Winner of the Society of American Historians' Francis Parkman Prize
Winner of the PEN / Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Best Biography of 2016, True West magazine
Winner of the Western Writers of America 2017 Spur Award, Best Western Biography
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Long-listed for the Cundill History Prize
One of the Best Books of 2016, The Boston Globe
The epic life story of the Native American holy man who has inspired millions around the world
Black Elk, the Native American holy man, is known to millions of readers around the world from his 1932 testimonial Black Elk Speaks. Adapted by the poet John G. Neihardt from a series of interviews with Black Elk and other elders at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, Black Elk Speaks is one of the most widely read and admired works of American Indian literature. Cryptic and deeply personal, it has been read as a spiritual guide, a philosophical manifesto, and a text to be deconstructed—while the historical Black Elk has faded from view.
In this sweeping book, Joe Jackson provides the definitive biographical account of a figure whose dramatic life converged with some of the most momentous events in the history of the American West. Born in an era of rising violence between the Sioux, white settlers, and U.S. government troops, Black Elk killed his first man at the Little Bighorn, witnessed the death of his second cousin Crazy Horse, and traveled to Europe with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Upon his return, he was swept up in the traditionalist Ghost Dance movement and shaken by the Massacre at Wounded Knee. But Black Elk was not a warrior, instead accepting the path of a healer and holy man, motivated by a powerful prophetic vision that he struggled to understand. Although Black Elk embraced Catholicism in his later years, he continued to practice the old ways clandestinely and never refrained from seeking meaning in the visions that both haunted and inspired him.
In Black Elk, Jackson has crafted a true American epic, restoring to its subject the richness of his times and gorgeously portraying a life of heroism and tragedy, adaptation and endurance, in an era of permanent crisis on the Great Plains.
Jackson (Atlantic Fever) panoramically renders a narrative as majestic as the American West in this fine account of the life of Black Elk, an Oglala Lakota holy man. With compassion and clarity, Jackson portrays Black Elk as a man haunted by his inability to make sense of the "Great Vision" that came to him as a child. Born in 1863 to a family of medicine men, he grew up during a time of declining fortunes for his people. Black Elk's life provides a window on major events in the post Civil War West: Red Cloud's War, the battle of Little Bighorn, and the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee. Through those years, Black Elk sharpened his capacity for visions and cultivated his healing powers, always searching for ways to help the Oglala and even working with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. All of this is fascinating, but Jackson isn't content to recount a familiar story. He brilliantly frames it with an incisive discussion of the creation of John Neihardt's 1932 as-told-to book, Black Elk Speaks. Jackson digs into Native American culture and what it meant for Black Elk to be a holy man, especially in light of his 1904 conversion to Catholicism. He has produced a major contribution to Native American history. Maps & illus.