The Gift of the Elk Men Legend

Many Plains and Mountain tribes thought of the elk as having special powers. Not only was the bull elk a regal and imposing figure, but he was brave in defending his heard of cows, who clearly adore him. Men dressed in elk regalia – The “Elk Men” – play central roles in various ceremonies in several tribes, and men who are successful with women are said to have “elk medicine”. This is a Santee Lakota story - 

This is the story of a shy young man who was given the first love flute long ago by the birds and animals. 

This young man was so shy it was easier for him to face enemy warriors in battle than speak to the girl he loved. Many other young men actively sought to speak with her, but for the most part she avoided them. The shy young man was very unhappy with himself, and resolved to leave the camp and people for awhile. He shot an arrow into the air with out thought or aim to establish a direction to wander. To his amazement the arrow stayed in the air pointing and leading him on at a pace that he could walk. All day he followed the arrow, and in the evening it fell to the ground near a stream of clear water. 

The next morning he again shot the arrow, and again it lead him onward, and again fell to the ground at a good camping spot in the early evening. By this time he knew something special was happening to him. He followed the arrow for a total of four days. On the fourth evening the young man lay down to sleep at the edge of an Aspen forest near a clear stream. He was very tired and sleepy, and who can say what followed was a dream or reality. 

There was a rustle of leaves, a click of hoof against stone, and he heard a voice whispering “Will you tell him?” and another voice answered “No, brother, we will both tell him!”. When he opened his eyes he saw two tall Elk Men, painted black and yellow all over and with great branching antlers standing over him. “We have come to help you win the love of your life.” one whispered, “We brought you this – It is a flute – Listen!” the other said. He blew into the end … 

The sound was so beautiful that all the animal people stopped what they were doing and listened, and the Aspen leaves trembled with gladness. “Woodpecker made this – You can see his likeness on the end.” The other Elk Man said “All the birds and animals have put their voices into this flute, and we Elk Men have done the same. With this flute you will speak straight to the heart of the girl you love. Practice with the flute on the way home, and the animal people will help you.” With this the Elk Men flashed their mirrors into his eyes, and when he could see again the Elk Men were gone and he saw two young bull elk running from his camp back into the trees. 

When he awoke the next morning the young man found the flute lying of a bed of sage. On his return trip the young man listened closely to the voices of the animals and birds, and learned how to make these sounds on the flute. Coyote helped him learn to make a yelping sound. Medowlark helped with his special sound, and Look did the same.  All the Warblers and Sparrows gave him their special songs, and listened to make sure that he got them right. He learned to weave these sounds together into his own songs, All the animal people approved, and joined him with their own songs.

On the evening of the fourth day he came close to the camp of his people, and as he played the flute the spirit of the breeze carried his song to the girl’s ear. She had always loved the shy young man, more then ever now as she realized what he had done and what he had learned to win her affections.