly, while the line about Crazy Horse’s spirit is the most frequently cited of the book, it doesn’t appear in the interview transcripts, which suggests that the expressed view is Neihardt’s, not Black Elk’s.
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