Collection: Black Elk and Child

ARTIST: Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS


“Grown men can learn from very little children for the hearts of the little children are pure. Therefore, the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss.”
Black Elk

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Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) (c. December 1863 — August 19, 1950) was a famous Wichasha Wakan (Medicine man or Holy Man) of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux). He was heyoka and a second cousin of Crazy Horse. Black Elk participated, at about the age of twelve, in the Battle of the Little Bighorn of 1876, and was wounded in the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.

Black Elk married his first wife, Katie War Bonnett, in 1892. She became a Catholic, and all three of their children were baptized in the Catholic faith. After her death in 1903, he too was baptized, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk and serving as a catechist. He continued to serve as a spiritual leader among his people, seeing no contradiction in embracing what he found valid in both his tribal traditions concerning Wakan Tanka, and those of Christianity. He remarried in 1905, to Anna Brings White, a widow with two daughters. She bore him three more children and remained his wife until she died in 1941.

Toward the end of his life, he revealed the story of his life, and a number of sacred Sioux rituals to John Neihardt and Joseph Epes Brown for publication, and his accounts have won wide interest and acclaim. Black Elk was guided throughout his life by visions, in which he was encouraged and exhorted to help his people. His earliest and guiding vision concluded with the sight of the whole world as one, the hoops of many nations united in one hoop, with one mighty tree sheltering everyone as the children of one father and one mother.

Black Elk remained a devout Catholic throughout the remaining years of his life, walking to church every Sunday, even when he was dying of tuberculosis.