Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Wasichus order Black Elk’s people to move to a different agency. The band splits up, half going with Red Cloud, and the other half—including Black Elk—going with Spotted Tail. Black Elk and some others don’t want to go to the new agency, and their old place on the Powder River isn’t how it used to be. They decide to run away from the group and travel to Grandmother’s Land where their relatives, Sitting Bull, and Gall are, and where they will be safe from the Wasichus. Black Elk is 15 years old. He wonders when he will be called on to realize his vision and save his people.
Black Elk and his family are essentially forced to flee to Grandmother’s Land if they want to avoid living a surveilled life on an agency; at the same time, this choice complicates Black Elk’s ability to realize his vision and save his people because it puts distance between himself and the problems (the Wasichus and forced assimilation) that threaten his people and their culture. 
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One day, Black Elk joins his uncle, Running Horse, to hunt bison. As they approach the Little River Creek, Black Elk starts to feel weird. He hears a voice sees two Lakota hunters chase a bison behind a bluff. Running Horse and Black Elk see a band of Crows emerge from behind the bluff. They later learn that the Crows killed the hunters, and Black Elk takes these events to be evidence of his growing visionary power.
Black Elk’s frustration about not being able to save his people is compounded by the increasing presence of events like these, which prove to him that his powers can enact real change on the world around him. However, he remains unable to harness these powers for the greater good of his people. 
Themes
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
In another instance, when Black Elk is out hunting with a man named Iron Tail in June, a voice tells him to return to camp quickly because something bad is going to happen. Black Elk and Iron Tail hurry back to camp and tell everyone to leave. On their way out, a big band of Crows charges and shoots at them. Black Elk’s cousin, Hard-to-Hit, is killed in the attack.
Again, this event affirms Black Elk’s faith that his visionary powers are real and can bring about tangible consequences for himself and his people. At the same time, however, he finds himself in an alien environment (in exile, away from most of his people) in which he is physically unable use those powers to perform his duty. In other words, outside circumstances—not personal shortcoming—prevent Black Elk from realizing his vision.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk’s people stay on the Clay Creek in Grandmother’s Land all that summer and winter. Black Elk is 16 years old. The winter is harsh; there are many blizzards, and game is hard to find. On a particularly difficult hunting trip with Black Elk’s father, Black Elk hears a coyote speaking to him, telling him there are bison on a ridge to the west. Black Elk wakes his father and they head west, meeting some other Lakotas along the way. Sure enough, they find plenty of bison through the blinding snow flurries. It takes the men all day to butcher the bison. They make camp and use the raw bison robes for shelter. They have a joyous feast and keep the fire going through the night to fend off the cold.
Black Elk might be able to use his powers to avoid enemies, but in the grander scheme of things, he is unable to save his people from the larger, long-lasting problems they face, such as starvation and harsh winters. Moments like this successful bison hunt become rarer and rarer as Black Elk’s narrative progresses. 
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
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Black Elk Speaks PDF
Black Elk and Black Elk’s father head home. Black Elk finds that five of their horses have frozen to death in the night. Everyone feels homesick for their own country and for the old days before the Wasichus invaded.
Coming home from a successful hunt to find their horses dead confirms for Black Elk and his people that any victories they will have from now on will be temporary and few and far between: they are living in a post-Wasichu world, now, and this world is characterized almost exclusively by food scarcity, tragedy, and displacement.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon