The First TearsOnce long ago, Man went hunting along the water's edge for seals. To Man's delight, many seals were crowded together along the seashore. He would certainly bring home a great feast for Woman and Son. He crept cautiously towards the seals. The seals grew restless. Man slowed down. Suddenly, the seals began to slip into the water. Man was frantic. His feast was getting away. Then Man saw a single seal towards the back of the group. It was not moving as quickly as the others. Ah! Here was his prize. He imagined the pride on Woman's face, the joy in Son's eyes. Their bellies would be filled for many days from such a seal. Man crept towards the last seal. It did not see him, or so Man thought. Suddenly, it sprang away and slipped into the water. Man rose to his feet. He was filled with a strange emotion. He felt water begin to drip from his eyes. He touched his eyes and tasted the drops. Yes, they tasted like salty water. Strange choking sounds were coming from his mouth and chest. Son heard the cries of Man and called Woman. They ran to the seashore to find out what was wrong with Man. Woman and Son were alarmed to see water flowing out of Man's eyes. Man told them about the shore filled with seals. He told how he had hunted them, and how every seal had escaped his knife. As he spoke, water began to flow from the eyes of Woman and Son, and they cried with Man. In this way, people first learned to weep. Later, Man and Son hunted a seal together. They killed it and used its skin to make snares for more seals.
Coyote and the ColumbiaOne day, Coyote was walking along. The sun was shining brightly, and Coyote felt very hot. "I would like a cloud," Coyote said. So a cloud came and made some shade for Coyote. Coyote was not satisfied. "I would like more clouds," he said. More clouds came along, and the sky began to look very stormy. But Coyote was still hot. "How about some rain," said Coyote. The clouds began to sprinkle rain on Coyote. "More rain," Coyote demanded. The rain became a downpour. "I would like a creek to put my feet in," said Coyote. So a creek sprang up beside him, and Coyote walked in it to cool off his feet. "It should be deeper," said Coyote. The creek became a huge, swirling river. Coyote was swept over and over by the water. Finally, nearly drowned, Coyote was thrown up on the bank far away. When he woke up, the buzzards were watching him, trying to decide if he was dead. "I'm not dead," Coyote told them, and they flew away. That is how the Columbia River began.
Rabbit Shoots the Stars
It was the height of summer, the time of year called Hadotso, the Great Heat. All day long, from a blue and cloudless sky, the blazing sun beat down upon the earth. No rain had fallen for many days and there was not the slightest breath of wind to cool the stifling air. Everything was hot and dry. Even the rose-red cliffs of the canyons and mesas seemed to take on a more brilliant color than before. The animals drooped with misery. They were parched and hungry, for it was too hot to hunt for food and, panting heavily, they sought what shade they could under the rocks and bushes. Rabbit was the unhappiest of all. Twice that day the shimmering heat had tempted him across the baked earth towards visions of water and cool, shady trees. He had exhausted himself in his desperate attempts to reach them, only to find the mirages dissolve before him, receding further and further into the distance. Now, tired and wretched, he dragged himself into the shadow of an overhanging rock and crouched there listlessly. His soft fur was caked with the red dust of the desert. His head swam and his eyes ached from the sun's glare. 'Why does it have to be so hot?' he groaned. 'What have we done to deserve such torment?' He squinted up at the sun and shouted furiously, 'Go away! You are making everything too hot!' Sun took no notice at all and continued to pour down his fiery beams, forcing Rabbit to retreat once more into the shade of the rock. 'Sun needs to be taught a lesson,' grumbled Rabbit. 'I have a good mind to go and fight him. If he refuses to stop shining, I will kill him!' His determination to punish Sun made him forget his weariness and, in spite of the oppressive heat, he set off at a run towards the eastern edge of the world where the Sun came up each morning.
