Skip to main content

White Man Speaks With Forked Caption

July 2024
1min read

To accompany E. M. Halliday’s “Carving the American Colossus” in the June, 1977, issue, we ran a photograph on page 27 of a Sioux “warrior” posed before Mount Rushmore and named, according to a tourist who took the picture, Black Dog. It now appears that we were ambushed, and several readers have written to rescue us, among them Dayton W. Canaday, director of the South Dakota Department of Education and Cultural Affairs. “The Sioux portrayed,” Mr. Canaday writes, “is none other than Ben Black Elk, a full-blood son of Black Elk, who gained national prominence from John G. Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks . Ben Black Elk was a fixture at Mt. Rushmore for many years, posing for hundreds of thousands of tourists who visited this famous site. He was part of the Mt. Rushmore story and has been often called ‘the fifth face on the mountain.’ ”

Another reader, Mary W. Robinson of Cleveland, Ohio, was particularly distressed by our further caption statement that Black Dog/Elk was photographed while agitating for an Indian cause: “He would turn over in his grave. I’ve never talked to a nicer, more patient, more gentle man.… Please do something about this!!!!!!!!”

We’ll try. Directly right, courtesy of Mr. Canaday, is a genuine, authenticated photograph of the real Ben Black Elk, who until his death in 1973 was indeed well known and respected by many Indians and non-Indians throughout the country.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.