Black Elk Speaks: The Complete Edition

By John G. Neihardt | Go to book overview

PREFACE TO THE 1932 EDITION

The first time I went out to talk to Black Elk about the Ogalala Sioux, I found him sitting alone under a shelter of pine boughs near his log cabin that stands on a barren hill about two miles west of Manderson Post Office.

I had learned that Black Elk was related to the great Chief Crazy Horse and had known him intimately, so, in company with my son and an interpreter, I went to see him, expecting no more than the satisfaction of exchanging a few words with one who had, not once but many times, “seen Shelley plain.” Nor did I feel certain of even so much; for, on the way, my interpreter said that he had taken another writer to Black Elk that morning without success. “I can see that you are a nice-looking woman,” the old man had remarked, “and I can feel that you are good; but I do not want to talk about such things.”

Black Elk paid me no compliments, but he talked all that August afternoon, save for frequent brooding silences when he sat hunched up, with folded elbows on his knees, staring upon the ground with half blind eyes.

It was not of worldly matters that he spoke most, but of things that he deemed holy and of “the darkness of men’s eyes.” Although my acquaintance with the Indian consciousness had been fairly intimate for more than thirty years, the inner world1 of Black Elk, imperfectly revealed as by flashes that day, was both strange and wonderful to me.

Also, I was deeply impressed by the scope of the man’s life experience. In addition to having lived the common life of his people in the good old times as well as in the tragic and heroic years of their final defeat and degradation, from early youth he had lived in and for a world of higher

-xvii-

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