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Black Elk, wi?háša wak?á?, of the Oglala Lakota - A Life In Photos

Honor Native Heroes! Life of Black Elk In Photos
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South Dakota Public Broadcasting

"The only thing I really believe is the pipe religion." - Black Elk, near death, to his daughter Lucy Looks Twice. Pictured here is Black Elk in South Dakota, circa 1900. South Dakota Historical Society via SDPB

Black Elk was born in Dec. 1863, into a world in strife, along the Little Powder River (Wyoming), which would be invaded by European settlers in the next few years. The Europeans had to compete with the area’s tribes for scarce resources, leading to Red Cloud's War 1866-1868, between the U.S. Army and several Indian Tribes. Pictured here is the signing of The Treaty of Fort Laramie between William T. Sherman and the Sioux, in a tent, on April 29, 1868. The Treaty of Fort Laramie (also called the Sioux Treaty of 1868) was an agreement between the United States and the Oglala, Miniconjou, and Brulé bands of Lakota people, Yanktonai Dakota, and Arapaho Nation signed at Fort Laramie in the Wyoming Territory, guaranteeing to the Lakota ownership of the Black Hills, and further land and hunting rights in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The Powder River Country was to be henceforth closed to all whites. The treaty ended Red Cloud's War. However the discovery of gold in the Black Hills in the coming years lead to violations of the Treaty by prospecting settlers, culminating in the The Great Sioux War of 1876-77. Alexander Gardner photo, 1868. (Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images).

The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), page 1 of 2. The transcipt can be read at

The Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), page 2 of 2, signatories. The transcript can be read at

Black Elk grew up in The Black Hills, S.D. (?e Sápa in Lakota), here seen in an EROS (Earth Resources Observation Satellite) satellite image on 08-11-2010. The Black Hills are considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of the Lakota people’s creation story. It is a sacred place. Lt. Col. George Custer’s Black Hills Expedition of 1874 violated the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and set off a gold rush in the area after Custer announced her found gold in French Creek, S.D.

Bettmann/Corbis/AP Images

13 year-old Black Elk witnessed The Battle of the Greasy Grass the Lakota's preferred term), aka. The Battle of Little Bighorn on June 25–26, 1876.

Black Elk was part of his cousin Crazy Horse’s contingent that escaped capture in the aftermath of The Great Sioux War 1876-1877, but formally surrendered after the difficult winter of 1877. Pictured here is a drawing of Crazy Horse and his band of Indians on their way from Camp Sheridan to surrender to General Crook at Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, Sunday, May 6, 1877. Via Library of Congress

Black Elk and Elk of the Oglala Lakota as grass dancers touring with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, London, England, 1887. The men are wearing sheep and sleigh bells; otter fur waist and neck pieces; pheasant feather bustles at the waist; dentalium shell necklaces; and bone hairpipes with colored glass beads. Photograph collected on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1891 by James Mooney. Courtesy National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution

At The Battle Of Wounded Knee on Dec. 29th,1890, Black Elk on horseback charged soldiers and helped to rescue some of the wounded. He arrived after Spotted Elk's (Big Foot's) band of people had been shot and he was grazed by a bullet to his hip. Pictured here is the terrible aftermath of the massacre. AP Images.

Black Elk married Katie War Bonnet in 1892 on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and they had three children. Katie converted to Catholicism, and after her death in 1903, Black Elk converted to Catholicism in 1904 and took the first name Nicholas. Pictured here is Nicholas Black Elk teaching daughter Lucy Looks Twice (born Black Elk) how to pray the rosary. Published In the land of the Wigwam: Missionary Notes from the Pine Ridge Mission by Henry Ignatius Westropp, undated (ca. 1910), p. 13. Marquette University E-Archives.

Nick Black Elk, daughter Lucy Black Elk and wife Anna Brings White, photographed in their home in Manderson, South Dakota, ca 1910. Black Elk wears a suit, his wife wears a long dress decorated with elk's teeth and a hair pipe necklace. Wikipedia

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Nick Black Elk 6th from left (wearing moccasins), at The Cathechists at Catholic Sioux Congress, 1911; published in The Indian Sentinel, 1(1916). Marquette University E-Archives

Black Elk, Age ca. 62-63, 1927 or 1928. He taught the faith with the “Two Roads” picture map with the Good Red Road (red = Jesus’ blood) and the Black Road of Difficulties, at Broken Nose cabin, Pine Ridge Reservation. Marquette University E-Archives

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1930-31 Enid Neihardt, Nick Black Elk, his son Ben Black Elk, Standing Bear, and John G. Neihardt, during the interviews for Black Elk Speaks, published in 1932. John G. Neihardt Trust

Black Elk at a feast given by John G. Neihardt in May 1931, during the interviews for Black Elk Speaks, published in 1932. John G. Neihardt Trust

Black Elk returns to pray on Harney Peak, 1931, the site of his “Great Vision,” when he was nine years old. In his vision he saw “the Thunder Beings and taken to the Grandfathers, who represented the six sacred directions of west, east, north, south, above, and below. They took Black Elk to theater of the earth, the central mountain of the world, the axis of the six sacred directions, the point where stillness and movement are together.” [Wikipedia]. Harney Peak, called Hinhan Kaga by the Lakota Sioux, is the highest natural point in South Dakota and the Black Hills.

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1937 Nicholas Black Elk in chief's costume. “Beginning in 1934, Black Elk returned to the work that he had done earlier in life with Buffalo Bill – organizing an Indian show in the Black Hills. Unlike the Wild West shows which were used to glorify Indian warfare, Black Elk's show was used primarily to teach tourists about Lakota culture and traditional sacred rituals – including the Sun Dance.” [Wikipedia]

Black Elk-Neihardt Park

Nicholas Black Elk and John G. Neihardt in 1945.

Nicholas Black Elk in 1948

1985 "The Sixth Grandfather: Black Elk's Teachings Given to John G. Neihardt, Edited by Raymond J. DeMallie." These are Transcripts of Neihardt interviews which reveal greater details on Black Elk’s life and visions

1997 "The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Recorded and Edited by Joseph Epes Brown." Still more details on Black Elk's life.

Ben Black Elk with pipe at grave of his father, Nicholas Black Elk. Red Cloud Indian School publicity image, 1970-1971. Marquette University E-Archives.