Black Elk seemed to be connected to the spiritual world from a young age. While taken ill at the age of nine, had a vivid vision, though it was not his first. In the vision, “the Thunder Beings and taken to the Grandfathers, who represented the six sacred directions of west, east, north, south, above, and below. They took Black Elk to theater of the earth, the central mountain of the world, the axis of the six sacred directions, the point where stillness and movement are together.”
He witnessed the Battle of Little Big Horn where his cousin Crazy Horse defeated General Custer. He would go on to be a medicine man/healer around the age of 19.
On being a Medicine Man,
" I cured with the power that came through me. Of course, it was not I who cured, it was the power from the Outer World, the visions and the ceremonies had only made me like a hole through which the power could come to the two-leggeds." "If I thought that I was doing it myself, the hole would close up and no power could come through. Then everything I could do would be foolish."
In his mid 20s he became a part of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show following in the footsteps of Sitting Bull. With the show he spent time touring both in the US and Europe returning at the age of 27.
On December 6, 1904, Black Elk was baptized into the Catholic Church and took the name Nicholas Black Elk. Despite his conversion, he continued to serve as a spiritual leader among his people, seeing no contradiction in embracing what he found valid in both his tribal traditions and Christianity. In August 2016, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rapid City opened an official cause for his beatification within the Roman Catholic Church. The process is ongoing.
The story of Black Elk's life, as well as Lakota history and traditions, was chronicled by John G. Neihardt and was published as "Black Elk Speaks" in 1932.
"The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Taka (the Great Spirit), and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.
This is the real peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is known that true peace, which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men."
Nicholas Black Elk
Late in his life, Nicholas Black Elk came to the spot of his 9 year old vision, Harney Peak(Hinhan Kaga) and had this to say:
"With tears running, O Great Spirit, my Grandfather-with tears running I must say now that the tree has never bloomed. Here at the center of the world where you took me when I was young and showed the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, you have said that I should make the tree to bloom. It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds. Hear me not for myself but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree!"
While influential in the teachings of the Christianity to the Sioux, near the end of his life he was heard saying to his daughter
"The only thing I really believe is the pipe religion."