Summary and Analysis Chapter 23



The whites try to prevent the ghost dances, which continue in many places. The Indians are still hungry and in despair. Black Elk makes more holy shirts and dresses and distributes them. While dancing with the Brules on Cut Meat Creek, he has a vision of a flaming rainbow that says, "Remember this." Black Elk feels that he made a mistake in forsaking his great vision for the lesser ones he received while ghost dancing. The Indians move camp twice in reaction to reports that soldiers are marching on them. An agent tells the Indians camping near Pine Ridge that they may dance only three days every month and the rest of the time they must work for a living. A policeman warns Good Thunder and Black Elk that they are going to be arrested. To escape the possibility of an arrest, they move to a Brule encampment on Wounded Knee.

Black Elk makes a speech exhorting the Indians to fight if necessary and to depend on the spirits of their departed relatives. More Indians join them. Father Craft, a Catholic priest whom the Indians trust, tries to get them to return to Pine Ridge, and two chiefs arrive to take them back. The Brules resist; there is a struggle. The news comes of Sitting Bull's death; whites killed him while he was resisting arrest. The highly respected Minneconjou Chief Big Foot arrives, suffering from pneumonia, with 400 people who ran away to the Badlands when Sitting Bull was killed. Starving and freezing, they surrendered to soldiers who brought them to Wounded Knee.


The tension between whites and the various Lakota bands intensifies in this chapter. The whites try to limit the ghost dancing because they believe it is a prelude to war or, at the least, it keeps the Indians in a highly emotional state that makes it harder to control them. Sitting Bull presides over the ghost dancing at one settlement (Grand River) and wants to go to the Pine Ridge Reservation to join the dancing there. He is arrested by cavalry officers and then shot to death in the scuffle that ensues when his people attempt to protect him.