Black Elk was born c. December of 1863 in Wyoming, a member of the Oglala Lakota. At the age of nine he had his first "great vision". After this his family had determined he was clairvoyant. At the age of twelve he participated in his first battle, the Battle of Little Big Horn. In 1887 he embarked on a tour of England along with Buffalo Bill's show, putting on a performance for Queen Victoria. He was also present at at the Queen's Golden Jubilee, which took place in June of 1887. During this visit, which Black Elk did not enjoy, he and several other Native performers got left behind in Manchester. By 1890 he had returned to America, and was involved in the Wounded Knee Massacre, where he was injured.
In 1892 he married his first wife, Katie War Bonnet, who was a Catholic. All three of their children were baptised as Catholics. She died in 1903, and Black Elk converted to Catholicism, taking the name Nicholas Black Elk. He continued to practice his traditional religion, which he did not feel conflicted with Catholicism. He remarried in 1905 he remarried to Anna Brings White. She had two daughters from a previous marriage, and they had three more together. They remained married until 1941, when Anna died. He remarried again some time after her death, to a woman named Ellen. They remained married until his death in 1950, on either August 17th or August 19th. He was 87-years-old.