Summary and Analysis Chapter 18 – The Powers of the Bison and the Elk

After healing Cuts-to-Pieces’ son, Black Elk goes to Fox Belly, a medicine man, to tell him the bison part of his first vision so that he can help his people walk the red road of that vision. Fox Belly helps him perform a bison ceremony, in which Black Elk and One Side are painted red and act like bison. The Indians drink from the sacred cup, which will help them follow the good red road. After performing the bison ceremony, Black Elk feels confirmed as a healer and a man. The next year (1883), he performs an elk ceremony, to represent the mystery of growth. He uses six men dressed as elk and four virgins, who represent fertility, and many of the colors and sacred objects of his first vision.


Black Elk here comments on his own story, emphasizing the exclusive nature of his conversation with Neihardt. His commentary offers further proof of his modest character; he does not claim extraordinary power for himself, but is content to be an instrument of power.

The bison ceremony illustrates once again the sacred nature of the bison for the Indian. Black Elk performs the ritual to direct his people onto the right road, the red road of his vision; they have been following the black road of trouble. In performing the ceremony, therefore, Black Elk assumes to a greater extent the role of guide among his people.