Summary and Analysis Chapter 15



Soldiers tell Black Elk's group that they may not stay on their land any longer because they have sold it to the U.S. Government. A steamboat takes them to a Lakota reservation at Fort Yates, where many of Sitting Bull's and Gall's people are; although Sitting Bull and Gall are in Canada. The Indians' guns and horses are taken from them, and they are told that the Great Father (the U.S. President) will pay them for the horses, but that has never happened. Eighteen years old now, Black Elk begins to feel that he should join the rest of his own people, the Oglala, and perform the duty his vision entrusted to him. He and others set out, staying first with the Brules who are encamped on the Rosebud. Black Elk goes alone to sit up on a bluff and sing to the spirits of his vision. He sees the flying men of his vision and feels confirmed in his decision to join the Oglala and do his duty.

Black Elk moves on to the agency being built for the Oglala, Pine Ridge, which the Indians call the Seat of Red Cloud or the Place Where Everything Is Disputed. The winter is hard; he longs for spring, when the spirits of his vision will return. He feels the deep despair of his people, and sad that he was not able to do anything for his nation. He could cure individual people, but not the nation. He wonders why he was granted the vision if he could not do anything with it.

Spring comes, and Black Elk performs a lamentation ritual with the help of the old medicine man Few Tails. He fasts and purifies himself and, taking the sacred pipe, goes to a sacred place on a hill where Few Tails plants the flowering stick. Alone, following Few Tails's instructions, he paces out the four quarters of the earth and weeps, thinking of his people's past and the tragic death of Crazy Horse. He asks the Great Spirit for understanding. Various birds appear to him, as well as a swarm of butterflies that are crying pitifully. The two flying men of his earlier vision, on horseback, show him bloody dogs' heads impaled on their arrows; the dogs' heads turn into the heads of Wasichus (white men). Black Elk accepts his duty and sees the daybreak star, the faces of people yet to be born, and contented animals living together. Few Tails wakes him, and he goes back to the village where the old men say he has been granted a rare vision that he must perform for the people in 20 days.


In the Sioux lamentation ritual, the one who laments seeks a vision. Here, Black Elk asks for greater understanding from the spirits who granted him his first vision. He is granted another vision that confirms the earlier message, that he will be empowered to restore his people. This vision features many of the symbols of his first vision: the sacred pipe, the flowering stick, the herb, the four quarters of the earth, and the flying men. In this vision, the whites are clarified as the enemy.

The chapter also charts the worsening situation as Indians are forced into various agencies. Their land has been sold to (or taken by) a government that will not enact treaties with them. Their horses are taken and never paid for. The government's policy is to disarm the Indians and to take away the freedom that their horses allow them. The Indians are gradually being herded into the square little houses that are so alien to them.


lament/lamentation to feel or express deep sorrow or grief for; the expression of deep sorrow or grief.