"Playing to the Wind"


Greg Kelsey

2001 Best of Show - Sculpture Award Winner
National Western Art Show & Auction

Legend of how the Lakota People Acquired the Flute

For the Lakota the flute was only for one kind of music; love music. It was for playing courting songs. You see, Indians are shy by nature and the flutes did all the talking. They wooed the young maidens with powerful medicine.

The flutes were made out of cedar wood. They were carved to look like birds with a long straight neck, head and open beak. They were fashioned after the redheaded woodpecker, the wagnuka, with the tops of the heads painted the sacred red color, washasha.

The redheaded woodpecker had to help the young braves out because not all of them possessed elk medicine. The elk is the one who owned the love charm. The girls couldn't resist a man who had elk medicine, and he was also a lucky hunter.

This story is about a brave who had no elk medicine. He finds himself lost in the forest after an unsuccessful day chasing an elk. That night he hears a new a beautiful sound. He dreams of the redheaded woodpecker who appears singing the strangely beautiful song that had lulled him to sleep. He awakes to find a redheaded woodpecker perched above him on a branch of the tree he is leaning against. He hears the beautiful sound again, and the bird leads him through the woods to a cedar tree, where it hammers on a branch. The wind whistles through the branch making music The hunter realizes the wind made sound come alive through holes the bird had drilled.

The young brave takes the branch with him back to the village. He tries to make it sing again but is unable. He purifies himself and fasts for four days. The redheaded woodpecker comes to him again in a dream and shows him how to play the branch.

After his illuminating vision he finds another cedar tree, breaks off a branch, hollows and drills it as he had been instructed by the woodpecker. He whittles the branch into the shape of a bird with a long neck and open beak. He paints the top of the bird's head the sacred red color.

He carefully fingered the holes and blew into the mouthpiece as shown in his vision. With the help of the wind and woodpecker the young man brought the first flute to the Lakota people.

- Legend as told by the Brule Sioux