Long ago, when man was newly come into the world, there
were days when he was the happiest creature of all. Those were the days when spring
brushed across the willow tails, or when his children ripened with the blueberries
in the sun of summer, or when the goldenrod bloomed in the autumn haze. But always
the mists of autumn evenings grew more chill, and the sun's strokes grew shorter.
Then man saw winter moving near, and he became fearful and unhappy. He was afraid
for his children, and for the grandfathers and grandmothers who carried in their
heads the sacred tales of the tribe. Many of these, young and old, would die in
the long, ice-bitter months of winter.
Coyote, like the rest of the People, had no need for fire. So he seldom concerned
himself with it, until one spring day when he was passing a human village. There
the women were singing a song of mourning for the babies and the old ones who
had died in the winter. Their voices moaned like the west wind through a buffalo
skull, prickling the hairs on Coyote's neck.
"Feel how the sun is now warm on our backs," one of the men was saying. "Feel
how it warms the earth and makes these stones hot to the touch. If only we could
have had a small piece of the sun in our teepees during the winter."
Coyote, overhearing this, felt sorry for the men and women. He also felt that
there was something he could do to help them. He knew of a faraway mountain-top
where the three Fire Beings lived. These Beings kept fire to themselves, guarding
it carefully for fear that man might somehow acquire it and become as strong as
they. Coyote saw that he could do a good turn for man at the expense of these
selfish Fire Beings.
So Coyote went to the mountain of the Fire Beings and crept to its top, to watch
the way that the Beings guarded their fire. As he came near, the Beings leaped
to their feet and gazed searchingly round their camp. Their eyes glinted like
bloodstones, and their hands were clawed like the talons of the great black vulture.
"What's that? What's that I hear?" hissed one of the Beings.
"A thief, skulking in the bushes!" screeched another.
The third looked more closely, and saw Coyote. But he had gone to the mountain-top
on all fours, so the Being thought she saw only an ordinary coyote slinking among
"It is no one, it is nothing!" she cried, and the other two looked where she pointed
and also saw only a grey coyote. They sat down again by their fire and paid Coyote
no more attention.
So he watched all day and night as the Fire Beings guarded their fire. He saw
how they fed it pine cones and dry branches from the sycamore trees. He saw how
they stamped furiously on runaway rivulets of flame that sometimes nibbled outwards
on edges of dry grass. He saw also how, at night, the Beings took turns to sit
by the fire. Two would sleep while one was on guard; and at certain times the
Being by the fire would get up and go into their teepee, and another would come
out to sit by the fire.
Coyote saw that the Beings were always jealously watchful of their fire except
during one part of the day. That was in the earliest morning, when the first winds
of dawn arose on the mountains. Then the Being by the fire would hurry, shivering,
into the teepee calling, "Sister, sister, go out and watch the fire." But the
next Being would always be slow to go out for her turn, her head spinning with
sleep and the thin dreams of dawn.
Coyote, seeing all this, went down the mountain and spoke to some of his friends
among the People. He told them of hairless man, fearing the cold and death of
winter. And he told them of the Fire Beings, and the warmth and brightness of
the flame. They all agreed that man should have fire, and they all promised to
help Coyote's undertaking.
Then Coyote sped again to the mountain-top. Again the Fire Beings leaped up when
he came close, and one cried out, "What's that? A thief, a thief!"
But again the others looked closely, and saw only a grey coyote hunting among
the bushes. So they sat down again and paid him no more attention.
Coyote waited through the day, and watched as night fell and two of the Beings
went off to the teepee to sleep. He watched as they changed over at certain times
all the night long, until at last the dawn winds rose.
Then the Being on guard called, "Sister, sister, get up and watch the fire."
And the Being whose turn it was climbed slow and sleepy from her bed, saying,
"Yes, yes, I am coming. Do not shout so."
But before she could come out of the teepee, Coyote lunged from the bushes, snatched
up a glowing portion of fire, and sprang away down the mountainside.
Screaming, the Fire Beings flew after him. Swift as Coyote ran, they caught up
with him, and one of them reached out a clutching hand. Her fingers touched only
the tip of the tail, but the touch was enough to turn the hairs white, and coyote
tail-tips are white still. Coyote shouted, and flung the fire away from him. But
the others of the People had gathered at the mountain's foot, in case they were
needed. Squirrel saw the fire falling, and caught it, putting it on her back and
fleeing away through the tree-tops. The fire scorched her back so painfully that
her tail curled up and back, as squirrels' tails still do today.
