Black Elk Speaks
High Horse's Courting
You know, in the old days, it was not so very easy to get a girl
when you wanted to be married. Sometimes it was hard work for a
young man and he had to stand a great deal. Say I am a young man
and I have seen a young girl who looks so beautiful to me that I
feel all sick when I think about her. I can not just go and tell
her about it and then get married if she is willing. I have to be
a very sneaky fellow to talk to her at all, and after I have managed
to talk to her, that is only the beginning.
Probably for a long time I have been feeling sick about a certain
girl because I love her so much, but she will not even look at me,
and her parents keep a good watch over her. But I keep feeling worse
and worse all the time; so maybe I sneak up to her tepee in the
dark and wait until she comes out. Maybe I just wait there all night
and don't get any sleep at all and she does not come out. Then I
feel sicker than ever about her.
Maybe I hide in the brush by a spring where she sometimes goes
to get water, and when she comes by, if nobody is looking, then
I jump out and hold her and just make her listen to me. If she likes
me too, I can tell that from the way she acts, for she is very bashful
and maybe will not say a word or even look at me the first time.
So I let her go, and then maybe I sneak around until I can see her
father alone, and I tell him how many horses I can give him for
his beautiful girl, and by now I am feeling so sick that maybe I
would give him all the horses in the world if I had them.
Well, this young man I am telling about was called High Horse,
and there was a girl in the village who looked so beautiful to him
that he was just sick all over from thinking about her so much and
he was getting sicker all the time. The girl was very shy, and her
parents thought a great deal of her because they were not young
any more and this was the only child they had. So they watched her
all day long, and they fixed it so that she would be safe at night
too when they were asleep. They thought so much of her that they
had made a rawhide bed for her to sleep in, and after they knew
that High Horse was sneaking around after her, they took rawhide
thongs and tied the girl in bed at night so that nobody could steal
her when they were asleep, for they were not sure but that their
girl might really want to be stolen.
Well, after High Horse had been sneaking around a good while and
hiding and waiting for the girl and getting sicker all the time,
he finally caught her alone and made her talk to him. Then he found
out that she liked him maybe a little. Of course this did not make
him feel well. It made him sicker than ever, but now he felt as
brave as a bison bull, and so he went right to her father and said
he loved the girl so much that he would give two good horses for
her--one of them young and the other one not so very old.
But the old man just waved his hand, meaning for High Horse to
go away and quit talking foolishness like that.
High Horse was feeling sicker than ever about it; but there was
another young fellow who said he would loan High Horse two ponies
and when he got some more horses, why, he could just give them back
for the ones he had borrowed.
Then High Horse went back to the old man and said he would give
four horses for the girl - two of them young and the other two not
hardly old at all. But the old man just waved his hand and would
not say anything.
So High Horse sneaked around until he could talk to the girl again,
and he asked her to run away with him. He told her he thought he
would just fall over and die if she did not. But she said she would
not do that; she wanted to be bought like a fine woman. You see
she thought a great deal of herself too.
That made High Horse feel so very sick that he could not eat a
bite, and he went around with his head hanging down as though he
might just fall down and die any time.
Red Deer was another young fellow, and he and High Horse were great
comrades, always doing things together. Red Deer saw how High Horse
was acting, and he said: "Cousin, what is the matter? Are you
sick in the belly? You look as though you were going to die."
Then High Horse told Red Deer how it was, and said he thought he
could not stay alive much longer if he could not marry the girl
Red Deer thought awhile about it, and then he said: "Cousin,
I have a plan, and if you are man enough to do as I tell you, then
everything will be all right. She will not run away with you; her
old man will not take four horses; and four horses are all you can
get. You must steal her and run away with her. Then afterwhile you
can come back and the old man cannot do anything because she will
be your woman. Probably she wants you to steal her anyway."
So they planned what High Horse had to do, and he said he loved
the girl so much that he was man enough to do anything Red Deer
or anybody else could think up.
So this is what they did.
That night late they sneaked up to the girl's tepee and waited
until it sounded inside as though the old man and the old woman
and the girl were sound asleep. Then High Horse crawled under the
tepee with a knife. He had to cut the rawhide thongs first, and
then Red Deer, who was pulling up the stakes around that side of
the tepee, was going to help drag the girl outside and gag her.
After that, High Horse could put her across his pony in front of
him and hurry out of there and be happy all the rest of his life.
When High Horse had crawled inside, he felt so nervous that he
could hear his heart drumming, and it seemed so loud he felt sure
it would 'waken the old folks. But it did not, and afterwhile he
began cutting the thongs. Every time he cut one it made a pop and
nearly scared him to death. But he was getting along all right and
all the thongs were cut down as far as the girl's thighs, when he
became so nervous that his knife slipped and stuck the girl. She
gave a big, loud yell. By this time High Horse was outside, and
he and Red Deer were running away like antelope. The old man and
some other people chased the young men but they got away in the
dark and nobody knew who it was.
