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Black Elk Speaks
Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, The Premier Edition
Black Elk Speaks
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John G. Neihardt - Author
Excelsior Editions
Paperback - 364 pages
Release Date: October 2008
ISBN10: 1-4384-2540-6
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-2540-5

Out of Print
Available as a Kindle Edition.
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The famous life story of the Lakota healer and visionary, Nicholas Black Elk.

Widely hailed as a spiritual classic, this inspirational and unfailingly powerful story reveals the life and visions of the Lakota healer Nicholas Black Elk (1863–1950) and the tragic history of his Sioux people during the epic closing decades of the Old West. In 1930, the aging Black Elk met a kindred spirit, the famed poet, writer, and critic John G. Neihardt (1881–1973) on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota elder chose Neihardt to share his visions and life with the world. Neihardt understood and today Black Elk is known to all.

Black Elk’s remarkable great vision came to him during a time of decimation and loss, when outsiders were stealing the Lakotas’ land, slaughtering buffalo, and threatening their age-old way of life. As Black Elk remembers all too well, the Lakotas, led by such legendary men as Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, fought unceasingly for their freedom, winning a world-renowned victory at the Little Bighorn and suffering unspeakable losses at Wounded Knee.

 Black Elk Speaks however is more than the epic history of a valiant Native nation. It is beloved as a spiritual classic because of John Neihardt’s sensitivity to Black Elk’s resounding vision of the wholeness of earth, her creatures, and all of humanity. Black Elk Speaks is a once-in-a-lifetime read: the moving story of a young Lakota boy before the reservation years, the unforgettable history of an American Indian nation, and an enduring spiritual message for us all.

The premier edition features the first-ever annotated edition of Black Elk’s story, done by renowned Lakota scholar Raymond J. DeMallie, the original Standing Bear illustrations and new commentary on them, new maps of the world of Black Elk Speaks, and a revised index.

Black Elk Speaks is a must read book for anyone interested in the history of the Western Plains. It brings out both the romantic mythology of the West pictured today and the darker reality of the past.” — Midwest Book Review

Black Elk Speaks is a classic … The Premier Edition is indispensable. Raymond J. DeMallie enriches the original text while respectfully and sincerely acknowledging and appreciating the original and Neihardt’s creativity, adding to the continuing legacy of Black Elk.” —  Canadian Journal of Native Studies

"This is the first edition of Black Elk Speaks that includes annotations by a scholar of Lakota history … [and] extends Neihardt’s work to a wider audience and honors Black Elk’s vision of the interconnection of human beings with all living creatures and the earth in a way that speaks to contemporary environmental issues. — American Indian Quarterly

“…the compelling story of a cross-cultural collaboration that continues to engage scholars and lay readers alike.” — CHOICE

“If this title is not yet in your home or school library … take note of the surprisingly low price and the high quality of what SUNY Press calls the Premier Edition of this great work.” — Light of Consciousness

 “If any great religious classic has emerged in this century or on this continent, it must certainly be judged in the company of Black Elk Speaks … [T]he book has become a North American bible of all tribes … it speaks to us with simple and compelling language about an aspect of human experience and encourages us to emphasize the best that dwells within us…” — Vine Deloria Jr.

“The experience of Black Elk … comes to one great statement, which for me is a key statement to the understanding of myth and symbols.” — Joseph Campbell in an interview with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth

“It is sufficient that Black Elk Speaks is an extraordinarily human document—and beyond that the record of a profoundly spiritual journey, the pilgrimage of a people towards their historical fulfillment and culmination, towards the accomplishment of a worthy destiny.”  — N. Scott Momaday

“If a religious text of powerful import occurred in the twentieth century, it was Black Elk Speaks. If both Eastern (Buddhist/Taoist) and Western (Judeo-Christian/Muslim) religious canons are to be challenged and grounded in new theology, a major source will be Black Elk Speaks.” — Whole Earth, 2000

For more information on John G. Neihardt, visit

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Preface to the 1932 Edition

Preface to the 1961 Edition

Preface to the 1972 Edition

1. The Offering of the Pipe

2. Early Boyhood

3. The Great Vision

4. The Bison Hunt

5. At the Soldiers’ Town

6. High Horse’s Courting

7. Wasichus in the Hills

8. The Fight with Three Stars

9. The Rubbing Out of Long Hair

10. Walking the Black Road

11. The Killing of Crazy Horse

12. Grandmother’s Land

13. The Compelling Fear

14. The Horse Dance

15. The Dog Vision

16. Heyoka Ceremony

17. The First Cure

18. The Powers of the Bison and the Elk

19. Across the Big Water

20. The Spirit Journey

21. The Messiah

22. Visions of the Other World

23. Bad Trouble Coming

24. The Butchering at Wounded Knee

25. The End of the Dream

26. Neihardt’s Postscript

Appendix 1. Letter from Neihardt to Black Elk, 6 November 1930

The Drawings by Black Elk’s Friend, Standing Bear

John g. Neihardt and Nicholas Black Elk


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