Black Elk Meets Queen Victoria

I’ve been reading Black Elk Speaks, transcribed by John G. Neihardt, the autobiography of a Sioux warrior and medicine man, a cousin of Crazy Horse who was present at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Wounded Knee Massacre.

While I don’t understand  Black Elk’s elaborate visions, his story is really riveting and he has a great sense of humor. When he refers to the broken promises of the ‘Wasichus’ or white men, he says, “We remembered, but they forgot.”

In the section on the massacre at the Little Bighorn, a member of the Hunkpapa tribe who saw a bit more of the battle, adds his account. At one point he says, “Those Wasichus wanted it, and they came to get it, and we gave it to them.”

Much later Black Elk joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which, after many shows in America, toured Europe, and Queen Victoria had them give a command performance.

“One day we were told that Majesty was coming. I did not know what this was at first, but I learned afterward. It was Grandmother England, who owned Grandmother’s Land (Canada) where we lived awhile after the Wasichus murdered Crazy Horse.

“She came to the show in a big shining wagon and there were soldiers on both sides of her, and many other sining wagons came too. That day other people could not come to the show — just Grandmother England and some people who came with her.

“Sometimes we had to shoot in the show, but this time we did not shoot at all. We danced and sang, and I was one of the dancers chosen to do this for the Grandmother, because I was young and limber then and could dance many ways.

“We stood right in front of Grandmother England. She was little but fat and we liked her, because she was good to us.

“After we had danced, she spoke to us. She said something like this: ‘I am sixty-seven years old. All over the world I have seen all kinds of people, but to-day I have seen the best looking people I know. If you belonged to me, I would not let them take you around in a show like this.’

“She said other good things, too, and then said we must come to see her because she had come to see us. She shook hands with all of us. Her hand was very little and soft. We gave a big cheer for her, and then the shining wagons came in and she got into one of them and they all went away.”

[This was the Jubilee Year, the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, and Black Elk’ and his party were invited to the celebration at the palace.]

“When she came to where we were, her wagon stopped and she stood up. Then all those people stood up and roared and bowed to her; but she bowed to us. We sent up a great cry and our women made the tremolo. The people in the crowd were so excited that we heard some of them got sick and fell over. Then when it was quiet, we sang a song to the Grandmother.

“That was a very happy time.

“We liked Grandmother England, because we could see that she was a fine woman, and she was good to us. Maybe if she had been our Grandmother, it would have been better for our people.”

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Steve Hartshorne
Stephen Hartshorne worked in newspapers and magazines around New England for many years and served as Information Officer in the New Hampshire Senate under Senate President Vesta Roy. He worked as a material handler for nine years at the Yankee Candle Company until the company was taken over by corporate weasels. He is currently the associate editor of GoNOMAD.com, an alternative travel website, which gives him the opportunity to correspond with writers and photographers all over the world. He lives in Sunderland, Massachusetts. This blog is dedicated to his mom, who made him bookish.
Steve Hartshorne

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