The Fire Beings then pursued Squirrel, who threw the fire to Chipmunk. Chattering
with fear, Chipmunk stood still as if rooted until the Beings were almost upon
her. Then, as she turned to run, one Being clawed at her, tearing down the length
of her back and leaving three stripes that are to be seen on chipmunks' backs
even today. Chipmunk threw the fire to Frog, and the Beings turned towards him.
One of the Beings grasped his tail, but Frog gave a mighty leap and tore himself
free, leaving his tail behind in the Being's hand---which is why frogs have had
no tails ever since.
As the Beings came after him again, Frog flung the fire on to Wood. And Wood swallowed
The Fire Beings gathered round, but they did not know how to get the fire out
of Wood. They promised it gifts, sang to it and shouted at it. They twisted it
and struck it and tore it with their knives. But Wood did not give up the fire.
In the end, defeated, the Beings went back to their mountain-top and left the
But Coyote knew how to get fire out of Wood. And he went to the village of men
and showed them how. He showed them the trick of rubbing two dry sticks together,
and the trick of spinning a sharpened stick in a hole made in another piece of
wood. So man was from then on warm and safe through the killing cold of winter.
Big Long Man's Corn Patch
As soon as Big Long Man got back from the mountains he went to his garden
to admire his corn and melons. He had planted a big crop for the coming winter.
When he saw that half of the corn stalks had been shucked and the ears stolen,
and that the biggest melons were gone off of the melon vines, he was very angry.
"Who stole my corn and melons?" he muttered to himself. "I'll catch the thief,
whoever he is."
He began to scheme. The next day he built a fence around the garden. But the
fence did no good. Each morning Big Long Man found more corn stalks stripped.
At last he thought up a scheme to catch the thief. He gathered a great ball
of pine pitch and molded it into the shape of a man. He set the figure up in
the corn field and then went to his hogan.
That night Skunk came along to get a bit of corn for his dinner. He had heard
from Badger that Big Long Man was away in the mountains. He squeezed his body
under the fence and waddled up to a clump of corn. He was just about to shuck
a fat ear when he noticed a man standing by the fence. Skunk let go of the ear
of corn in fright. He could see in the moonlight that the man was not Big Long
Man. He waddled over to the fence and spoke to the figure.
"Who are you, in Big Long Man's corn patch?'' asked Skunk.
The figure did not answer.
"Who are you?" said Skunk again, moving closer.
The figure did not answer.
"Speak!" said Skunk boldly, "or I will punch your face. "
The figure did not say a word. It did not move an inch.
"Tell me who you are," said Skunk a fourth time, raising his fist, "or I will
punch your face."
The figure said not a word. It was very quiet in the moonlit corn field. Even
the wind had gone away.
Plup went Skunk's fist into the pine gum face. It sunk into the soft pitch,
which is as sticky as glue, and there it stuck. Skunk pulled and pulled.
"If you don't let go my hand," he shouted, "I will hit you harder with my left
But the pine pitch held tight.
Plup went Skunk's left hand. Now both hands stuck fast.
"Let go my hands, or I will kick you," cried Skunk, who was by this time getting
The pine gum man did not let go.
Plup, Skunk gave a mighty kick with his right foot. The foot stuck too, just
like the hands.
"I will kick you harder," said Skunk and Plup he kicked with all of his strength
with his left foot. Pine gum man held that foot too. Skunk struggled but he
could not get loose. Now he was in a fine plight. Every limb was held tight.
He had only one more weapon, his teeth.
"I will bite your throat," he shouted and he dug his teeth into the pine gum
"Ugh!" he gurgled for he could no longer say a word. His tongue and teeth were
held fast in the pine pitch.
The next morning Big Long Man came to his corn patch and there was Skunk stuck
onto the pine gum man. Only his tail was free, waving behind him.
"Ah!" said Big Long Man. "So it's you, Skunk, who has been stealing my corn."
"Ugh," replied Skunk. His mouth full of pine pitch.
Big Long Man pulled him away from the gum figure, tied a rope around his neck
and led him to his hogan. He put a great pot of water on the stove to boil,
then he took the rope off of Skunk's neck.
"Now, Skunk," he said, "go fetch wood."
