Born during the ‘Winter the four Crows were killed’ (possibly 1864) in the ‘month of ripe cherries, on Little Powder River (in present-day Wyoming), Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) was an Oglala Lakota in Big Road’s Band, second cousin to Crazy Horse. A famous Wichasha Wakan (Medicine or Holy Man) of the Oglala Lakota, Black Elk witnessed the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 at age 12, the death of Crazy Horse in 1877, and was injured in 1890 during the massacre at Wounded Knee.
For Black Elk, a reservation life presented hard challenges for the Lakotas. Buffalo, on which the Lakota economy traditionally depended, was no longer available in large enough numbers to support the people, who were then forced to depend on government rations. As a result, Black Elk wondered whether it would be better for his people to abandon traditional Indian ways and take up those of the white men to survive. In 1886, in order to learn more about the white man’s way of life, Black Elk, Standing Bear, and many other Lakotas seized the opportunity to travel as members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.
The Wild West show took Black Elk first to New York and then England in the spring of 1887, where the troupe participated in the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. When the Wild West show closed in England in the spring of 1888, Black Elk became separated from the main party, and Buffalo Bill sailed for America without him. Stranded, Black Elk and two other Lakotas eventually joined another show and traveled with it through Germany, Italy, and France, which gave Black Elk an opportunity to observe white man’s civilization.
In May 1889, Cody returned to Europe. Upon hearing of Cody’s return, Black Elk took a fire-boat across the English Channel and got on a train, and started for Paris. After meeting up with some friends from the show, Black Elk went to Cody’s tent where Buffalo Bill had gathered everyone together from the show to give Black Elk four big cheers. Buffalo Bill asked Black Elk if he wanted to stay or go, and he responded that he wanted to go home. Cody bought him a ticket to New York on the White Star Line and gave him ninety dollars so that he could ride a train to South Dakota. Black Elk returned to the Pine Ridge Indian Agency in 1889.
(The Black Elk Room is a suite that features 1 King bed and a tub with a hand shower-Facing East Towards the Railroad Tracks and Broadway)