Black Elk Speaks

by

John G. Neihardt

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Black Elk Speaks can help.
The Lakota are one of the Great Sioux Nation’s three tribes. The Lakota people consist of seven different bands, or tribes: Black Feet, Brules, Hunkpapa, Minneconjou, Ogalala, Sans Arcs, and Two Kettles.

Lakota Quotes in Black Elk Speaks

The Black Elk Speaks quotes below are all either spoken by Lakota or refer to Lakota. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Nebraska Press edition of Black Elk Speaks published in 2014.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It is the story of all life that is holy and good to tell, and of us two-leggeds sharing in it with the four-leggeds and the wings of the air and of green things; for these are children of one mother and their father is one Spirit.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), John Neihardt
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

But now that I see it all as from a lonely hilltop, I know it was the story of a mighty vision given to a man too weak to use it; of a holy tree that should have flourished in a people’s heart with flowers and singing birds, and now is withered; and of a people’s dream that died in bloody snow.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Once we were happy in our own country and we were seldom hungry, for then the two-leggeds and the four-leggeds lived together like relatives, and there was plenty for them and for us. But the Wasichus came, and they have made little islands for us and other little islands for the four-leggeds, and always these islands are becoming smaller, for around them surges the gnawing flood of the Wasichu; and it is dirty with lies and greed.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Related Symbols: Yellow Metal / Gold
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), Black Elk’s father, Drinks Water
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

So I took the bright red stick and at the center of the nation’s hoop I thrust it in the earth. As it touched the earth it leaped mightily in my hand and was a waga chun, the rustling tree, very tall and full of leafy branches and of all birds singing. And beneath it all the animals were mingling with the people like relatives and making happy cries. The women raised their tremolo of joy, and the men shouted all together: “Here we shall raise our children and be as little chickens under the mother sheo’s wing.”

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Our people knew there was yellow metal in little chunks up there; but they did not bother with it, because it was not good for anything.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Related Symbols: Yellow Metal / Gold
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

He was a queer man. Maybe he was always part way into that world of his vision. He was a very great man, and I think if the Wasichus had not murdered him down there, maybe we should still have the Black Hills and be happy. They could not have killed him in battle. They had to lie to him and murder him.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), Crazy Horse
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

But only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth. Sometimes I think it might have been better if we had stayed together and made them kill us all.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), Red Cloud, Crazy Horse
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

It does not matter where his body lies, for it is grass; but where his spirit is, it will be good to be.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), Crazy Horse
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

And now when I look about me upon my people in despair, I feel like crying and I wish and wish my vision could have been given to a man more worthy. I wonder why it came to me, a pitiful old man who can do nothing. Men and women and children I have cured of sickness with the power the vision gave me; but my nation I could not help.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

It is from understanding that power comes; and the power in the ceremony was in understanding what it meant; for nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the way the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

I can remember when the bison were so many that they could not be counted, but more and more Wasichus came to kill them until there were only heaps and heaps of bones scattered where they used to be. The Wasichus did not kill them to eat; they killed them for the metal that makes them crazy, and they took only the hides to sell. Sometimes they did not even take the hides to sell. Sometimes they did not even take the hides, only the tongues; […] they just killed and killed because they liked to do that. When we hunted bison, we killed only what we needed. And when there was nothing left but heaps of bones, the Wasichus came and gathered up even the bones and sold them.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Related Symbols: Yellow Metal / Gold
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

I did not depend upon the great vision as I should have done; I depended upon the two sticks that I had seen in the lesser vision. It is hard to follow one great vision in this world of darkness and of many changing shadows. Among those shadows men get lost.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker), The Six Grandfathers
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

The snow drifted deep in the crooked gulch, and it was one long grave of butchered women and children and babies, who had never done any harm and were only trying to run away.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 25 Quotes

And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth,—you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.

Related Characters: Black Elk (speaker)
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Black Elk Speaks LitChart as a printable PDF.
Black Elk Speaks PDF

Lakota Term Timeline in Black Elk Speaks

The timeline below shows where the term Lakota appears in Black Elk Speaks. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Early Boyhood
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...Elk begins his narrative, providing his audience with background on his family: he is a Lakota of the Ogalala band, and he is the fourth person of his family to be... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...of greed. Black Elk tells a story his father told him about Drinks Water, a Lakota holy man, who had a premonition of the future in which the four-leggeds go back... (full context)
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...the Hundred Slain. Fire Thunder explains that Chief Red Cloud had called together the dispersed Lakota bands in the Moon of the Changing Season (October) to wage war against the growing... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Great Vision
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...and though the road causes the bison population to diminish, there remains enough for the Lakotas to hunt. Black Elk continues to hear the voices, though he doesn’t know what they... (full context)
Chapter 5: At the Soldiers’ Town
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
After the meat from the hunt is dried, the bands of Lakota that had come together around the time Black Elk had his vision disperse. In the... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
...Watanye also tells Black Elk stories, one of which was a funny tale about a Lakota boy named High Horse who had trouble winning over the girl in whom he was... (full context)
Chapter 7: Wasichus in the Hills
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...the Black Hills and who had no right to be there, as it was the Lakota people’s country. Custer and his people had broken their promise because they found “yellow metal”... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...Calves Grow Hair (September) there is a council with the Wasichus and people from the Lakota, Shyela, and Blue Cloud tribes to discuss the gold-digging. The talk is unsuccessful: Black Elk’s... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Fight with Three Stars
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...Iron Hawk’s pony was injured, so he retreated into the forest, where he found some Lakotas feasting on a bison they caught. He joined them until evening, when another Lakota scolded... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Killing of Crazy Horse
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 12: Grandmother’s Land
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Dog Vision
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Alienation Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...take the Indians’ horses and send them to Fort Yates, a new reservation for the Lakota people. Black Elk doesn’t think they were ever repaid for their stolen horses. Gall and... (full context)
Chapter 19: Across the Big Water 
Nature Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
...Black Elk performs the elk ceremony (1883), the Wasichus kill the last bison. Unlike the Lakotas, who hunted the bison for their meat, the Wasichus kill the bison for yellow metal,... (full context)
Chapter 20: The Spirit Journey
Alienation Theme Icon
...few months in Manchester, but he and some others get left behind. They find another Lakota who can speak the Wasichu language and who tells them that they can earn the... (full context)
Chapter 21: The Messiah
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...recent treaty that Three Stars forced them to sign took away half of the remaining Lakota land. Because Black Elk’s people are mostly confined to agencies, there is nothing they can... (full context)
Chapter 23: Bad Trouble Coming
Nature Theme Icon
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
The Wasichus continue to lie to the Lakotas, giving them less than half of the food they promised them. While dancing with the... (full context)
The Transformative Power of Ceremony  Theme Icon
The Loss of Culture and Community  Theme Icon
Unrealized Dreams  Theme Icon
...on the Ghost Dance, though they insist that they wouldn’t take it away from the Lakota; Black Elk’s people are skeptical. At Pine Ridge, Wasichus tell the Indians that they will... (full context)
Chapter 25: The End of the Dream
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... (full context)