Summary and Analysis
Black Elk joins Good Thunder and Kicking Bear in the ghost dance. He experiences a feeling of being levitated but has no vision. The next day, during another ghost dance, he has a vision of following a spotted eagle up over the mountains and seeing a paradise where his people are living happily and prosperously. He sees two men in the vision who tell him it is not yet time to see his father and that he must return to his people and bring them something. He knows that it is the way their holy shirts are painted that he must take back. He sees himself coming back to his people, expecting to see the tree blooming in the hoop, but it is dead. He comes to, and tells the others his vision. He spends the next day making the holy shirts. He paints a stick with the sacred paint of the Wanekia. He is asked to lead the next ghost dance, during which he has another vision of following the eagle. This time he sees a man, neither Indian nor white but painted red, leaning against the holy tree, who tells him that all things belong to him, then he disappears. Twelve men, who give him two sticks, and twelve women tell him that his people's life must be such. He has to cross a dangerous river to go home, and people in it cry for help. He is returned to his body and sings his vision to the others. He thinks the man in his vision might be the man in his previous vision who turned into a bison and then the herb.
Black Elk became a high priest of the ghost dance religion, sometimes called the "Messiah craze." The reader sees in this description of the ghost dance much of the symbology that has recurred in Black Elk's visions during his childhood and, later, in France: a red-painted man, the sacred stick, the number twelve. His feeling of being levitated is reminiscent of his journey through the sky on clouds in his visions. It is evident that Black Elk joins this movement because he believes it is a further manifestation of the vision he was granted much earlier in his life. Some who were massacred at Wounded Knee wore the ghost shirts that Black Elk made.