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Open Access Publications from the University of California

New Light on Black Elk and The Sacred Pipe


This article provides new information that will oblige scholars to reassess the legacy of Black Elk (1863–1950), including excerpts from recently discovered unpublished letters written by Joseph Epes Brown while he was living with the Lakota holy man (1947–49). The author provides insights into Brown's personal philosophy and a clearer context for the editorial role he played in recording The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. Brown's letters also help to illuminate Black Elk's role in attempting to restore the sacred “religion of the Pipe” among the Sioux and to clarify controversies that include Black Elk's dual participation in Catholicism.

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