Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Black Elk Speaks can help.

Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the spring, two families from Black Elk’s group set out for a place they used to camp. One morning, while Black Elk is taking the horses out to eat, he hears a voice warn him to look out. Suddenly, he sees two enemies (who he later learns are Blackfeet) crawling toward his camp to attack them. Black Elk prays to the spirits for help before telling his people that they must flee. They do so, not even pausing to take down their tepees. Black Elk hears a voice and sees a thunder cloud form, and he knows it is the spirits protecting them. As Black Elk and his people flee, they hear shooting coming from the direction of their deserted camp.
The Blackfeet that Black Elk refers to are the Blackfeet of Montana—not the Blackfeet Sioux, who are a Lakota band. Black Elk’s powers continue to protect him and his people in these incidental, smaller ways. Here, Black Elk views the thunder cloud’s formation as a comforting validation that it was spirits who helped him and his family escape.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
They reach their country, crossing the Missouri river on a “fire-boat” and settle in a Soldiers’ Town at the mouth of the Tongue River. The soldiers take Black Elk’s people’s guns and leave them with only two horses per tepee. In the Moon of Making Fat (June), they perform a sun dance. Black Elk feels guilty for not doing what the Grandfathers in his vision wanted him to do; he feels bad every time a thunder cloud approaches, and he hears the thunder calling on him to “make haste.” The coyotes also call out to him. Black Elk is glad once the frosts begin and there are no more thunder storms to remind him of his unrealized vision.
When Black Elk returns to his homeland, the things that had once comforted him—a coyote’s calling, thunder, and the voices—become sources of anxiety. Black Elk sees thunder (and the spiritual presence that it implies) as less of a reassurance and more of a weight on his chest that perpetually reminds him of his failures to save his people and their culture. The thunder, coyotes, and voices remind Black Elk that he possesses an unused visionary gift, and he feels alienated by the things that once brought him comfort.
Themes
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Black Elk turns 17 that winter. When the spring comes around, Black Elk’s parents ask a medicine man named Black Road to see what’s wrong with Black Elk, as he continues to act strange. Black Elk is so anxious that he tells Black Road about his vision. Black Road tells him that to feel better, he must go through with the duty presented to him in his vision. He tells Black Elk that if he doesn’t perform a horse dance, something bad will happen to him.
Black Road’s advice marks a turning point for Black Elk: it offers him the opportunity to understand the ramifications of his vision and the powers it gives him. Black Road’s gives Black Elk hope that he will finally be able to realize his vision and harness his powers for the greater good of his people.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Related Quotes