Katherine Chandler.

In the reign of Coyote, folkflore from the Pacific coast online

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from China. And now it will never sing any
more," and sobs choked her words.

" Oh, Ninita mia, weep not so. I think your bird
is singing more happily in the Land of the Dead.
You know when Coyote went there he found all
the dead singing and dancing and having a good

" Did he ? When did he go ? How did he go ? "
and Juanita' s voice became firmer.



" You sit on the hides, Chiquita, and eat these
nuts, and old Klayukat will tell you what Coyote
learned about the Land of the Dead."

Many, many moons ago, the animal people had
one sorrow, their relatives who died never came
back again. The whole land was filled with mourn-
ing, for almost every household had lost one of its
number. Eagle's wife was gone, and he wept all
day and would not be comforted.

Coyote felt sorry for the animals. " The leaves
come back to the trees," he thought. " Why should
not people come back to the earth ? I ought to be
able to do something to bring them back."

He went to Eagle and said : '/ Don't grieve so,
Brother Eagle. I think people ought to come back
like the leaves on the trees. Wait until spring.
Then, when the grass comes out in its greenness
and the flowers smile in their beauty, the dead
will return from the Land of the Dead."

" Spring is too far off," sobbed Eagle. " It is
only autumn now. I want my wife before spring.
I want her just now."

" Well, come with me, and we will see if we can
get her now," said Coyote.

Eagle wiped his tears away and picked up a bas-
ket. Then they started out for the Land of the Dead.


They traveled for a long time, until they came to a
lake. Across it they could see houses, but there was
no sign of people. Everything was as still as death.

"Oh! we have come all this way for nothing,"
wailed Eagle. " They are all dead here. I shall
not find my wife."

"Wait until night, Brother Eagle," answered
Coyote. " The dead sleep in the daytime. At
night they come out. Let us rest until darkness
falls." He threw himself down under a cypress
tree, and Eagle lay down beside him.

When the sun had passed into the west, Coyote
began to sing. He had sung only a short time,
when four men came out of the houses across the
lake and got into a canoe. Coyote sang on. The
men did not touch the oars, but the boat skimmed
over the water to the cypress tree.

Coyote and Eagle got into the canoe. Coyote
kept on singing. The boat skimmed back over the
water toward the houses. As it neared the shore,
they heard music and drumming and dancing.

" What a good time the dead must have ! " said
Coyote. "I shall be glad to see them and their

"You must not enter those houses," cautioned
the four men in the boat. " You must not look at
the people. This is a sacred place."


"But we are cold and hungry," replied Coyote.
" Do let us in to warm ourselves."

" Well, you may come in for a little while," con-
ceded the men.

They entered a large mat house. There were
flowers in bloom and sweet music, and the people
were all singing and dancing. Everybody looked
well and happy.

An old woman came toward them. She carried
a glass bottle in one hand and a feather in the
other. "Eat, son," she said, and she dipped the
feather into the bottle and passed it once over
Coyote's tongue. He felt as well satisfied as if
he had eaten a hearty meal.

" Eat, son," the old woman said again, and she
let one dip of the feather fall into Eagle's mouth.
His hunger, too, was satisfied.

Coyote and Eagle looked around them. They
saw many of their dead friends. The friends did
not answer them when they spoke, nor even look
at them, but went on singing and dancing and
having a happy time. Coyote saw that the mat
house was lighted by the moon. The moon was
hung from the ceiling, and the frog was attending
to its light. As night faded, the spirit songs
became fainter. By the time the sun appeared,
all the dead had departed to sleep.


During the next day Coyote killed the frog and
dressed himself in its clothes. Then at night he
went into the mat house and attended to the light
of the moon. All the dead people came again to
the mat house. They began singing and dancing
in a happy way. Suddenly Coyote swallowed the
moon, and the mat house was in darkness. The
spirit people began groping about. Coyote and
Eagle picked them up and put them into the
grass basket which they had brought from home.
Then they shut the basket tight and started back
to the Land of the Living.

Coyote carried the basket. After traveling a
long while he heard a noise inside it. He pricked
up his ears. "Brother Eagle," he said, "the peo-
ple are beginning to come to life again."

Soon they heard different voices from the bas-
ket crying out, " I 'm being bumped ; I want to get
out ; I want to get out."

