Summary and Analysis
The battle does not establish the Indians' claim on their land; the Black Hills are being sold to the whites. Black Elk suspects that there is truth to the rumor that a few Indian chiefs may have gotten drunk and agreed to the purchase. Black Elk's band moves camp several times. They discover that the soldiers' horses befouled the site of the sun dance. Apparently, natural occurrences and changes in the weather have made impressions on a big rock bluff, leaving pictures of soldiers hanging downward. Members of the tribe claim that these impressions were on the rock bluff prior to the last battle, perhaps as an omen. By August (the Moon of Black Cherries), they hear that soldiers are approaching again. They move camp, burning the grass behind them as they go so that the soldiers' horses will go hungry if they try to follow. In September (the Moon of the Black Calf), forces under General Crook fought with some Indians in another camp. Crazy Horse comes to the aid of the Indians, but they are feeling increasingly embattled. Wherever they go, soldiers come to kill them, despite the treaties they have signed with the U.S. Government. Black Elk said that, in the summer, the Indians had numbered in the thousands; now they are less than two thousand in number. They begin to move west.
The hard winter comes early. Many Indians resign from war. Indian agencies are established, and some Indian bands go to the agencies. Those who do not, like Black Elk's group, are almost starving. The Indians eat their ponies that died of starvation. In November, Col. Mackenzie attacks a band of Shyelas as they sleep, many of them fighting naked in the snow. Those who survived joined Black Elk's people, but there was nothing to eat; they headed for Soldiers' Town to surrender.
Crazy Horse is acting stranger. In January, General Miles attacks their camp on the Tongue River. The Indians have little ammunition and retreat, in a blizzard, to the Little Powder. In February or March, Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse's uncle, comes to try to convince Crazy Horse to surrender to the whites. In April, they head for Soldiers' Town (Fort Robinson), and Black Elk hears a rumor that Crazy Horse surrendered. At Fort Robinson, the Indians finally have enough to eat.
This chapter describes the increasing fragmentation and dislocation of the Indians following the Battle of Little Big Horn. The American Government regards them as hostile forces occupying U.S. Territory. No longer recognized as sovereign nations with treaty-making prerogatives, the Indian tribes lose their land that is sold and simply taken from them. Death is frequently the alternative to the process of assimilation that is being more and more forcefully imposed upon them. The bison are on the verge of extinction and the curtailment of the Indians' movements does not allow them to search for food. Their horses and ammunition are being taken from them.
The decrease in population that Black Elk notes here reflects an even bigger decrease across the country. It is estimated that 5 million native people inhabited what is now the United States when European explorers first entered the continent. By 1910, the number of Indians dropped to 210,000.
This chapter takes its title from Black Elk's vision (see Chapter 3), in which the fourth Grandfather showed him a black road leading from west to east and explained that it was a road of great trouble. Now, the road of Black Elk's people becomes literally black as they leave a trail of burned grass behind them, hoping to prevent the mounted forces of the U.S. Government from following.
Agencies organizations established by the U.S. Government to contain and control Indian life; at this point in American history, the term was used synonymously with "reservations".