Once, many generations ago, the people had drums, gourd rattles
and bull-roarers, but no flutes. At that long-ago time, a young
man went out to hunt. Meat was scarce, and the people in his camp
Flett, My Elk Medicine is Strong, on 1895 Cash Book paper
He found the tracks of an Elk and followed them for a long time.
The Elk, wise and swift, is the one who owns the love charm. If
a man possesses Elk Medicine, the girl he likes can't help liking
him, too. He will also be a lucky hunter.
This young man I'm talking about had no Elk Medicine. After
many hours, he finally sighted his game. He was skilled with bow
and arrows and had a fine new bow and a quiver full of straight,
well-feathered, flint-tipped arrows. Yet, the Elk always managed
to stay just out of range, leading him on and on. The young man
was so intent on following his prey he hardly noticed where he went.
When night came, he found himself deep inside a thick forest.
The tracks had disappeared and so had the Elk. There was no moon.
He realized he was lost and, it was too dark to find his way out.
Luckily, he came upon a stream with cool, clear water. He had
been careful enough to bring a hide bag of wasna - dried meat pounded
with berries and kidney fat, strong food that will keep a man going
for a few days. After he drank and ate, he rolled himself into his
fur robe, propped his back against a tree and tried to rest. But
he couldn't sleep; the forest was full of strange noises, and the
cries of night animals ... the hooting owls, the groaning trees
in the wind. It was as if he heard these sounds for the first time.
Suddenly, there was a entirely new sound, a kind neither he
nor anyone else had ever heard before. It was mournful and ghost-like.
It made him afraid, so he drew his robe tightly about himself and
reached for his bow to make sure it was properly strung.
as frightening as it was, the sound was also like a song, sad but
beautiful, full of love, hope and yearning. Then, before he knew
it, he was asleep. He dreamed the bird called wagnuka, the redheaded
woodpecker, appeared singing the strangely beautiful song and telling
him, "Follow me and I will teach you."
When the hunter awoke, the sun was already high. On a branch
of the tree against which he was leaning, he saw a redheaded woodpecker.
The bird flew away to another tree, and another, but never very
far, looking back all the time at the young man as if to say, "Come
on!" Then once more, he heard that wonderful song, and his
heart yearned to find the singer. Flying toward the sound, leading
the hunter, the bird flitted through the leaves, while its bright
red top made it easy to follow.
At last, it lighted on a cedar tree and began hammering on a
branch, making a noise like the fast beating of a small drum. Suddenly,
there was a gust of wind, and again the hunter heard that beautiful
sound right above him.
Then, he discovered the song came from the dead branch on which
the woodpecker was tapping his beak. He realized it was also the
wind which made the sound as it whistled through the hole the bird
"Kola, friend," said the hunter, "let me take
this branch home. You can make yourself another."
He took the branch, a hollow piece of wood full of woodpecker
holes that was about the length of his forearm. He walked back to
his village bringing no meat, but happy all the same.
In his tipi, the young man tried to make the branch sing for
him. He blew on it, he waved it around, no sound came. It made him
sad. He wanted so much to hear that wonderful new sound. He purified
himself in the sweat lodge and climbed to the top of a lonely hill.
There, resting with his back against a large rock, he fasted, going
without food or water for four days and nights, crying for a vision
which would tell him how to make the branch sing.
the middle of the fourth night, wagnuka, the bird with the bright
red top, appeared, saying, "Watch me," turning himself
into a man, showing the hunter how to make the branch sing, saying
again and again, "Watch this, now." And, in his dream,
the young man watched and observed very carefully.
When he awoke, he found a cedar tree. He broke off a branch
and, working many hours, hollowed it out with a bowstring drill,
just as he had seen the woodpecker do in his dream. He whittled
the branch into the shape of the birds with a long neck and a open
beak. He painted the top of the birds head with washasha, the sacred
red color. He prayed. He smoked the branch up with incense of burning
sage, cedar and sweet grass. He fingered the holes as he had seen
the man-bird do in his vision, meanwhile blowing softly into the
mouthpiece. All at once, there was the song, ghost-like and beautiful
beyond words ... drifting all the way to the village, where the
people were astounded and joyful to hear it. With the help of the
wind and the woodpecker, the young man had brought them the first
A short time later an Elk Man would bring the Elk Flute songs
also from a great vision!