The basket was becoming very heavy. The
nearer they came to the Land of the Living, the
more alive the people became. They weighed
nothing when they were spirits, but were heavy
when they became alive. Coyote began to get
tired carrying them. He said to Eagle, "Why
not let them out as long as they wish to come ? "

" No," answered Eagle ; "let's get them home."


Still the voices from within grumbled and called
aloud, " I want to get out ; I want to get out."
Still the weight grew heavier with every step.
Finally Coyote could not walk under it. He set
the basket down.

"I am going to let them out," he said. "They
are so far away from the Land of the Dead that
they will not go back there now." He opened the
basket. The dead people flew out. They changed
into spirits and faded like the wind.

"Now," growled Eagle, " see what you 've done.
You '11 have to go back with me in the spring, when
the new buds are out, and try to get them back

No," answered Coyote, "I'm tired. The dead
don't want to come back. They are happier in
the Land of the Dead than we are in the Land
of the Living. Let the dead stay in the Land
of the Dead and never return to our land."

So because Coyote made this law, the dead do
not come back. If he had not opened the basket,
they would have returned every spring with the
new grass and the fresh blossoms.

" Do you think my canary is singing now in the
Land of the Dead, Klayukat ? "

" Yes, Ninita, he is singing all the night long."


" And is he happy, too ? "

" Yes, Chiquita, happier than here."

" But who gives him seed and water and fresh

chickweed ? "

" The dead do not care about eating. They are

happy without it. You may be sure your canary is

happier than here."

" Oh, how lovely ! You dear Klayukat ! I must

go and watch for Tonio. He'll be glad to have me

tell him this story."

Klayukat looked after her. " Pobrecita" he

murmured, and he sighed as he continued his



NE day the children had been attempt-
ing to act La Pastorela, the sacred
play which they saw presented every
Christmas Eve at San Francisco. They found it
easy to take the different parts in turn, but they
had difficulty with the scenery. They had fashioned
a star of sunflower petals, to represent the golden
Star of Bethlehem, but the petals faded and curled
up, and the star was not much of a success.

" Let 's go to Wantasson. Perhaps he can fix us
a star of real fire," proposed Juanita.

"Of course he can't," answered Antonio; "but
we can ask him to do something for us."

" Make you a star ? " and Wantasson removed
his irons from the fire and sat down in the door-
way. " I don't think I can make a star. A man
would better leave stars alone. Think what the
star did to Coyote."



" To Coyote ? Why, what did a star do to Coy-
ote ? " and the children's interest was transferred
from their play to the prospective story.

" Well, it was this way." Wantasson spread out
his feet and rested his shoulders against the door,
and then he began his story.

After Coyote had gotten fire and salmon for the
animals and had destroyed their enemies, he began
to feel proud of himself.

" I have more brains than any of the other ani-
mals," he said. "I ought to have more privileges
than the rest of them."

Just then he noticed the stars glimmering above.
" That 's what I want," he thought, "a ride on a
star. All the other animals can walk on the earth,
or run on it. I ought to have something better. I
ought to have a journey on a star."

He went to the top of a hill and called to the
evening star: " Come here, Bright Star. I want to
take a ride on you."

The evening star only winked one eye and did
not move any nearer.

" Did you hear me, O Star ? I am the great Coy-
ote. I have obtained heat and food for the animals,
and have killed their destroyers. Now I want to
journey around the world. Come nearer so that I
can jump on you."


The evening star moved slowly away and smiled
in silence.

At the next sundown Coyote mounted the hill-
top again, and again called to the star. This time
the evening star answered in the soft still voice that
stars use on summer nights : " No, Coyote. You
must remain on earth. 'Great as you are, you could
not stand the pace of the stars."

But Coyote would not be content. Every night
he whined and howled and craved and entreated,
until at last the evening star became weary of his

"Well, jump on and be quick about it," it said,
in the keen brisk voice that stars use in frost

It approached the hilltop a moment and then
glided off. Coyote leaped and barely caught hold
of it with his front paws. The star began whirling
through space so fast that poor Coyote could not
draw himself up onto its surface. He had to exert
all his strength to hold on at all.

The star whirled along through the coldest
regions. Coyote's paws became numb and frozen.
At last they could not feel any longer, and be
tumbled to the earth. It took him ten snows to
get back, and then he fell so hard that he was
flattened out as thin as a hazel bough.


