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Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  16,337 ratings  ·  856 reviews
"Black Elk Speaks," the story of the Oglala Lakota visionary and healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) and his people during momentous twilight years of the nineteenth century, offers readers much more than a precious glimpse of a vanished time. Black Elk's searing visions of the unity of humanity and Earth, conveyed by John G. Neihardt, have made this book a classic that ...more
Paperback, 270 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Bison Books (first published 1932)
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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Julie G
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: South Dakota

It's my favorite time of year, and I've got all the liquids in my cauldrons bubbling on the stove: soup, applesauce, Love Potion #9, and my standard Witches Brew (for poisoning).

In the background, I've got a simmering panic, wondering why in the hell I chose this heavy memoir, Black Elk Speaks, to read now, as it's already October and I've still got 13 more states to get to before the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.

This book could be used
This is a haunting and moving transcription of interviews with the revered medicine man Black Elk of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux in 1930 at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The editor, John Neihart, was a poet who was writing an epic poem about Messiah movement in the 1880’s among diverse Plains Indians and was seeking Black Elk’s perspective. Black Elk, then in his mid-60s, reflects back on a life spent trying to heal his people as a whole, not just individuals with medical p ...more
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It was inspired of John Neihardt to get Black Elk to tell him his life story. It’s hard to believe anyone could have told better the story of the Lakota Nation’s demise as an autonomous, proud, wise, communal, deeply spiritual and sometimes brutal culture. Black Elk lived through the so-called “Fetterman Massacre”, the battle of the Little Big Horn and the massacre at Wounded Knee. He even participated in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and visited Paris and London where he met Queen Victoria who ...more
Joan DeArtemis
This was my third time reading this book, and every time I come away with something new. I highly recommend this to anyone studying religion. I highly recommend this book to every single American citizen. It should be required reading in public schools. The Lakota people have a vibrant, exciting, living religious tradition, and the fact that Black Elk's story was recorded is a gem and a blessing. Not only is it because of the religious tradition is this book important. It is also important becau ...more
Barnaby Thieme
Dec 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
John Neihardt's classic is a problematic read to be sure. On the one hand, Neihardt was a sympathetic interlocutor who elicited a fascinating account from an extraordinary man who lived through several major episodes in late-19th-century history. On the other hand, his poetic pretensions led him to rearrange and dress up that testimony, adorning it with his own mediocre neo-Romantic insight, and altogether distorting the historical and cultural record.

Readers of Black Elk Speaks may be surprise
Dec 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this years ago when I first started teaching an undergraduate "global ethics" class, and knew it was the likely the best source of Lakota (American Plains Indian tribe) philosophy and worldview. Black Elk believed that humans would not be Good if they weren't connected to each other and to the universe. Unless we knew and practiced a "oneness of humanity" (to borrow a phrase from the Baha'i' faith - a group that once gave me an award for anti-racism work in schools!) the world would more ...more
L.G. Cullens
Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition by John G. Neihardt

Black Elk Speaks is arguably the single most widely read book in the literature relating to North American Native history. To better understand ourselves, it is a book that everyone with a modicum of conscience should read. It is also a treasure trove for research.

I'm at the point in life where there is little else to linger for save yesterday. This book took me there in spades.

"It is the story of all life that is holy and is good to tell
Feb 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Grandfather, Great Spirit, once more behold me on earth and lean to hear my feeble voice. You lived first, and you are older than all need, older than all prayer. All things belong to you --- the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the wings of the air and all green things that live. You have set the powers of the four quarters to cross each other. The good road and the road of difficulties you have made to cross; and where they cross the place is holy. Day in and day out, forever, you are the life o ...more
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-us, biography
I read an edition of this book which lists where the contents of Black Elk's telling of this portion of his life was greatly enhanced emotionally and symbolically by Neihardt. Were I not aware of these changes until after reading it, I would feel cheated and as though this book were a fake. Despite these added notes, however, the book is still fantastic, most of the perversion of the text being whiny, emotional additions and romantic lamentations Neihardt adds in his cultural guilt and ethical f ...more
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux is a fascinating piece of history. It is the life story of a Native American holy man named Black Elk, as told in 1931 to a Nebraskan poet. Black Elk recounts his youth during the mid-19th century, when battles and massacres drove the Sioux and other tribes into smaller and smaller areas of land. Treaties made with the American government were repeatedly broken by settlers so that land could be exploited for gold or other r ...more
Apr 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Black Elk Speaks is a timeless classic. John Neihardt, longtime poet laureate of Nebraska, met with Black Elk, and through a translator recorded the story of Black Elk’s youth, development into a young warrior, and his visions.

Black Elk lived in interesting times. He was a cousin of Crazy Horse, the renowned Native American Warrior, and he recounts Crazy Horse’s death at the hands of a Calvary officer. During Black Elk’s youth, he travel with the tribe as they followed seasonal changes and hunt
Deacon Tom F
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic! Amazing! Historical! Educational!

"Black Elk Speaks" by John Neihardt is the famous Black Elk's personal history starting from his youth. I enjoyed every word of this read.

Neihardt tells the story of the world renowned Black Elk, an Indian. Black Elk spoke in Lakota and Black Elk's son, Ben Black Elk, who help translate his father's words into English.

Black Elk born in December 1863, (Hehaka Sapa & Nicholas Black Elk) was a famous holy man, healer, and visionary of the Oglala Lakota
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
An abridged cd with a magnificent reading by Fred Contreras. The other day as I went to a car repair appointment, I arrived all misty-eyed and runny-nosed. Very sad story. Black Elk speaks of the creatures with roots, legs, and wings. I add the creatures that crawl and swim. And any other creatures that are left out. I hope to read the full unabridged version in book form some day so I can copy down a few quotes.

Riding home from my appointment, I noticed the melting snow. The seven-day forecast
Sep 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Anyone who knows me at all knows that I am an avid reader of Native American historical non-fiction. Over the years and throughout many of the books I have read, I have come across references to Black Elk. He was not a major player in the pivotal events that resulted in the devastation of his people's (the Lakota's) lives and culture, but he was a witness to so much of it. Most importantly, he willingly opened up and shared his story with the author of this book who sought out his story.

Jun 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read the Premier Edition, which is wonderfully annotated with historical references and clarifications on the interpretations and additions that are Neihardt's and not in the transcripts of Black Elk's words. I have had this on my "to read" list for years — everything in its time. I read this while in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Black Elk's homeland. It seemed especially powerful to read it in the very hills where he lived and walked, had visions, dreams, and went about the work of a holy ...more
Sophfronia Scott
Jul 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had the tremendous experience of reading this important work while staying in the Black Hills of South Dakota and visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation, both areas described in detail. I also met Black Elk's granddaughter Betty, a noble and kind-hearted woman who welcomes hungry travelers daily for a home-cooked meal in the small restaurant she runs out of her house on the reservation. She told me how her grandfather dictated the book on the property and where he sat under the trees with John Ne ...more
Evelina | AvalinahsBooks
I do not rate, because who rates the truth? How would you even rate it?

If you're American, read this. Know whose land you walk. Know whose children's and women's bodies cover that land. The very least you can do is pay respect to their memory.
C.g. Ayling
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
“History is written by the victors, not by the vanquished.”

Rarely do we have an opportunity to view history from the perspective of the vanquished. “Black Elks Speaks”, by John Neihardt, gives us another window through which we may look at the past. Neihardt’s window shows us a completely different view of history. A view in which honor and dignity belongs not to the victors, but to the vanquished.

“Black Elk Speaks” grants a Lakota medicine man named Black Elk a voice, and every reader an opport
Dec 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-stars
I'm trained to be suspicious of stories like this: an old Lakota shaman decides to tell all about his previously secret visions to a white poet so he can write them in English and publish them. ??! But a shallow-digging internet search does not turn up anything suggesting against this, so okay.

So, okay. Black Elk fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn AND the Wounded Knee Massacre, AND travelled to Europe with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, AND he was a powerful shaman who was taken on numer

I don't exactly know how to 'star' this book, so I won't.

All of the metaphorical + verbal clichés used relative to the time period this was written in are extremely annoying to read repeatedly & makes this feel even more inauthentic & embellished than I already know it is.
A Native American man who could not speak English would not be speaking in these clichés that were completely foreign to him & his culture. Not only is this annoying to me, it is offensive. Even though Black Elk's words + idea
Jul 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I had the privilege of listening to this audiobook while driving through South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota. It’s a truly unique work of memoir and ethnology. Not only do we hear straight from the horses mouth the tragic story of the destruction of the Sioux way of life (as retold 40 years later in Dee Brown’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”), we are also privy to the coming of age of a great healer and spiritual leader. And there are cameos by Buffalo Bill and Queen Victoria. In th ...more
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the story of the life of the Oglala Sioux holy man and the ways, culture and late 19th century history of his and surrounding Native American tribes. This was told by Black Elk himself to the author. Black Elk had a vision as a young boy while very sick that influenced him throughout his life. The book’s descriptions of his unfolding interpretation of this vision and his experience of the difficult events marking the history of the USA’s relationship with native Americans provides insigh ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: life-history
At first glance, this is an interesting book, though personally not particularly my favorite topic. But if you look further into the book, there are just too many discrepancies between Black Elk's life and the story that is written. In writing a life-history it is very important to take into consideration the producer (Neihardt) and the process, in order to understand the product. Neihardt sought Black Elk because Neihardt was writing an epic poem, and he needed to talk to an old spiritual leade ...more
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
This book has been on my wish list for several years. I finally checked it out of the library. I’ve long been fascinated by the metaphor, imagery, and poetry of Native American myth and legend. That’s why I wanted to read this book, but I also believe we Americans have a responsibility to honor and listen to the heritage of the people we exterminated. History is reported through the eyes of the victors, who discount the cost to the other side.

This is obviously a brutal, violent, and grim story.
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This expands my knowledge of the Native American culture. Black Elk's vision of the sacred tree and the hoop tend to go along with some of my thoughts. However his vision was from a very masculine perspective and had only little reference to the feminine aspects. Black Elk lived in the time of the battle of The Little Big Horn and the slaughter at Wounded Knee. He went to Europe with Buffalo Bill and met Queen Victoria. His experiences with the Ghost Dance were intriguing. The fact that he ended ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a powerful story. Black Elk agreed to interviews with the author, and revealed for the first time a series of visions he had while ill as a 9-year-old child. He carried the weight of the visions for the remainder of his life, and continued to experience visions for most of his adult life. Black Elk describes, with help from some old friends present during some of the interviews, the coming of white settlers to the land held by native Americans, the selling out of some tribal leaders and the ...more
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Black Elk lived an unparalleled life, but I have a hard time writing a review knowing the embellishments Neihardt made to Black Elk's narrative and the criticisms of such changes were to make the story more accessible and marketable to a white audience. Just analyzing what is in the book, Black Elk Speaks follows an audio-biographical account of his life from childhood through Wounded Knee as a warrior and holy man. Black Elk is Oglala, but the book also dives into the relations with other Lakot ...more
Terry Madden
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's hard to believe that people like Black Elk lived through a span of history that so thoroughly crushed a way of life. He lived from the time of Lakota independence, with bison enough for all and the freedom to travel the land wherever they wished, to the horror of Wounded Knee and the end of a way of life. His story is a microcosm of native destiny. Very powerful reading. ...more
Fredrick Danysh
At the Pine Ridge Reservation, Black Elk tells his story of the world and the Native American experiences as seen through his eyes. American history from a Native American viewpoint.
Combination of history, religion and the interpretation of a white man. With lots of additional information and pictures.
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