Two Ghostly Lovers
Long ago her lived a young, good-looking man whom no woman could resist. He was an elk charmer–a man who had elk medicine, which carries love power. When this man played the siyotanka, the flute, it produced a magic sound. At night a girl hearing it would just get up and go to him, forsaking her father and mother, her own lover, or husband. Maybe her mind told her to stay, but her heart was already beating faster and her feet were running.
Yet the young man, the elk charmer himself, was a lover with a stone heart. He wanted only to conquer women, the way a warrior conquers an enemy. After they came to him once, he had no more use for them. So in spite of his wonderful powers, he did not act as a young man should and was not well liked.
One day when the elk charmer went out to hunt buffalo, he did not return to the village. His parents waited for him day after day, but he never came back. At last they went to a special kind of medicine man who has “finding stones” that give him the power to locate lost things and lost people.
After this holy man had used his finding stones, he told the parents: “I have sad news for you. Your son is dead, and not from sickness or an accident. He was killed. He is lying out there on the prairie.”
The medicine man described the spot where they would find the body, it was as he had said. out on the prairie their son was lying dead, stabbed through the heart. Whether he had been killed by an enemy warrior, or a wronged husband from his own tribe, or even a discarded, thrown-away girl, no one ever knew.
His parents dressed him in his finest war shirt, which he had loved more than all his women, and in dead man’s moccasins, whose soles are beaded with spirit-land designs. They put his body up on the funeral scaffold, and then the tribe left that part of the country. For it was a very bad thing, this killing which was probably within the tribe. It was, in fact, the very worst thing that could happen, even though everybody was thinking that the young man had brought it on himself.
One evening many days’ ride away, when the people had already forgotten this sad happening and were feasting in their tipis, all the dogs in camp started howling. Then the coyotes in the hills took up their mournful cry. Nobody could discover the reason for all this yowling and yipping. But when it finally stopped, the people could hear the hooting of many owls, speaking of death and ghostly things. The laughter in the camp stopped. The fires were put out, and the entry flaps to the tipis were closed.
People tried to sleep, but instead they found themselves listening. They knew a spirit was coming. Finally they heard the unearthly sounds of a ghost flute and a voice they knew very well–the voice of the dead young man with the elk medicine. They heard this voice singing:
Weeping I roam.
I thought I was the only one
Who had known many loves,
Many girls, many women,
Too many of them.
Now I am having a hard time.
I am roaming, roaming,
And I have to keep roaming
As long as the world stands.
After that night, the people heard the song many times. A lone girl coming home late from a dance, a young woman up before sunrise to get water from the stream, would hear the ghostly song mixed with the sound of the flute. And they would see the shape of a man wrapped in a gray blanket hovering above the ground, for even as a ghost this young man would not leave the girls alone.
Well, it happened long ago, but even now the old-timers at Rosebud, Pine Ridge, and Cheyenne River are still singing this ghost song.
Now, there was another young man who also had a cold heart. He too made love to too many girls and soon threw them away. he was a brave warrior though. He was out a few times with a girl who was in love with him, and he said he would marry her. But he didn’t really mean it; he was like many other men who make the same promise only to get under a girl’s blanket. One day he said: “I have to go away on a horse stealing raid, I’ll be back soon, and then I’ll marry you.” She told him: “I’ll wait for you forever!”
The young warrior went off and never came back; he forgot all about her. The girl, however, waited for a long time.
Well, this young man roamed about for years and had many loves. Then one time when he was hunting, he saw a fine tipi. It had a sun-and-moon design painted on it. He recognized it immediately: it was the tipi of the girl he had left long ago. “Is she still good-looking and loving?” he wondered. “I’ll find out!”
He went inside, and there was the girl, lovelier than ever. She was dressed in a white, richly quilled buckskin dress. She smiled at him. “My lover, have you come back at last?”
After serving him a fine meal, she helped him take off his moccasins and his war shirt. She traced his scars from many fights with her fingers. “My warrior,” she said, “lie down here beside me, on this soft, soft buffalo robe.” He lay down and made love to her, and it was sweeter than he had ever experienced, sweeter than he could have imagined. Then she said: “Rest and sleep now.”
The young man–though not very young anymore–woke up in the morning and saw the morning sun shining into the tipi. But the tipi was no longer bright and new; it was ragged and rotting. The buffalo robe under which they had slept was almost hairless and full of holes. He lifted the robe and pulled it aside to look at the girl, and instead of a living, beautiful woman, he found a skeleton. A few strands of black hair still adhered to the skull, which seemed to smile at him. They young girl had died there long ago, waiting for him to come back. He had made love to a spirit. He had embraced bones. He had kissed a skull. He had coupled with a skeleton!
As the thought sank in, the warrior cried aloud, jumped up, and began running in great fear running he knew not where. When he finally came to, he was witko, mad. He spoke in strange sounds. His eyes wandered. His thoughts went astray. he was never right in his mind again.
–Told by Lame Deer at Winner
Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, 1970.
Recorded by Richard Erdoes