Ever since his fall he has been thin, and every
evening he goes up to the hilltop and reproaches
the star for its harsh treatment.

"I think the evening star might have waited
long enough to let him get comfortably on it," com-
mented Juanita.

"So that's why the coyotes howl every night,"
observed Antonio. " I should think they 'd be tired
by this time."

" Oh, Coyote does not get tired. He is not like
man. That is why man is so great because Coyote
did not get tired when he was making him."

"When Coyote was making man? Do you mean
that Coyote made man ? " The memory of his cate-
chism weighted Antonio's word with doubt.

" Oh, have I not told you that story ? No, I can't
tell it now. Your Senor Padre wants these spurs
fixed for this evening. You come to-morrow, and
you will hear about it."


[S soon as their lessons were over in
,the morning, the children hastened

to the blacksmith shop.
"Good morning, Wantasson. Are
you ready to tell us how Coyote
made man ? "
" Good morning, children. Yes, a rest will do
Wantasson good. Let us sit in the sun, and I
will tell you the story now."

After Coyote had his great fall from the star, he
sat around awhile doing nothing. Soon he grew
tired of this and said, "I must do something."

He looked around the earth, but there was noth-
ing to do. All the animals were warm and fat,
and Jiving without fear of anything. "They don't
need any help," sighed Coyote, "but I must do
something. I think I '11 make a man."


He went down to the creek and began to model
a figure out of the clay. As he worked, he became
dissatisfied with the figure. " I wish I could make
it better," he thought to himself. "I think I will
ask the other animals for their opinions. Perhaps
they can give me some good ideas."

He called all the animals of the world to meet
together on the hilltop. The fishes wobbled up from
the sea, the birds swept down from the heavens, and
the other animals came hurrying from all the cor-
ners of the earth. They sat round in a circle,
Cougar, Grizzly, Antelope, Mountain Sheep, Deer,
and so on, down to little Mouse, who was on the left
of Cougar. In the center sat Coyote.

He said : " It is time for us to make man. Tell
me how we shall make him."

"O-ho ! " burst out Cougar. "That 's easy. Give
him a mighty voice to frighten all the animals, and
long hair, and strong talons with terrible fangs at
the end of them. Then he will be master of the
world. O-ho ! " and Cougar chuckled, as poor little
Mouse shrunk away from him.

" Gru-u-u ! " rumbled Grizzly. " It 's perfectly
ridiculous to have such a great voice. Half the
time it frightens the prey so that it can hide. Give
him a big enough voice, of course, but give him sense
enough to seldom use it. Let him move quietly


and swiftly. And let him have great strength to
hold his capture."

" Huh ! " wheezed Deer. " Strength to hold is
good enough, but he would look foolish without
antlers to fight with. I think, with Grizzly, that it
is perfectly absurd to give him a roaring voice. I
should pay less attention to his voice and more to
his ears and eyes. Have his ears as sensitive as the
spider's web, and his eyes like coals of fire. Then
he can detect any approaching danger."

" Baa-aa ! " bellowed Mountain Sheep. " Antlers
are only a bother. They always catch in the brush.
You would do better to roll up the antlers into little
horns on either side of the forehead. That will give
his head weight and enable him to butt harder."

" Oh, you animals have no brains," interrupted
Coyote. " You each want man to be just like your-
self. You might as well take one of your own chil-
dren and call it man. Now you know that I am wiser
than any of you, and yet I want man to be better
than I am. Of course I wish him to have four legs
like myself, and five toes. But Grizzly's toes spread
out straight so that he can stand on two feet. That
is a good thing. I want man's toes to be spread
out like Grizzly's.

" Then, too, he 'd better have no tail, like Grizzly,
for tails are only good for fleas to ride on. He may


have a voice like Cougar's, but he need not roar all
the time. But as to giving him thick hair, that
would be a burden. Look at Fish. He is naked,
and he is comfortable under the hottest sun. So I
want man's skin to be like the skin of Fish. As to
claws, they should be like Eagle's, so that he can
carry things. Deer's eyes and ears are good, and
his throat, too. So I 'd make man with ears and
eyes and throat like Deer's. His brains should be
like mine, so that he can rule the whole world."

