Summary and Analysis Chapter 12



Black Elk's people do not want to live on the reservations (agencies) that they are being driven to, and their former places near the Powder River are changed, so they go to Canada to join Sitting Bull. Black Elk hunts for bison with his uncle Running Horse and later with Iron Tail. There are several skirmishes with the Crow Indians and Black Elk uses the power granted by his vision to bring his companions out of danger. He records the courage of Brave Wolf, who sacrificed his own life to save a girl from the Crow, and of his cousin Hard-to-Hit, who was killed defending another Lakota from the Crow. Black Elk feels glad that his power is growing.

The winter is difficult, but in the midst of a blizzard, the voices of his vision guide Black Elk to a herd of bison. He and his father come across two other Lakota on their way to the bison, and together they slaughter eight of them. They butcher them, and have a great feast, dancing and singing. Encamped in a shelter built from the bison hides, they hear a group of porcupines crying in the cold during the night; Black Elk says they felt sorry for the animals and so did not hurt them. They load their horses with meat, caching the rest, and return home. It remains so cold that five of his horses freeze. Black Elk's people are sad to be out of their own country. The older people tell stories of the good times, now past, and Black Elk himself is homesick.


This chapter continues the bitter process of Sioux dislocation. Black Elk feels somewhat like himself because he can use the power granted him in his vision to help his people. The hunt is successful and securing so much meat in such difficult times provides high drama. But the overriding reality is that the Indians are not in their own land, and are therefore unhappy.

Black Elk's account includes elements of human interest. The story of Brave Wolf's saving of the beautiful girl exemplifies the qualities of courage and selflessness that were highly valued by the Sioux. The mourning ritual for his cousin Hard-to-Hit is a daylong wailing. He liked his cousin, but did not feel like crying all day; nevertheless, he did it, and it was "hard work." The episode with the porcupines indicates the men's capacity for sympathy. The predicament of the small creatures touches the four men, who had just slaughtered eight bison. These small anecdotal episodes depict a dimension of the Sioux that defies the warrior and savage stereotypes that existed in the popular imagination of the time.


roan a horse of a reddish color that is mixed with some white; the color of such a horse.

papa dried meat.

Haho a prayer-like utterance.

cache to store in a hidden place (from the French verb cacher, to hide).