As he ran, he practiced with his bow and arrows and, to make himself brave and strong, he fought with everything which crossed his path. He fought with the gophers and the lizards. He hurled his throwing stick at beetles, ants and dragonflies. He shot at the yucca and the giant cactus. He became a very fierce rabbit indeed. By the time he reached the edge of the world, Sun had left the sky and was nowhere to be seen. 'The coward!' sneered Rabbit. 'He is afraid to fight, but he will not escape me so easily,' and he settled to wait behind a clump of bushes. In those days, Sun did not appear slowly as he does now. Instead he rushed up over the horizon and into the heavens with one mighty bound. Rabbit knew that he would have to act quickly in order to ambush him and he fixed his eyes intently on the spot where the Sun usually appeared. Sun, however, had heard all Rabbit's threats and had watched him fighting. He knew that he was lying in wait among the bushes. He was not at all afraid of this puny creature and he thought that he might have some amusement at his expense. He rolled some distance away from his usual place and swept up into the sky before Rabbit knew what was happening. By the time Rabbit had gathered his startled wits and released his bowstring, Sun was already high above him and out of range. Rabbit stamped and shouted with rage and vexation. Sun laughed and laughed and shone even more fiercely than before. Although almost dead from heat, Rabbit would not give up.
Next morning he tried again, but this time Sun came up in a different place and evaded him once more. Day after day the same thing happened. Sometimes Sun sprang up on Rabbit's right, sometimes on his left and sometimes straight in front of him, but always where Rabbit least expected him. One morning, however, Sun grew careless. He rose more leisurely than usual, and this time, Rabbit was ready. Swiftly he drew his bow. His arrow whizzed through the air and buried itself deep in Sun's side. Rabbit was jubilant! At last he had shot his enemy! Wild with joy, he leaped up and down. He rolled on the ground, hugging himself. He turned somersaults. He looked at Sun again - and stopped short. Where his arrow had pierced Sun, there was a gaping wound and, from that wound, there gushed a stream of liquid fire. Suddenly it seemed as if the whole world had been set ablaze. Flames shot up and rushed towards Rabbit, crackling and roaring. Rabbit paused not a moment longer. He took to his heels in panic and ran as fast as he could away from the fire. He spied a lone cottonwood tree and scuttled towards it. 'Everything is burning!' he cried. 'Will you shelter me?' The cottonwood shook its slender branches mournfully. 'What can I do?' it asked. 'I will be burned to the ground.' Rabbit ran on. Behind him, the flames were coming closer. He could feel their breath on his back. A greasewood tree lay in his path. 'Hide me! Hide me!' Rabbit gasped. 'The fire is coming.' 'I cannot help you,' answered the greasewood tree. 'I will be burned up roots and branches.'
Terrified and almost out of breath, Rabbit continued to run, but his strength was failing. He could feel the fire licking at his heels and his fur was beginning to singe. Suddenly he heard a voice calling to him. 'Quickly, come under me! The fire will pass over me so swiftly that it will only scorch my top.' It was the voice of a small green bush with flowers like bunches of cotton capping its thin branches. Gratefully, Rabbit dived below it and lay there quivering, his eyes tightly shut, his ears flat against his body. With a thunderous roar, the sheet of flame leaped overhead. The little bush crackled and sizzled. Then, gradually, the noise receded and everything grew quiet once more. Rabbit raised his head cautiously and looked around. Everywhere the earth lay black and smoking, but the fire had passed on. He was safe! The little bush which had sheltered him was no longer green. Burned and scorched by the fire, it had turned a golden yellow. People now call it the desert yellow brush, for, although it first grows green, it always turns yellow when it feels the heat of the sun. Rabbit never recovered from his fright. To this day, he bears brown spots where the fire scorched the back of his neck. He is no longer fierce and quarrelsome, but runs and hides at the slightest noise. As for Sun, he too was never quite the same. He now makes himself so bright that no one can look at him long enough to sight an arrow and he always peers very warily over the horizon before he brings his full body into view.
The Magic Arrows
There was once a young man who wanted to go on a journey. His mother provided him with sacks of dried meat and pairs of moccasins, but his father said to him: "Here, my son, are four magic arrows. When you are in need, shoot one of them!" The young man went forth alone, and hunted in the forest for many days. Usually he was successful, but a day came when he was hungry and could not find meat. Then he sent forth one of the magic arrows, and at the end of the day there lay a fat Bear with the arrow in his side. The hunter cut out the tongue for his meal, and of the body of the Bear he made a thank-offering to the Great Mystery.
