Black Elk Speaks


John G. Neihardt

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Black Elk Speaks: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Black Elk tells Watanye’s story about High Horse: There is a girl in High Horse’s village who is so beautiful that High Horse gets sick thinking about her, but the girl’s parents are very protective of her. Once the girl’s parents hear that High Horse is interested in their daughter, they began to tie her into her bed at night. High Horse’s pursuit of the girl is unsuccessful, but one day he manages to talk to her and discovers that she might possibly like him. Invigorated by the possibility of this, he approaches her father and offers him horses in exchange for the girl, but the father rejects High Horse’s offers. 
High Horse was a real person: a Northern Cheyenne Indian whom Black Elk visited in 1900. This digression from the main narrative in Black Elk Speaks reinforces the importance of oral tradition in Lakota culture while also presenting the reader with more insight into Lakota values and customs. Black Elk delivers the detail of the girl being tied to her bed noncritically, which suggests that some level of gender inequality is generally accepted in Lakota culture. 
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High Horse manages to meet alone with the girl once more and asks her to run away with him, but she refuses because she wants to be bought the way respectable women are. High Horse tells his friend Red Deer about his troubles, and Red Deer suggests they steal her away. Upon entering the girl’s tepee to steal her, High Horse becomes nervous and accidentally hits the girl with his knife, which causes her to scream. A group of people chase the two boys away, not knowing who they were.
In Lakota culture, marriages are either elopements (least honorable), by mutual agreement (most common), or by purchase. If a woman was purchased, it implied that she was extra valuable to her husband. The fact that High Horse is willing to steal the girl perhaps suggests that this is a relatively common practice in Cheyenne culture. In this way, the community’s safety and unity seems to be threatened by some of their own people in addition to the Wasichus.
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High Horse continues to feel sick over the girl. Red Deer comes up with a second plan to paint on High Horse, disguising him as an evil spirit, which will allow him to steal the girl without interference, as the villagers would be afraid of upsetting an evil spirit. Still, as High Horse approaches the girl’s bed that night in his disguise, he is scared he will be shot because he looks so frightening. High Horse cuts the leather ties that bind the girl to her bed, but he’s so exhausted from his lovesickness that he falls fast asleep before he can free her. He awakes to the girl screaming. 
That High Horse disguises himself as an evil spirit to scare away concerned villagers speaks to how seriously the Lakota regard the spiritual world, and the extent to which they believe the spiritual world can affect the physical world. A reader who is unfamiliar with Lakota culture might not realize how literally and seriously Black Elk regards his spiritual vision, and this scene emphasizes how real (as opposed to metaphorical or poetic) Black Elk’s spiritual vision is to him.
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High Horse runs from the tepee, and the other villagers chase after him with weapons. High Horse escapes and hides in a hollow tree. While he’s hiding, the village decide to move camp. Red Deer watches the scene unfold from his tepee, pretending not to know what is going on. When the camp moves, he finds High Horse, who is too embarrassed by his failure to return to the village. He tells Red Deer that he will go on the war path alone, and Red Deer accompanies him. After several days on the war path, they stumble upon a Crow camp. Once it is dark, they steal the Crows’ horses. The boys return to their village with the herd of horses. High Horse offers them all to the girl’s father, and he gets his girl.
High Horse’s story doesn’t necessarily add to Black Elk’s life story, but it provides the reader with a more informed understanding of Cheyenne culture and values. In addition to the importance of spirituality and storytelling, High Horse’s story also shows what personality traits that the Lakota value: High Horse is portrayed as a victorious hero at the story’s end, which implies that the Lakota value perseverance and heroic behavior in their men. The story also affirms that the Crow and the Lakota tribes are enemies.
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