"Nonsense! nonsense!" Beaver had been gur-
gling for some time. " No tail ! no tail ! Why, he
could not live without a good broad tail. How
would he haul his mud and build his house without
a tail ? "

"And no wings?" hooted Owl. "No wings,
indeed ! You are perfectly senseless not to think
of giving him wings."

"Pu-u-u!" sniffed Mole. "It's senseless to have
wings. They only bump you against the sky. And
eyes are useless, too. The sun only burns them.
It would be better to give him a soft fur, and let
him^uddle down in the moist, cool earth."

" Living in the earth is the worst nonsense of
all," exclaimed Mouse. "He will need to creep into
the sunshine to get warm. And he needs eyes to
see what he is eating."


"O reech-o!" began Screech Owl, when Coyote
ordered : " Stop your screeching. You may all go
home. I '11 make man myself."

Each animal echoed, " I '11 make man myself,"
and they all rushed quarreling and snapping to the
clay bank. Each began to model a figure.

At sundown they stopped to sleep, all but Coy-
ote. He went on working. When he heard snores
from every bush, he went among the models of the
other animals and destroyed every single one. Then
he returned to his own figure and worked steadily.
As the morning star mounted in the heavens, the
figure of man was finished.

" Shine bright on him, O Morning Star ! " whis-
pered Coyote. " Give him life from the heavens,
for he is to be superior to us all."

The morning star flashed five rays on the figure.
Man straightened himself up. His eyes brightened.
He stretched out his arms. Coyote took his hand
and said : " You were partly made in the light, so
you will always love the sunshine. You were
partly made in the night, so you will never fear
the darkness. Your mind will be active under
sun or stars. You must gather cunning from all
times, for henceforth you are to be the ruler of
the world."


" But did n't Coyote feel sorry to have man the
ruler of the world, when he had been the most
cunning all along?" asked Antonio.

" Oh, Coyote ! He does not mind about man. He
and man are good friends. And he is more cunning
now, for you know man made him more cunning."

" Man made him more cunning ? How could man
make Coyote more cunning ? "

" I will tell you that story another time. Now I
must heat my irons. Your Sefior Padre will be in
for dinner soon."


TAT HEN the children appeared at the smithy
y Y door the next day, Wantasson put down
^8,*^ -* the irons he was handling.
|> " It is hard work being a blacksmith," he mut-
tered, and he drew his sleeve across his brow.
"Well, rest awhile now, Wantasson," said Jua-
nita, with sympathy in her voice and eyes.

" Would it tire you to tell how man made Coyote
more cunning ? " inquired Antonio.

" No, talking of Coyote does not tire me." He
lounged into a comfortable position, sighed a few
times, and then began the tale.

Up to the time man was made, all the animals
were equal. It is true that Coyote was the wisest
of them all, and the others looked to him for advice,
but they all had equal rights to live and be happy
on the face of the earth.

When man was created, he was superior to them
all. Then he had to decide which animals should



be considered strongest. He sat about making
bows, one for each animal of the world and all
of different lengths. He worked during every ray
of light, but nine sleeps had passed before he had
finished all the bows. Then he sent word to the
animals that he would distribute the bows the
next sunrise.

At sundown they gathered from far and near,
every animal both great and small. When they had
all settled themselves for sleep around the camp
fire, Coyote thought to himself : " I am the wisest
of the animals, so I ought to receive the longest
bow. I think I will not sleep at all. Then I will
be the first to greet man at sunris^e."

It was hard to keep awake in such silence. Coy-
ote rubbed his eyes and wriggled his toes. Still he
felt sleepy. " I must skip around awhile, or I shall
surely fall asleep," he murmured.

He jumped and skipped around the fire. The
other animals began to waken. " Is it sunrise so
soon ? " yawned Grizzly.

" No. Go to sleep," whispered Coyote. " I was
just getting a drink and stumbled over the tree
root." To himself he said: "This will never do. If
I move around, all the others will keep awake too.
If I do not move around, I shall certainly fall


Just then the morning star peeped up over the
hilltop. "I will watch her," said Coyote. "Her
movements will keep me awake."

But the star traveled slowly, and his eyelids were
weary of being open. " I know what I will do,"
and he sharpened two little sticks and put one in
each eye to prop up his eyelids. " Now I will take
a tiny nap, while my eyes are fixed on the star.
When the sun comes up, the light in my open eyes
will waken me."

