Skip to main content

One of South Dakota's Great Faces

  • Author:
  • Updated:

He’s known as the “fifth face on the mountain” for his dedicated service at Mount Rushmore, but Ben Black Elk’s work to preserve the Lakota culture stretched far beyond the national monument. That makes him one of South Dakota’s Great Faces.

For more than 27 years, Ben shared stories with tourists and personally greeted visitors at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.

The book “Black Elk Speaks” is about Ben’s father Black Elk. The book is Black Elk’s life narrative. It was originally provided to author John Neihardt, but it was Ben who translated the narrative from Lakota to English.

“Black Elk Speaks” describes the elder Black Elk’s childhood, young adult life, and the spiritual life of Lakota people. The book, published in 1932, tells stories of becoming a medicine man, joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and battles with the United States Army. “Black Elk Speaks” became a major source of information about 19th-century Plains Indian culture.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

The elder Black Elk died in 1950, but his son continued to travel to local schools to tell traditional stories of the Lakota history and culture. A Lakota educator, Warfield Moose Sr., recorded many of Ben’s
sessions. The compilation won the award for “Best Historical Recording” at the 2003 Native American Music Awards.

Ben Black Elk was 74 years old when he died on Feb. 22, 1973.

Each year, the South Dakota Office of Tourism gives out the Ben Black Elk Award, which recognizes an individual who has made tireless and outstanding contributions to the state’s visitor industry.

South Dakota’s Great Faces weekly press release series is a project of the South Dakota Office of Tourism, designed to highlight people who have had significant impacts on South Dakota, particularly in the visitor industry. Click on the special “South Dakota’s Great Faces” link at to access the complete list of articles.