Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

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

Two More Coyote Stories from the Pima

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

Here you will see how a woman is able to trick Coyote, who is trying to get some of her tortillas. In another story, the first creature to die in the world is the Rabbit, who was bitten by "Soft Child," the Rattlesnake. Since this is the first time anyone has died, the animals must decide what to do with the dead Rabbit's body.

Coyote and the Tortillas (Pima, Arizona)

Once upon a time, a river rose very high and spread all over the land. An Indian woman was going along the trail by the river side with a basket of tortillas on her head, but she was wading in water up to her waist. Now Coyote was afraid of the water, so he had climbed into a cottonwood tree. When the woman came up the trail, Coyote called, "Oh, come to this tree and give me some of those nice tortillas."

The woman said, "No. I can't give them to you; they are for somebody else."

"If you do not come here I will shoot you," said Coyote, and the woman really thought he had a bow. So she came to the tree and said, "You must come down and get them. I can't climb trees."

Coyote came down as far as he dared, but he was afraid of the deep water. The woman laughed at him. She said, "Just see how shallow it is. It's only up to my ankles." But she was standing on a big stump. Coyote looked at the water. It seemed shallow and safe enough, so he jumped. But the water was deep and he was drowned. Then the woman went on up the trail.

How the Rattlesnake Learned to Bite (Pima, Arizona)

After people and the animals were created, they all lived together. Rattlesnake was there, and was called Soft Child because he was so soft in his motions. The people liked to hear him rattle and little rest did he get because they continually poked and scratched him so that he would shake the rattles in his tail. At last Rattlesnake went to Elder Brother to ask help. Elder Brother pulled a hair from his own lip, cut it in short pieces, and made it into teeth for Soft Child.

"If any one bothers you," he said, "bite him."

That very evening Ta-api, Rabbit, came to Soft Child as he had done before and scratched him. Soft Child raised his head and bit Rabbit. Rabbit was angry and scratched again. Soft Child bit him again. Then Rabbit ran about saying that Soft Child was angry and had bitten him. Then he went to Rattlesnake again, and twice more he was bitten.

The bites made Rabbit very sick. He asked for a bed of cool sea sand. Coyote was sent to the sea for the cool, damp sand. Then Rabbit asked for the shade of bushes that he might feel the cool breeze. But at last Rabbit died. He was the first creature which had died in this new world.

Then the people were troubled because they did not know what to do with the body of Rabbit. One said, "If we bury him, Coyote will surely dig him up."

Another said, "If we hide him, Coyote will surely find him."

And another said, "If we put him in a tree, Coyote will surely climb up."

So they decided to burn the body of Rabbit, and yet there was no fire on earth.

Blue Fly said, "Go to Sun and get some of the fire which he keeps in his house," So Coyote scampered away, but he was sure the people were trying to get rid of him so he kept looking back.

Then Blue Fly made the first fire drill. Taking a stick like an arrow he twirled it in his hands, letting the lower end rest on a flat stick that lay on the ground. Soon smoke began to arise, and then fire came. The people gathered fuel and began their duty.

But Coyote, looking back, saw fire ascending. He turned and ran back as fast as he could go. When the people saw him coming, they formed a ring, but he raced around the circle until he saw two short men standing together. He jumped over them, and seized the heart of Rabbit. But he burned his mouth doing it, and it is black to this day.

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

  • how did Coyote drown in the water?
  • where did the Rattlesnake get his bite?
  • why is Coyote's mouth black?

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