The Origin of the Courting Flute
The origin of the courting-flute is thus, they say. Among the people there was a youth who wished to court girls, but alas, he loved only one maiden, they say.
It came to pass that he met her at the watering-place, but the maiden only laughed at him and said: “Who do you think you are? That I should marry one such as you, a dweller among the tents without a home, is absurd!” And with wicked words she reviled him and caused him to feel much shame. For, indeed, this maiden was a chief's daughter; and looked with abhorance upon the poor boy.
It came to pass that the youth thought: “She has brought me great shame; it would be just as well if I died immediately.”
So at dawn he shot an arrow northward and walked following it. In the evening as he was about to stop to rest, he found a fat deer impalled by the arrow which he shot. He took a piece of the flesh, roasted it and ate. After he had eaten, the ache in his heart was somewhat eased; and being very tired he soon slept.
So it was for four days: at dawn he would shoot an arrow and at dusk he would find a deer killed by the arrow. He would butcher the animal, roast the meat and eat, until finally he felt a little more cheerful.
As he sat alone on the fourth evening he thought, “I guess I might as well go home,” but suddenly he heard human voices coming from a grove of trees. Expecting the worst he thought, “Even if they kill me, what of it! It is death that I seek.” But as they drew near and their voices grew clear he heard that they were speaking Dakota.
One of the two said, “Friend, you give it to him,” but the other replied, “No, friend, you give it to him.” Again the first spoke: “Friend, you properly tell him.” Again the other refused, “But, no, friend, you tell him.”
At last they stopped just within the circle of fire light, and wonder of wonders, the boy saw that they were unsurpassably handsome young men, and as they stood there, their bodies seemed to emit glimmering light.
Finally one spoke saying: “Boy, to be sure we know that you have much pain in your heart, but a second time this will never be so - listen well!”
They had with them a long flute and one began to play. From the mouth of this flute, which was made like that of the gar, came a sweet, piercing sound.
Then they said to him, “Take this along with you, boy, and go home. At midnight when the people are sleeping, walk through the camp playing this flute, and it will surely happen that all the women will get up and follow you.” Then the two handsome young men turned around and, lo and behold, the boy saw two elks disappear among the trees.
The boy returned home, and as the people slept, he walked among the tents playing on the flute. As the music filled the air, the women all arose from the beds and, dragging their blankets, began to follow him. They crowded around him, but he ignored them all, so entranced by the wonderful music was he. One girl accosted him repeatedly saying, “Say, don't you remember me? I am the chief's daughter.” But he heard only the sound of the wonderful music which came from the mouth of the flute.
One girl, however, didn't join the throng. She only sat alone quietly in her lodge. And it was she that the youth sought out and married.
It is said that this boy was the original elk.
Among the Dakotas the elk is symbolic of masculine beauty, virility, virtue, and charm. It is sometimes said of a man that he is an elk. This is a great compliment.