Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt – All Chapters Summaries

 Chapter 1 Summary

Black Elk is at a point in his life where he sees it fit to share his story with John Neihardt. He does this because he feels he has failed to fulfill his earlier vision. After sharing a pipe with Neihardt, he proceeds to relate his story in great detail while describing his vision.

Chapter 2 Summary

In this chapter, Black Elk begins by narrating his childhood experiences to Neihardt. He describes the tension that exists between the Native Americans and the white settlers whose sole intention was to move westward to sacred Indian land.

 Chapter 3 Summary

At the age of nine, Black Elk has an extraordinary vision. By this period, the Transcontinental Railroad had cut through Indian hunting grounds, which meant that the band had to move with the bison. It was during the session that a cloud carries him to an area where he receives a symbolic vision.

Chapter 4 Summary

Black Elk finally comes to after twelve days of unconsciousness. His mother informs him that it was the medicine man that cured him and manages to express his gratitude. However, he remains mum over his vision for fear of being misunderstood.

Chapter 5 Summary

After the bison hunt, all six Lakota bands go their separate ways with Black Elk and his family moving to Fort Robinson. It was here that Black Elk saw a white man for the first time and played with other children near the fort. Chief Red Cloud is also introduced in this chapter as a peacemaker keen on ensuring that there was no conflict.

Chapter 6 Summary

In this chapter, Black Elk tells the story of Watanye’s persistence. He seeks to marry an Indian girl, but her parents will not budge. After several unsuccessful attempts, he finally resorts to stealing horses from Crow Indians which ultimately earned him his bride.

Chapter 7 Summary

Black Elk and the other Lakota people have camped at the sacred Black Hills. He still remembers his vision clearly, which is why he even avoids stoning birds like the other boys since he was their relative. During their typical hunts, he hears a voice telling him to return to camp where he finds his people preparing to move.

Chapter 8 Summary

The situation in the plains is rapidly deteriorating. At this particular point, Black Elk’s father informs him that Chief Red Cloud cannot be trusted since he signed a treaty with the white man.  The tribe has to be prepared to fight for their land, which is why they organize the sun dance.

Chapter 9 Summary

Black Elk recounts his participation in his first campaign at the Battle of Little Big Horn. The fight ensued since the Indians were attacked without any provocation and were on their land. He remembers the events of the day when he scalped a man for the first time.

Chapter 10 Summary

The Lakota intend to keep their land, which also includes the Black Hills, but there are rumors that the land has already been sold to the white man. It is late August, and the Lakota have not settled yet since soldiers under General Crook keep on following them. A cold and bitter winter weakens the Indians who, by now, have nothing to eat. Some join the agencies while prominent chiefs such as Crazy Horse surrender.

Chapter 11 Summary

Word going around the bands is that Crazy Horse is regrouping to go to war with the white man. Many believe that these are rumors constructed by the white man since Crazy Horse refused to go to Washington, D. C as a show of Indian conciliation. He is later captured, imprisoned and killed at Fort    Robinson.

Chapter 12 Summary

Black Elk is now an influential leader and listens to his people’s cries. They are all opposed to moving into reservations and some resort to cross over to Canada where they join Sitting Bull and his band. Black Elks power is growing, and his vision leads him to a bison heard where they successfully make a kill.

  Chapter 13 Summary

Black Elk and two other families intend to move back where they lived. His visions are getting clearer and guide him in his endeavors. On one occasion, they lead him to a bluff where he spots two Blackfeet Indians planning an attack. He successfully guides his people out this impending attack by crossing the Missouri River.

Chapter 14 Summary

A reenactment of Black Elk’s original vision is organized by Black Road to bring clarity. Black Elk purifies himself in a nearby sweat lodge and soon begins the ritual. He completes it, becomes a medicine man and seeks to fulfill his destiny.

Chapter 15 Summary

By now Black Elk is a troubled man. The soldiers who had been sent time and again to track the warring bands now inform him that the United States government has bought the land he stands on. He still manages to purify himself and await instructions from his vision.

Chapter 16 Summary

A dog vision is finally performed in the presence of the heyokas. They slaughter and skin a dog for the ritual as other Indians stand close by. At Pine Ridge, they ride past the dog heart before spearing the dogs head. The heart and meat are then shared among all those present.

Chapter 17 Summary

Black Elk begins speaking about the present circumstances that the Indian are in. They have been reduced to prisoners on their land and confined to square houses. Times are changing, and Black Elk is in grief for he does not know what the future holds for the Lakota people.

Chapter 18 Summary

The vision harbored by Black Elk burdens his heart, which is why he decides to explain it to Neihardt. What worries him the most is that he might die before it coming to pass and decides that it is the best to prepare a ceremony. It is during this same ceremony that Fox Belly confirms him as a healer

 Chapter 19 Summary

Bison herds across the plain have now disappeared, and it has now become apparent that it is the white man’s doing. They have been hunted for sport, with the white men taking what they didn’t need. For Black Elk and his people, the reservation becomes their temporary home as they observe the changes taking place around them. He later travels with Buffalo Bill’s show to England where he meets Queen Victoria.

Chapter 20 Summary

Black Elk tours London with Buffalo Bill, but gets lost and does not return to America. After joining another performing troupe, he lands in Paris where he befriends one of the girls. A vision of him going back home later comes to pass when Buffalo Bill arrives in France.

Chapter 21 Summary

On arrival back home, Black Elk is greeted by the utter desperation that his people had to experience. The food promised to them by the Federal Government had not arrived, the bison had disappeared, disease rife and family members. All there was now was hope through the ghost dance as performed by the Messiah Wanekia (a great spirit).

Chapter 22 Summary

The ghost dance is underway, and this is when Black Elk decides to join his companions, Kicking Bear and Good Thunder. He performs this dance incessantly for days on end until he finally receives a vision. He is elevated and expected to play his part in protecting the people.

Chapter 23 Summary

The ghost dance is spreading across the Lakota reservations with the whites growing apprehensive. Black Elk continues making his holy shirts but soon receives news that soldiers are planning on arresting them. They arrive at Wounded Knee where they plan to resist any attempts to assimilate.

 Chapter 24 Summary

Black Elk bitterly recounts the death and carnage that befell his people at Wounded Knee. Men, women, and children had been murdered by the cavalry with Big Elk unable to save them. The cavalry massacres them and leaves their bodies in the snow to be covered by the blizzard.

Chapter 25 Summary

Still reeling from the gruesome sight at Wounded Knee, Chief Red Cloud and Black Head back to Pine Ridge where they try to seek food. The camp is abandoned, and they decide to look for their people. On meeting their family members, they decide to revenge but are driven back by a contingent of African-American soldiers.

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