Transcript of Letter from John G. Neihardt to Julius House,
August 10, 1930
When trying to understand an event as important as the creation of the book Black Elk Speaks, any additional resource can be helpful. Correspondence such as the letter below is an example of such a resource. This particular letter, from Neihardt to his close friend Julius House, gives us a glimpse into what was going on in Neihardt’s mind—how exactly he was responding to the initial meeting with Black Elk that had just taken place.
It is important to remember that when looking at this letter—even though it was later published as “‘Messiah’ Is on the Way” in Present-Day American Literature (December 1930)—it was initially written as a personal letter to a friend. Neihardt’s other correspondence with House indicates that their relationship was one in which Neihardt felt free to discuss things he might otherwise keep to himself. It was in this relationship that Neihardt sometimes admitted feelings of discouragement or frustration—luxuries he didn’t allow himself in his public writing. So we can be fairly confident that this letter is an accurate indication of Neihardt’s early response.
It is also interesting to note that although N eihardt had spent only a few hours with Black Elk (the hours and days of interviews and companionship would not take place for another nine months), we see a dawning awareness on the part of both men of sympathetic understanding and a merging of consciousness.
It has been a long time since I wrote you, but you can bet safely that it has not ever been long between deep thoughts of you.
The Dakota Excursion went off as per schedule and it was most successful in every way. Sig and I batted around the Black Hills, explored in the Bad Lands (which was like wandering in the moon) and I had a straight five hours of intimate talk of an extraordinary character with old Black Elk, hereditary medicine man of the Sioux. Black Elk had just turned down a bustling lady who had come to get a pot or two of local color for some writing that she had in mind.