Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

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

Coyote and the Rattlesnake (Sia, New Mexico)

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

This is a great story about Coyote and Rattlesnake and their impossible efforts to visit one another and share food together. Coyote outsmarts himself this time.

Coyote's house was not far from Rattlesnake's home. One morning when they were out walking together, Coyote said to Rattlesnake, "To-morrow come to my house."

In the morning Rattlesnake went to Coyote's house. He moved slowly along the floor, shaking his rattle. Coyote sat at one side, very much frightened. The movements of the snake and the rattle frightened him. Coyote had a pot of rabbit meat on the fire, which he placed in front of the snake, saying, "Companion, eat."

"I will not eat your meat. I do not understand your food," said Rattlesnake.

"What food do you eat?"

"I eat the yellow flowers of the corn."

Coyote at once began to search for the yellow corn flowers. When he found some, Rattlesnake said, "Put some on top of my head so that I may eat it."

Coyote stood as far off as he could and placed the pollen on the snake's head.

The snake said, "Come nearer and put enough on my head so that I may find it."

Coyote was very much afraid, but after a while he came nearer and did as he was told.

Then the snake went away, saying, "Companion, to-morrow you come to my house."

"All right," said Coyote. To-morrow I will come."

Coyote sat down and thought about the morrow. He thought a good deal about what the snake might do. So he made a small rattle by placing tiny pebbles in a gourd and fastened it to the end of his tail. He shook it a while and was much pleased with it.

The next morning he started for the snake's house. He shook the rattle on the end of his tail and smiled, and said to himself, "This is good. When I go into Rattlesnake's house, he will be very much afraid of me."

Coyote did not walk into Snake's house, but moved like a snake. But Coyote could not shake his rattle as the snake shook his. He had to hold it in his hand. But when he shook his rattle, the snake seemed much afraid, and said, "Companion, I am afraid of you."

Now Rattlesnake had a stew of rats on the fire, and he placed some before Coyote. But Coyote said, "I do not understand your food. I cannot eat it because I do not understand it."

Rattlesnake insisted upon his eating, but Coyote refused. He said, "If you put some of the flower of the corn on my head, I will eat. I understand that food."

The snake took some corn pollen, but he pretended to be afraid of Coyote and stood off some distance. Coyote said, "Come nearer and place it on top my head."

Snake replied, "I am afraid of you."

Coyote said, "Come nearer. I am not bad."

Then the snake came closer and put the pollen on top of Coyote's head.

But Coyote did not have the long tongue of the snake and he could not get the pollen off the top of his head. He put out his tongue first on one side of his nose and then on the other, but he could only reach to the side of his nose. His efforts made the snake laugh, but the snake put his hand over his mouth so Coyote should not see him laugh. Really, the snake hid his head in his body.

At last Coyote went home. As he left the snake's house, he held his tail in his hand and shook the rattle.

Snake cried, "Oh, companion! I am so afraid of you!" but really the snake shook with laughter.

When Coyote reached his home he said to himself, "I was such a fool. Rattlesnake had much food to eat and I would not take it. Now I am very hungry."

Then he went out in search of food.

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

  • what did Rattlesnake do when he came to Coyote's house? what did he eat?
  • what did Coyote do when he went to visit Rattlesnake's house?
  • why was Coyote hungry after visiting Rattlesnake?

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