The little nap grew into a sound sleep. Coyote's
head lolled over on a manzanita bush. The sharp
sticks in his eyes pierced right through the eyelids
and kept them closed fast. Coyote slept on.

The morning star reached high in the sky. The
leaves began to quiver. The birds called to each
other their morning greetings. The animals stirred,
rubbed their eyes, shook themselves, first slowly
and then faster, and jumped to their feet facing
the east. Still Coyote slept on.

As the sun stretched its golden fingers into the
heavens, man appeared upon the hilltop. The ani-
mals clustered around him, all but Coyote, who still
lay asleep unnoticed.

Man gave the first bow to Cougar, the second to
Grizzly, and so on down the list, until he reached
little stumpy Frog. After he had given Frog his,

"As the sun stretched its golden fingers into the heavens "


there was still one more bow left, the shortest of
them all.

Man looked around. "What animal have I
missed ? " he asked. The animals glanced round
their numbers. "Why, Coyote is not here ! " said

Away they all scampered to search for him.
Soon they found him, fast asleep, with his head on
the manzanita branch. They danced on him and
shouted : " Oh, hi, Coyote ! Wake up ! wake up !
You have the shortest bow. You 're not so strong
as little squatty Frog. Oh, hi, Coyote ! Coyote !
Ha, ha ! "

Coyote sat up dazed. The sticks held his eyelids
shut fast. He could not see, but he could feel the
sunshine ; and the laughs of the animals mad-
dened him.

He pulled the stick out of his right eye, then
the one from his left. He blinked his eyes. Yes,
there were all the animals, each with a bow. Only
a tiny little bow was left at man's feet. Coyote put
his head down between his paws and wept.

Man felt sorry for him, and said to the animals:
"You should not laugh at him. He has helped
you many a day. As I cannot make him the
strongest animal, I will give him ten times his
former cunning."


Then Coyote lifted up his head and looked his
thanks into man's eyes.

Ever since that day Coyote has not been the
strongest of the animals ; but he is, as he was
before, the most cunning and the wisest. And to
this day he is a friend of man and never hurts
one of man's children.

" Were n't those animals horrid to laugh at him,
when he had been so good to them ? " and Juanita's
eyes flamed with indignation.

" Yes, I 'm glad that he 's still the most cunning.
And he never hurt a man, did he, Wantasson ? "

" No, young Antonio. Never did he, and never
.will he. But there is that Tecla coming this way.
You go to her. I must return to my work," and
the party dispersed.


HE children's father had showed
them a map of the heavens in an
old astronomy that had belonged
to their great-grandfather. He had also
pointed out certain groups in the sky
and had told them the old stories con-
nected with each. They were charmed with their
new knowledge, and night after night they insisted
on indicating the Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia's Chair,
and the Pleiades, and repeating by turns the myth
of each.

One day they were discussing the story of the
Pleiades near the blacksmith shop. Wantasson
stood at his door and listened to them.

"Ugh ! " he muttered. " My people have a better
story than that about the seven sisters, a better



" Oh, have you a story about the seven sisters,
Wantasson ? " and the two children were at his
side, eager to listen.

"Yes, we have seven sisters up in the sky, too,
but they are not the seven sisters you children were
just talking about."

Wantasson sank to the doorsill and fixed himself

Many, many rains ago, when the earth was still
in its infancy, seven brothers wedded seven sisters,
and they all lived in one little village together.
Socoy, the oldest brother, married Fosate, the eld-
est sister ; Vichili, the second brother, married the
second sister, Alachu ; and so on they mated,
according to their ages, Stapocono and Moquem ;
Chapac and Yacumu ; Sauset and Ajalis ; Canuya
and Tacchel ; until the youngest brother, Tucay,
took unto himself the youngest sister, the radiant

In the daytime the seven brothers climbed the
hills together, hunting game, while the seven sisters
went together down to the lake basin to dig roots.

Every evening, as the sun withdrew to his coun-
cil with the creators, the sisters returned home.
Their shoulders were bent low with loads of lily
roots. Always they found the seven brothers at


home before them, lying around the fire, with

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Online LibraryKatherine ChandlerIn the reign of Coyote, folkflore from the Pacific coast → online text (page 6 of 7)