Joe Jackson’s important biography of the visionary Black Elk is much more than the story of one man’s life. It is a sweeping, comprehensive, elegantly written history of white and Indian relations; bloody, deadly battles; and the steady, deliberate destruction by the U.S. government of the native culture, language, traditions and way of life. It is a fascinating, heartsick read.
...an uneven, ultimately worthwhile book ... A careful, obviously dogged researcher, he makes this point more often than necessary ... It's in his description of [Wounded Knee] where Jackson shines, delivering the kind of pointed, pared-down commentary that will entrance, even astonish, those readers who've slogged through the excess verbiage of the previous 300 pages ... The rest of the book is never badly written, just unnecessarily dense.
Joe Jackson has expertly taken Black Elk’s life and woven that together with other records and histories of him and his times. The result is that Jackson has firmly situated Black Elk in the context of Indian struggles on the plains from 1850 through 1950. He uses Black Elk to bring home the radical changes that confronted most Indians during this time and, in doing so, creates a deeply felt and personal story of loss and change on the plains ... the long set piece concerning the Battle of the Little Bighorn is among the very best I’ve ever read ... There are moments, some of them minor, when Jackson more or less colors in the story, providing details where none exist in the record ... Jackson’s book is replete with troubling language. Throughout, he refers to Indian men as 'braves' and Indian women as 'squaws,' and often calls young children 'papooses.'