In the Spring of 1931, the Lakota Holy man Nicholas Black Elk had finished recounting his vision and life story to poet John G. Neihardt, whom he said he had been waiting for to help and save his vision for mankind. After he had recounted his vision and life to John, Black Elk said that he would soon be under the grass and before he died he wanted to go again to the center of the earth (Harney Peak) where he had been taken in his vision. On the morning of May 30th, Black Elk, Ben Black Elk (son), John Neihardt and his daughters Hilda and Enid set out to hike to the top of Harney Peak to fulfill Black Elk’s wish. On the long hike to the summit, Black Elk remarked to his son Ben that if had any power left in him that there should be a little lightning, thunder, and rain up on that mountaintop, which seemed odd as there were no clouds in the sky. This is how John Neihardt’s daughter Hilda ( then 15 years old) recounted the day in her book Black Elk and Flaming Rainbow,
“Black Elk had carefully planned what would happen on the peak. Before leaving Manderson, he had purchased a pair of red flannel underwear. In his vision his whole body had been painted red, and to reenact the scene on this day, he really should have been naked, his body painted red, only wearing a breechclout. But Enid (sister) and I were there and he did not wish to embarrass us. Thus the red underwear.”
When they reached the summit, those present stood behind Black Elk as he stood on the mountaintop, offering and holding his pipe with its buffalo-hide-covered mouthpiece toward the sky, reaching out with his other hand, praying.
As Hilda Neihardt recalls some of Black Elk’s words,
“Tunkashila, Wakan Tanka [Grandfather, Great Mysterious], you have been always, and before you nothing has been…. There is nothing to pray to but you, You, yourself, everything that you see, everything has been made by you. The four quarters of the earth you have finished; the day, and in that day, everything you have finished. Grandfather, lean close to the earth, that you may hear the voice I send. Grandfather, Great Mysterious, all over the world the faces of living things are alike. In tenderness, they have come up out of the ground. Look upon your children, with their children in their arms, that they may face the winds, and walk the good road to the day of quiet. In sending up my voice I pray that you may cause the tree to bloom again so that my people may see happy days. My grandfathers, you have sent me to the center of the earth and showed me the good things that were to be. Here me now, that my people may live.”
As Hilda Neihardt observed,
“As Black Elk prayed, a little black cloud had come overhead, and a scant, cool rain began to fall. As the drops of rain mingled with the tears running down his face, the holy man cried out, “Oh, make my people live!”
The little black cloud went back the way it had come, and the rain stopped.