John G. Neihardt to William Morrow, [June 1931].
Wm. Morrow
386 Fourth

We reached home last Saturday after five weeks with our friends, the Oglala Sioux--a very wonderful five weeks indeed. In my last letter I told you a little about what we were doing up there, and there is so much left to tell that I cannot undertake to tell it. I am happy, however, that the material for the book is richer than I had expected it to be and there is much in it that no white man ever heard before. Black Elk's great vision is truly a masterpiece of art. Unfortunately for us, the culture of the Sioux never passed the stage of dance ritual in expression. They never developed literature in our sense and the only proper medium for expressing this great vision, which is a thing of exception beauty and perfect of significance, is through repetition in the dance. The dance can of course be disclosed. It is a fact that none of the ethnologists know anything about this Indian masterpiece. The horse dance, which is one of the most magnificent episodes in the vision, has not even been mentioned by ethnologists. It has been performed only three times and never before white men. I have been wondering if it might not be possible to interest some movie company in producing it. Certainly it would make a gorgeous picture and with the songs that accompany the dance it would be very impressive. Black Elk has said that he would produce this dance for me with a whole village as a background if I could interest the movie people. A large number of men, women, and horses would take part in the dance. Does this idea strike you as having any possibilities? If so is there some way that you and I could work together in promoting the idea with the proper people? If we were successful, this might help a great deal in pushing the book.

I forgot to tell you when I last wrote you that my daughter and I were taken into the Oglala Sioux tribe in an impressive ceremony, and we were given names. My own name is Peta Wigmu Ga which means Flaming Rainbow. The significance of the name as applied to me was explained in this way. "You," said Black Elk, "are a word sender. The world is like a garden and over it go your words like rain and make it green. Men are glad for your words and when your words shall have passed, the memory of them will stand long in the west like a flaming rainbow."

My daughter is now transcribing her notes and very soon I shall be at work on the book. It will be a joy.

There was a very peculiar merging of consciousness between me and Black Elk, and his son, who interpreted for me, commented on the fact. Very often it seemed as though Black Elk were only repeating my own thoughts or my own poetry although he knows no English and utterly unaware of the existence of literature. Also, at various times, he would say, "He has guessed this already," and once he said, "This man could make an ant talk. I think he could make an ant talk." The curious thing is that Black Elk seemed no Aryan. Only his flesh seemed strange.

At various times Black Elk became melancholy over the thought that at last he had given away his great vision, and once he said to me, "Now I have given you my vision that I have never given to anyone before and with it I have given you my power. I have no power now, but you can take it and perhaps with it you can make the tree bloom again, at least for my people and yours."

We ended our meeting with a trip to Harney Peak which is the highest point in the Black Hills and which is the place to which Black Elk was taken in his great vision that he might see the oneness of the cosmos. On top of the mountain, as he had seen himself in his vision, he prayed to the six grandfathers of the universe and it was a beautiful prayer. On the way up he told his son that if he had any power left surely there would be a little thunder and some rain while he was on the Peak. This is a curious thing and equally interesting for it, but at the time we were going up and after we were on the peak the day was bright and clear. During his prayer on the summit, clouds came up and there was low thunder and a scant chill rain fell, but the old man seemed broken and very sad.

I appreciate your objections to this title "The Tree That Never Flowered" but I think the objections could be overcome by using conspicuously a super title indicating the character of the book. The title suggested is, in every way, strikingly appropriate, as you will see when you read the manuscript, by this meaning to trouble you.

Standing Bear, who is Black Elk's closest pal, will draw in color pictures representing the vision and he will draw as many other pictures as I can use to be reproduced in black and white. I think the vision pictures ought to be in color and five or six ought to be enough. One of these pictures which represents the flaming rainbow teepee to which Black Elk was taken in his vision, would make a[n] [out]standing cover, and I am hoping that you will want to use it when you see it.

With kind thoughts,