Skunk went out into the back yard. Just then Fox happened to pass by. He was
on his way to Big Long Man's corn patch. Skunk began to cry loudly. Fox stopped
running, and pricked up his sharp ears.
"Who is crying?" he said.
"I am crying," said Skunk.
"Why?" said Fox.
"Because I have to carry wood for Big Long Man. He gives me all of the corn
I want to eat, but I do not want to carry wood."
Fox was hungry. He knew that if he stole corn he was liable to get caught. "What
an easy way to get corn," he thought. "I would not mind carrying wood."
Out loud he said, "Cousin, let us change places. You go home and I will carry
wood for Big Long Man. I like the job. Besides, I was just on my way to steal
an ear of corn down at the field."
"All right," said Skunk. "But don't eat too much corn. I have a stomach ache."
He felt his fat stomach and groaned. Then he waddled happily away. Fox gathered
up an armful of piņon wood. He hurried into Big Long Man's hogan. Big Long Man
looked at him in surprise.
"Well, well, Skunk, you changed into a fox, did you? That's funny."
Fox did not say a word. He was afraid he might say the wrong thing and not get
any corn to eat. Big Long Man took the rope which had been around Skunk's neck
and tied it around Fox's neck.
Fox sat down and waited patiently. Soon the water in the big pot began to bubble
and steam. At last Fox said, "Isn't the corn cooked yet, Big Long Man?"
"Corn?" asked Big Long Man. "What corn?"
"Why the corn you are cooking for me," said Fox. "Skunk said you would feed
me all of the corn I could eat if I carried wood for you."
"The rascal," said Big Long Man. "He tricked you and he tricked me. Well, Fox,
you will have to pay for this." So saying he picked up Fox by the ears and set
him down in the boiling water. It was so hot that it took off every hair on
his body. Big Long Man left him in the pot for a minute and then he pulled him
out by the ears and set him free out of doors.
"Don't be thinking you will ever get any of my corn by tricks," said Big Long
Fox ran yelping toward his den. He was sore all over. Half way home he passed
Red Monument. Red Monument is a tall slab of red sand stone that stands alone
in a valley. On top of the rock sat Raven eating corn that he had stolen from
the corn patch. At the bottom was Coyote holding on to the rock with his paws.
He was watching for Raven to drop a few kernels. He glanced behind him when
Fox appeared. He did not let go of the rock, however, because he thought Fox
might get his place. He was surprised at Fox's appearance.
"Where is your fur, Fox?" he asked over his shoulder.
"I ate too much corn," said Fox sadly. "Don't ever eat too much corn, Coyote.
It is very painful." Fox held his stomach and groaned. "Corn is very bad for
one's fur. It ruined mine."
"But where did you get so much corn, cousin?" asked Coyote, still holding on
to the rock.
"Didn't you hear?" asked Fox. "Why, Big Long Man is giving corn to all the animals
who carry wood for him. He will give you all you can eat and more too. Just
gather an armful of piņon sticks and walk right into his hogan."
Coyote thought a moment. He was greedy. He decided to go to Big Long Man's hogan
but he did not want Fox to go with him. He wanted everything for himself.
"Cousin," he said, "will you do me a favor? Will you hold this rock while I
go and get a bite of corn from Big Long Man? I am very hungry and I do not dare
leave this rock. It will fall and kill somebody."
"All right," said Fox, smiling to himself. "I will hold the rock. But do not
eat too much." He placed his paws on the back side of the rock and Coyote let
go. The next minute Coyote was running away as fast as he could toward Big Long
Man's hogan. Fox laughed to himself, but after a bit he became tired of holding
the rock. He decided to let it fall.
"Look out, Cousin Raven," he shouted. "The rock is going to fall." Fox let go,
and jumped far away. Then he ran and did not look behind. He was afraid the
rock would hit his tail. If Fox had looked behind him he would have seen the
rock standing as steady as a mountain.
Presently, along came Coyote, back from Big Long Man's hogan. He was running
at top speed and yowling fearfully. There was not a hair left on his body. When
he came to Red Monument he saw Raven still sitting on his high perch nibbling
kernels of corn.
"Where has Fox gone?" howled Coyote who was in a rage.
Raven looked down at Coyote. "Fox?" he said. "Why, Fox went home, I suppose.
What did you do with your hair, Coyote?"
Coyote didn't answer. He just sat down by the foot of the rock and with his
snout up in the air waited for Raven to drop a few kernels of corn.