Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

Week 13: Native American Tales - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images


Coyote Stories by the Pima

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

So now you know how Coyote got his cunning. In these stories you will learn how Coyote - who used to be green - became the same color as the dirt. And you will also find out where he got his yellow eyes.
How the Bluebird Got its Color (Pima, Arizona)

A long time ago, the bluebird was a very ugly color. But Bluebird knew of a lake where no river flowed in or out, and he bathed in this four times every morning for four mornings. Every morning he sang a magic song: "There's a blue water. It lies there. I went in. I am all blue."

On the fourth morning Bluebird shed all his feathers and came out of the lake just in his skin. But the next morning when he came out of the lake he was covered with blue feathers.

Now all this while Coyote had been watching Bluebird. He wanted to jump in and get him to eat, but he was afraid of the water. But on that last morning Coyote said, "How is it you have lost all your ugly color, and now you are blue and gay and beautiful? You are more beautiful than anything that flies in the air. I want to be blue, too."

Now Coyote at that time was a bright green.

"I only went in four times on four mornings," said Bluebird. He taught Coyote the magic song, and he went in four times, and the fifth time he came out as blue as the little bird.

Then Coyote was very, very proud because he was a blue coyote. He was so proud that as he walked along he looked around on every side to see if anybody was looking at him now that he was a blue coyote and so beautiful. He looked to see if his shadow was blue, too. But Coyote was so busy watching to see if others were noticing him that he did not watch the trail. By and by he ran into a stump so hard that it threw him down in the dirt and he was covered with dust all over. You may know this is true because even to-day coyotes are the color of dirt.

Coyote's Eyes (Pima, Arizona)

When Coyote was travelling about one day, he saw a small bird. The bird was hopping about contentedly and Coyote thought, "What a beautiful bird. It moves about so gracefully."

He drew nearer to the bird and asked, "What beautiful things are you working with?" but the bird could not understand Coyote. After a while the bird took out his two eyes and threw them straight up into the air, like two stones. It looked upward but had no eyes. Then the bird said, "Come, my eyes. Come quickly, down into my head." The eyes fell down into the bird's head, just where they belonged, but were much brighter than before.

Coyote thought he could brighten his eyes. He asked the bird to take out his eyes. The bird took out Coyote's eyes, held them for a moment in his hands, and threw them straight up into the air. Coyote looked up and called, "Come back, my eyes. Come quickly." They at once fell back into his head and were much brighter than before. Coyote wanted to try it again, but the bird did not wish to. But Coyote persisted.

Then the bird said, "Why should I work for you, Coyote? No, I will work no more for you." But Coyote still persisted, and the bird took out his eyes and threw them up. Coyote cried, "Come, my eyes, come back to me."

But his eyes continued to rise into the air, and the bird began to go away. Coyote began to weep. But the bird was annoyed, and called back, "Go away now. I am tired of you. Go away and get other eyes."

But Coyote refused to go and entreated the bird to find eyes for him. At last the bird gathered gum from a pinon tree and rolled it between his hands and put it in Coyote's eye holes, so that he could see. But his eyes had been black and very bright. His new eyes were yellow.

"Now," said the bird, it "go away. You cannot stay here any longer."


Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what color was Coyote originally? how did he become blue? why is he dirty brown now?
  • how did Coyote brighten his eyes?
  • why does he have yellow eyes now?

Source: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest. Compiled and Edited by Katharine Berry Judson. Chicago: A.C. McClurg & Co., 1912. Weblink.


Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM