Summary and Analysis
Chapter 13 - The Compelling Fear
Two of the families in Black Elk's group, with only five horses, start out for the place where they used to live. At one encampment, while out with the horses, Black Elk gets the strange feeling that he associates with his vision again. He hears a voice telling him to watch. Climbing to the top of a bluff, he sees two Indians (later, he learns they were Blackfeet) looking out at his village below and planning an attack. Praying to the grandfathers of his vision, he runs to tell his people that they must leave at once. As they flee, crossing a dangerously flooded creek, a thundercloud comes up from behind to protect them. Black Elk senses strongly the thunder beings of his vision and feels more than ever that they empower him.
The people escape successfully and cross the Missouri on a steamboat. They camp with other Indians who are also off the reservation. Soldiers take away their guns and most of their horses.
The Indians conduct a sun dance and Black Elk, at the age of sixteen, can now think of nothing but his vision. He is frustrated and afraid because he has been given a great vision but can do nothing with it. Every time a thunderstorm comes up, he is afraid that the thunder beings will demand to know what he has done. He hears the crows and the coyotes call constantly to him, "It is time." His anxiety lessens in the winter, when he turns seventeen, because the thunderstorms are fewer. But he continues to act somewhat strange, and his parents call in the medicine man, Black Road, believing that the illness that their son had at the age of nine continues to affect him. Black Elk tells Black Road of his vision, and Black Road advises him that he must perform the duty he was given in his vision and that first he must hold a horse dance.
This chapter represents the tragic situation of those Indians who are making a last-ditch effort to avoid agency life. The U.S. Government's process of disarming the Indians and taking their horses in an effort to subdue hostilities also makes it difficult for the Indians to move camp and to hunt. When they lose their horses, the Indians begin to lose their traditional way of life. This chapter is one of several that record the passage from pre-reservation to reservation history.
The chapter represents a passage in Black Elk's life as well. His is the classic situation of the hero on the threshold of empowerment, trying to understand what must be done to take the next step. It is important that he finds a mentor in Black Road, who advises him that he must create a ritual that will allow him to enact his vision.