Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Black Elk Peak Tower
Black Elk Peak Tower
August 31, 2016

A Brief History of William Nicholas Black Elk

Black Elk, the namesake for the newly named Black Elk Peak and second cousin to Crazy Horse, was born in the 1860s in what would become Wyoming. According to a Rapid City Journal article, Black Elk fell ill around 1874, when he was 8 to 10 years old. While sick, he had a vision of what was already being called Harney Peak, where he was transported to the top of the peak. Two years later, he was present at Little Big Horn when General George Armstrong Custer attacked. In the years that followed, Black Elk fled to Canada with his family, eventually returning to Montana and settling on the Pine Ridge Reservation where he became a medicine man.

When Black Elk was about 20, he worked in the "Buffalo Bill" Cody's Wild West Show and traveled to New York by train, eventually going so far as to sail across the Atlantic Ocean by steamship to visit England. He returned approximately a year later. In 1892, he married but within ten years had lost both his child and his wife. This led him to Catholicism, where he took the name Nicholas William Black Elk. He was baptized in 1904. Throughout his life, he became known as a wise man and spiritual leader. Black Elk died in 1950.

Black Elk is known for his autobiography, Black Elk Speaks. On August 11, 2016, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names voted to honor Black Elk by renaming Harney Peak after him.

For information on Black Elk Peak, please visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network's online news archives.

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