Indian Legends of California and the Southwest

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

More Stories About Coyote and Creation

Reading time: 3 minutes. Word count: 600 words.

Here are three more stories about the role that Coyote played in the creation of mankind according to the Nisenan, Achomawi and Shasta Indians of California.

The First Man And Woman (Nishinam, near Bear River, Cal.)

The first man created by Coyote was called Aikut. His wife was Yototowi. But the woman grew sick and died. Aikut dug a grave for her close beside his camp fire, for the Nishinam did not burn their dead then. All the light was gone from his life. He wanted to die, so that he could follow Yototowi, and he fell into a deep sleep.

There was a rumbling sound and the spirit of Yototowi arose from the earth and stood beside him. He would have spoken to her, but she forbade him, for when an Indian speaks to a ghost he dies. Then she turned away and set out for the dance-house of ghosts. Aikut followed her. Together they journeyed through a great, dark country, until they came to a river which separated them from the Ghost-land. Over the river there was a bridge of but one small rope, so small that hardly Spider could crawl across it. Here the woman started off alone, but when Aikut stretched out his arms, she returned. Then she started again over the bridge of thread. And Aikut spoke to her, so that he died.

Thus together they journeyed to the Spirit-land.

Creation and Longevity (Achomawi, Pit River, Cal.)

Coyote began the creation of the earth, but Eagle completed it. Coyote scratched it up with his paws out of nothingness, but Eagle complained there were no mountains for him to perch on. So Coyote made hills, but they were not high enough. Therefore Eagle scratched up great ridges. When Eagle flew over them, his feathers dropped down, took root, and became trees. The pin feathers became bushes and plants.

Coyote and Fox together created man. They quarrelled as to whether they should let men live always or not. Coyote said, "If they want to die, let them die." Fox said, "If they want to come back, let them come back." But Coyote's medicine was stronger, and nobody ever came back.

Coyote also brought fire into the world, for the Indians were freezing. He journeyed far to the west, to a place where there was fire, stole some of it, and brought it home in his ears. He kindled a fire in the mountains, and the Indians saw the smoke of it, and went up and got fire.

Old Mole's Creation (Shasta, Cal.)

Long, long ago, before there was any earth, Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere, and threw up the earth which forms the world. Then Great Man created the people. But the Indians were cold.

Now in the east gleamed the white Fire Stone. Therefore Coyote journeyed eastward, and brought back the Fire Stone for the Indians. So people had fire.

In the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up. But Moon also had nine brothers all made of ice, like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death. Therefore Coyote went away out on the eastern edge of the world with his flint-stone knife. He heated stones to keep his hands warm, and as the Moons arose, he killed one after another with his flint-stone knife, until he had slain nine of them. Thus the people were saved from freezing at night.

When it rains, some Indian, sick in heaven, is weeping. Long, long ago, there was a good young Indian on earth. When he died the Indians wept so that a flood came upon the earth, and drowned all people except one couple.

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

  • what did Aikut do when his wife died?
  • what did Fox and Coyote quarrel about when people were created?
  • how did Coyote save the people from burning up? how did he save them from freezing?

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