Again he was in need, and again in the morning he shot a magic arrow, and at nightfall beside his camp-fire he found an Elk lying with the arrow in his heart. Once more he ate the tongue and offered up the body as a sacrifice. The third time he killed a Moose with his arrow, and the fourth time a Buffalo. After the fourth arrow had been spent, the young man came one day out of the forest, and before him there lay a great circular village of skin lodges. At one side, and some little way from the rest of the people, he noticed a small and poor tent where an old couple lived all alone. At the edge of the wood he took off his clothes and hid them in a hollow tree. Then, touching the top of his head with his staff, he turned himself into a little ragged boy and went toward the poor tent. The old woman saw him coming, and said to her old man: "Old man, let us keep this little boy for our own! He seems to be a fine, bright-eyed little fellow, and we are all alone." "What are you thinking of, old woman?" grumbled the old man. "We can hardly keep ourselves, and yet you talk of taking in a ragged little scamp from nobody knows where!" In the meantime the boy had come quite near, and the old wife beckoned to him to enter the lodge. "Sit down, my grandson, sit down!" she said, kindly; and, in spite of the old man's black looks, she handed him a small dish of parched corn, which was all the food they had. The boy ate and stayed on.
By and by he said to the old woman: "Grandmother, I should like to have grandfather make me some arrows!" "You hear, my old man?" said she. "It will be very well for you to make some little arrows for the boy." "And why should I make arrows for a strange little ragged boy?" grumbled the old man. However, he made two or three, and the boy went hunting. In a short time he returned with several small birds. The old woman took them and pulled off the feathers, thanking him and praising him as she did so. She quickly made the little birds into soup, of which the old man ate gladly, and with the soft feathers she stuffed a small pillow. "You have done well, my grandson!" he said; for they were really very poor. Not long after, the boy said to his adopted grandmother: "Grandmother, when you see me at the edge of the wood yonder, you must call out: 'A Bear! there goes a Bear!' "' This she did, and the boy again sent forth one of the magic arrows, which he had taken from the body of his game and kept by him. No sooner had he shot, than he saw the same Bear that he had offered up, lying before him with the arrow in his side! Now there was great rejoicing in the lodge of the poor old couple. While they were out skinning the Bear and cutting the meat in thin strips to dry, the boy sat alone in the lodge. In the pot on the fire was the Bear's tongue, which he wanted for himself.
All at once a young girl stood in the doorway. She drew her robe modestly before her face as she said in a low voice: "I come to borrow the mortar of your grandmother!" The boy gave her the mortar, and also a piece of the tongue which he had cooked, and she went away. When all of the Bear meat was gone, the boy sent forth a second arrow and killed an Elk, and with the third and fourth he shot the Moose and the Buffalo as before, each time recovering his arrow. Soon after, he heard that the people of the large village were in trouble. A great Red Eagle, it was said, flew over the village every day at dawn, and the people believed that it was a bird of evil omen, for they no longer had any success in hunting. None of their braves had been able to shoot the Eagle, and the chief had offered his only daughter in marriage to the man who should kill it. When the boy heard this, he went out early the next morning and lay in wait for the Red Eagle. At the touch of his magic arrow, it fell at his feet, and the boy pulled out his arrow and went home without speaking to any one. But the thankful people followed him to the poor little lodge, and when they had found him, they brought the chief's beautiful daughter to be his wife. Lo, she was the girl who had come to borow his grandmother's mortar! Then he went back to the hollow tree where his clothes were hidden, and came back a handsome young man, richly dressed for his wedding.
The King of SharksOne day, the King of Sharks saw a beautiful girl swimming near the shore. He immediately fell in love with the girl. Transforming himself into a handsome man, he dressed himself in the feathered cape of a chief and followed her to her village.
Home Page Myths and Legends Ethnic Tales Characters Other Stories