Bud Cassiday first recommended Black Elk Speaks to me. I finally read it in 2011 and was immediately struck by its power, beauty, and wisdom. I’ve been something of a Black Elk fan ever since.
Black Elk grew up during the last of the “Indian Wars” and was a young man at the time of the 1890 massacre of Wounded Knee. As an old man he told his story and his childhood vision to the poet John G. Neihardt who published it in the book Black Elk Speaks. Near the end of his great vision, he has this moment of epiphany:
And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
This is a great, holy, eschatological vision that we have not yet achieved -- many hoops making one circle, humanity living in solidarity with creation, everyone being sheltered and provided for.
During our mission trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation, we had lunch one day at Bette’s Kitchen near Manderson, South Dakota. It is a wonderful place where you sit outside under and arbor and enjoy remarkable view of the pine ridges. Bette is a descendant of Black Elk’s. I asked our Lakota guide if this was in fact Black Elk’s land, as I knew he lived near Manderson. The guide said that it was and that Black Elk’s cabin still stood downhill from where we were sitting, in a grove. He pointed out the trail down and invited me and others to walk down there. A small handful of us did.
The cabin is old and not maintained. Inside walls were covered with graffiti. I wish it were a preserved historical site like the homes of so many prominent persons. Nonetheless, I enjoyed visiting the cabin, taking in the view, and imagining the wise old man sharing his vision in this very spot.