The stories taken from Indian
Legends of California and the Southwest
are centered on the great trickster figure, Coyote. There
are also a number of different creation stories, including
stories where Coyote plays a role in creation, as well as
stories about the great Spider as creator of the world, or
the Earth Doctor who created the earth and its inhabitants.
Along with these creation stories are aetiological stories,
which tell how different animals and birds and plants and
mountains in California and the Southewest came into existence.
Here are some quotes:
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. ...
Coyote 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." ...
But Earth Doctor saw that when the sun and moon were
not in the sky, all was inky darkness. So he sang a magic
song, and took some water into his mouth and blew it into
the sky, in a spray, to make little stars. Then he took his
magic crystal and broke it into pieces and threw them into
the sky, to make the larger stars. ...
The stories taken from Myths
of the Cherokee
focus on a different trickster figure: Rabbit, with Cherokee
versions of the race between the Rabbit and the Terrapin,
and a version of the Rabbit and the Tar-Baby. There are also
aetiological stories about other animals: why the mole lives
underground, how the turkey got his wattle, how the possum
lost the fur on his tail, and so on. The final cycle of stories
is about the Uktena, a mysterious snake monster whose body
contains a magical diamond, the coveted Ulûñsû'tï,
which can be used like a crystal ball in order to see into
the future. Here are some quotes:
The Rabbit was getting tired now and nearly out of breath,
but he kept on down the mountain and up the other ridge until
he got to the top just in time to see the Terrapin cross the
fourth ridge and thus win the race. The Rabbit could not make
another jump, but fell over on the ground, crying mï,
mï, mï, mï, as the Rabbit does ever since when
he is too tired to run any more.
Soon the news went around, that the Terrapin had killed
the Wolf and was using his ears for spoons. All the Wolves
got together and followed the Terrapin's trail until they
came up with him and made him prisoner. Then they held a council
to decide what to do with him, and agreed to boil him in a
clay pot. ...
Now, the Ulûñsû'tî is like a
blazing star set in the forehead of the great Uktena serpent,
and the medicine-man who could possess it might do marvelous
things, but everyone knew this could not be, because it was
certain death to meet the Uktena. ...