In the first chapter, Black Elk reveals his intention of telling John Neihardt the story of his life. He dwells on his early vision that he confirms was a failure. In a ritual fashion, he smokes the red willow bark in the holy pipe together with Neihardt as an offering to the Mighty Spirit. Black Elk narrates a story about a sacred woman who came to two men and gave them a pipe. Then, he offers an invocation before he proceeds with his life story.
In Chapter 2, Black Elk tells Neihardt the story of his life. The chapter ends with the description of Black’s vision, which he got when he was just five years old. He tells about the occurrences in his tender age, when the tensions between the whites and American Indians were on the rise. In his vision, he saw two men in the heavens singing a holy song. He was afraid to tell anyone about the vision although he liked it.
Chapter 3 is exceptionally long. Black gets a vision at the age of nine. The whites had moved some distance from the Indian settlements. While eating, he hears a voice asking him to make haste, since his Grandfathers are waiting for him. It is in this chapter that Black Elk meets his grandfathers. He meets the six Grandfathers in a teepee. They give him their messages and individual information about himself. They come to a cloud which turns into a tepee with a rainbow.
Immediately after Chapter 3, Black Elk regains his consciousness after getting his vision. He feels like someone from an actual journey and has now returned home. His custodians inform him of his earlier condition. The medicine man tells them Elk is just an ordinary boy. This instills a lot fear into him; he even finds it extremely difficult to tell people about his vision.
In Chapter 5, the six Lakota bands vanished after hunting a bison. Some Oglalas headed to Fort Robinson. Others remained with Crazy Horse. Black Elk joined his people near Soldiers' Town.
In Chapter 6, Black Elk focuses on Watanye's story. He generously gives his parents two horses for their daughter, then four. However, the parents refuse the kind offer.
In Chapter 7, Black Elk attains the age of 11 years. It is 1874, and his people camped in the Black Hills, now known as South Dakota. At times, Black Elk recalls his vision. He sees a flock of swallows before a storm. However, he can no longer stone them like other active, young boys are doing. He remembers that his Grandfathers told him he is a friend of birds.
In Chapter 8, Black Elk's father let his son know that Red Cloud and other chiefs will sell out to the whites. He told him that the other Indians must fight. Some Indian young men bring the news that white men had shot at them on the Bozeman Trail.
Inside Chapter 9, Black Elk takes part in the famous Battle of Little Big Horn. Though Crazy Horse battled with the whites on the Rosebud River, it was simply to stop them from interfering with the dance.
Chapter 10 is the scene of battle. It does not establish the Indians' claim of their land. Black Elk senses reality in the rumor that some Indian chiefs could have drunk excessively to sell themselves out. Clearly, natural incidents and changes in the weather cause impressions in a towering rock bluff.
Chapter 11 is the part where Black Elk and his father get out of Red Cloud Agency towards Spotted Tail's camp. The Red Cloud's people pass them and then ask them to go back. He learns that Crazy Horse has chased them. The rumor is going round that Crazy Horse is into war again. Black Elk knows he has no adequate weaponry and believes that the whites have spread the rumor.
In Chapter 12, Black Elk's crew does not want to live on the reservations they are heading to. Black Elk goes after a bison with Running Horse. He accompanies Iron Tail later.
In Chapter 13, two of the families in Black Elk's crew start out for the destination where they had inhabited in the past. At one encampment, Black Elk feels so strange that he associates this experience with his vision once again. He hears a voice asking him to look out. Praying to the grandfathers of his extraordinary vision, he rushes to inform his people that they ought to leave at once.
When you get to Chapter 14, Black Road and another old man called Bear Sings paint a holy tepee for Elk. They inform him that he must cleanse himself in a sweat lodge. He sings to the grandfathers to support him.
In Chapter 15, soldiers tell Black Elk's unit that they may not live on their land because it falls under the control of the American government. The Indians' battle facilities ended up in the hands of Great Father who would pay them for the horses.
The main story of Black Elk in Chapter 16 is centered about his decision to perform his dog vision with heyokas. He explains that facts have their bitter aspects, too.
Chapter 17 focuses on Black Elk’s pathetic conditions of living that have hindered normal growth. He calls his people prisoners of war and focuses his efforts and thoughts on the spiritual world. He notes that young men don't mature now as early as they used to – something he perceives as another sign of the degeneration of Indian culture. Elk then returns to his life story.
In Chapter 18, Black Elk attempts to explain the necessity to perform a vision before its power can become useful. He also explains that power works within him. He says that he has for the first time poured out his heart. He worries that he may die now.
In Chapter 19, the bison herds disappeared. White men killed them for their own purposes. Black Elk believes this is utterly irrational. Indians occupy the square houses. The nation's hoop breaks and people get very depressed. Black Elk goes on practicing how to heal. In 1886, Black Elk gets information concerning Bill’s plan to hire Indians for his Wild West Show.
Chapter 20 focuses on Black’s journey from London to Manchester. While there, he gets lost. He fails to return to the United States with Buffalo Bill. He finds his way back to London with some other persons with a similar problem. He later finds himself in Paris, France, as well as Germany and Italy. He eventually starts feeling homesick until the moment Buffalo Bill comes back to town and sends him back home.
Black Elk, in Chapter 21, comes home to an almost fully displaced society, living on reservations, with the bison herd totally extinct.
Delving into Chapter 22, Black Elk joins forces with Good Thunder and Kicking Bear in the dance. He has the taste of levitation but without visions. The next day he gets a vision of following a spotted eagle up the mountains. He begins to visualize some paradise where his people lived.
Chapter 23 explores the whites as they try to prevent the ghost dances. The Indians are still hungry and hopeless. They move the camp twice in response to reports that soldiers are marching on them. A policeman gives Good Thunder and Black Elk a particularly stern warning that they will be arrested. To escape the possibility of such a consequence, they head to Brule encampment, situated around Wounded Knee.
On the morning of December 29, 1890, Black Elk makes out soldiers moving toward Wounded Knee Creek and later hears gunshot sounds. They join the fight to try to save their people. Elk then faces a group of armed soldiers in the quest to defend the community. This occurs in Chapter 24.
The final chapter offers a vivid description of the aftermath of the massacre and reveals how Black Elk's ended up in profound disappointment. This came after his failure to enact the authority that his vision had given him.