Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Black Elk and Red Crow, a fellow warrior, retrieve babies they had hidden earlier from danger and they return to Pine Ridge. Everybody has fled, and the agency is empty. They eat some of the food the Indians left behind, and soldiers shoot at them, though they miss. Black Elk wishes he’d died.  He finds the camp where his people fled and is reunited with his Black Elk’s mother. Hardly anybody sleeps that night.
It seems as though the Great Spirit watches over Black Elk whether he likes it or not: in this instance, the soldiers’ bullets defy all odds and don’t hit him—which Black Elk seems to insinuate is evidence of spiritual intervention. Like his vision, spiritual power is both a blessing and a curse, giving him the power to live and be protected, but also presenting him with the guilt of feeling like he hasn’t earned that protection. Now, Black Elk wants to die, having failed to protect his people, but spiritual protection prevents him from doing so.
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
Black Elk wants revenge, so he and some other Lakotas set out the next day to fight. They join Lakota warriors shooting at soldiers near the Mission. Black Elk remembers the geese in his initial vision and charges toward the soldiers, his arms outstretched like wings, making noises like a goose. He is eventually hit and wounded. He wants to continue fighting, but a man named Protector bandages Black Elk’s wound and tells him he must not die, because his people need him. The Lakotas are almost victorious, but then a band of “black Wasichu soldiers” arrive, and they are forced to retreat.
Black Elk tries one last time to enact portions of his initial vision in an attempt to save his people. The “Mission” to which he refers is the Drexel Mission, a Catholic mission four miles north of Pine Ridge. This battle took place on December 30, 1890, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. The band of “black Wasichu soldiers” refers to the Ninth Cavalry, an African American cavalry commanded by Major Guy V. Henry. The way in which Black Elk refers to them suggests that Wasichu is more of a mentality or set of ideals than it is a race—black people can also be considered Wasichu if they’re fighting on behalf of the U.S,
Themes
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
In the Moon of Frost in the Tepee (January), Black Elk learns that there will be another chance to fight, as there are some Wasichu soldiers stationed at Smoky Earth River. Black Elk and some others head out to Smoky Earth to fight the soldiers before retreating into the Badlands. Some warriors want to form a larger war-party, but people are quickly losing faith, and Red Cloud convinces them to surrender because it is winter and he doesn’t think they will make it through another harsh time. They return to Pine Ridge. Black Elk laments the Battle of Wounded Knee, the loss of his culture, and his inability to act on the vision he was given as a young child. “The sacred tree is dead,” he states frankly.
This fight refers to the fight with the Sixth Cavalry on January 1, 1891. Red Cloud’s decision to surrender is a pragmatic response to his people’s dire circumstances. Despite the hope for a second coming and a restored sense of unity that Wovoka and his Ghost Dance movement originally promised, the Wounded Knee Massacre makes it clear to Red Cloud that Lakota spirituality—the old way—is no match for the deadly and unremitting forces that the Lakota are up against. Black Elk finally acknowledges the hopelessness of his people’s situation when he states that “the sacred tree is dead.” Because the tree represents unity, Black Elk’s statement implies that the Lakota’s former unity and cultural richness cannot be resurrected.
Themes
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
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