Today John Neihardt is remembered primarily as the author of Black Elk Speaks, the biography of the visionary Oglala Lakota holy man. But to describe Neihardt only as the author of Black Elk Speaks is to miss the complexity of one of Nebraska's most interesting and influential characters.
Neihardt's mother, Alice, moved her family to Nebraska in 1891 when John was ten. As a thirteen-year-old John entered Wayne Normal College in Wayne, Nebraska, where he developed an interest in poetry. Neihardt's first volume of poetry, The Divine Enchantment, was published in 1900. This was the first of dozens of volumes of poetry and prose Neihardt published over the course of his lifetime. Some of his more famous works include the volume of poetry Bundle of Myrrh, the travel adventure The River and I, and the song cycle The Cycle of the West. In 1921 the Nebraska State Legislature recognized Neihardt's accomplishments by naming him "Poet Laureate of Nebraska and the Prairies." It was the first time a legislature named a state poet laureate.
In 1930 while researching the Plains Indian Wars, Neihardt traveled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and met Lakota Elder, Black Elk. Out of this remarkable relationship came Black Elk Speaks, the Holy Man's life story and prayer for the future of his people, published in 1932. In a measure of their friendship Neihardt and his two daughters were spiritually adopted into Black Elk's world. Black Elk made presents to Neihardt of sacred objects which he had used during his life as a "holy man."
Through Neihardt's poems and stories many people throughout the world have come into contact with the harsh beauty of the Great Plains, the larger than life stories of the Mountain Men and the Indian Wars, and the mystical world of the Sioux. As Black Elk recognized, in the core of his being John G. Neihardt was a "word sender."
The John G. Neihardt Center
The Neihardt Study is the most important building associated with the distinguished literary career of John Gneisenau Neihardt, poet laureate of Nebraska, and author of some twenty-five volumes of poetry, fiction, and philosophy. The house, located in Bancroft, is believed to have been constructed in the 1890s as a residence. During the years 1911-21, Neihardt rented the dwelling for use as an office and library.
The Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden is located on the grounds west of the Neihardt Center.
The John G. Neihardt State Historic Site is owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society and operated under the auspices of the John G. Neihardt Foundation. The site consists of the John G. Neihardt Center, the restored study where Neihardt wrote many of his works, and a Sioux Sacred Hoop Prayer Garden planted under the direction of Neihardt. The Neihardt Center hosts several events each year including Neihardt Day and the Neihardt Conference. If you have any questions about John G. Neihardt or the John G. Neihardt State Historic Site, or require more information, just ask the curator.