Well, if you ever wanted a beautiful girl you will know how sick
High Horse was now. It was very bad the way he felt, and it looked
as though he would starve even if he did not drop over dead sometime.
Red Deer kept thinking about this, and after a few days he went
to High Horse and said: "Cousin, take courage! I have another
plan, and I am sure, if you are man enough, we can steal her this
time." And High Horse said: "I am man enough to do anything
anybody can think up, if I can only get that girl."
So this is what they did.
They went away from the village alone, and Red Deer made High Horse
strip naked. Then he painted High Horse solid white all over, and
after that he painted black stripes all over the white and put black
rings around High Horse's eyes. High Horse looked terrible. He looked
so terrible that when Red Deer was through painting and took a good
look at what he had done, he said it scared even him a little.
"Now," Red Deer said, "if you get caught again,
everybody will be so scared they will think you are a bad spirit
and will be afraid to chase you."
So when the night was getting old and everybody was sound asleep,
they sneaked back to the girl's tepee. High Horse crawled in with
his knife, as before, and Red Deer waited outside, ready to drag
the girl out and gag her when High Horse had all the thongs cut.
High Horse crept up by the girl's bed and began cutting at the thongs.
But he kept thinking, "If they see me they will shoot me because
I look so terrible." The girl was restless and kept squirming
around in bed, and when a thong was cut, it popped. So High Horse
worked very slowly and carefully.
But he must have made some noise, for suddenly the old woman awoke
and said to her old man: "Old Man, wake up! There is somebody
in this tepee!" But the old man was sleepy and didn't want
to be bothered. He said: "Of course there is somebody in this
tepee. Go to sleep and don't bother me." Then he snored some
But High Horse was so scared by now that he lay very still and
as flat to the ground as he could. Now, you see, he had not been
sleeping very well for a long time because he was so sick about
the girl. And while he was lying there waiting for the old woman
to snore, he just forgot everything, even how beautiful the girl
was. Red Deer who was lying outside ready to do his part, wondered
and wondered what had happened in there, but he did not dare call
out to High Horse.
Afterwhile the day began to break and Red Deer had to leave with
the two ponies he had staked there for his comrade and girl, or
somebody would see him.
So he left.
Now when it was getting light in the tepee, the girl awoke and
the first thing she saw was a terrible animal, all white with black
stripes on it, lying asleep beside her bed. So she screamed, and
then the old woman screamed and the old man yelled. High Horse jumped
up, scared almost to death, and he nearly knocked the tepee down
getting out of there.
People were coming running from all over the village with guns
and bows and axes, and everybody was yelling.
By now High Horse was running so fast that he hardly touched the
ground at all, and he looked so terrible that the people fled from
him and let him run. Some braves wanted to shoot at him, but the
others said he might be some sacred being and it would bring bad
trouble to kill him.
High Horse made for the river that was near, and in among the brush
he found a hollow tree and dived into it. Afterwhile some braves
came there and he could hear them saying that it was some bad spirit
that had come out of the water and gone back in again.
That morning the people were ordered to break camp and move away
from there. So they did, while High Horse was hiding in his hollow
Now Red Deer had been watching all this from his own tepee and
trying to look as though he were as much surprised and scared as
all the others. So when the camp moved, he sneaked back to where
he had seen his comrade disappear. When he was down there in the
brush, he called, and High Horse answered, because he knew his friend's
voice. They washed off the paint from High Horse and sat down on
the river bank to talk about their troubles.
High Horse said he never would go back to the village as long as
he lived and he did not care what happened to him now. He said he
was going to go on the war-path all by himself. Red Deer said: "No,
cousin, you are not going on the war-path alone, because I am going
So Red Deer got everything ready, and at night they started out
on the war-path all alone. After several days they came to a Crow
camp just about sundown, and when it was dark they sneaked up to
where the Crow horses were grazing, killed the horse guard, who
was not thinking about enemies because he thought all the Lakotas
were far away, and drove off about a hundred horses.
They got a big start because all the Crow horses stampeded and
it was probably morning before the Crow warriors could catch any
horses to ride. Red Deer and High Horse fled with their herd three
days and nights before they reached the village of their people.
Then they drove the whole herd right into the village and up in
front of the girl's tepee. The old man was there, and High Horse
called out to him and asked if he thought maybe that would be enough
horses for his girl. The old man did not wave him away that time.
It was not the horses that he wanted. What he wanted was a son who
was a real man and good for something.
So High Horse got his girl after all, and I think he deserved her.
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