Native American Legends
Bears and Coyote
A Nez Perce Legend
Many people were dwelling in their permanent camp. Among them was
a modest, well-behaved Maiden [ipnalapqa' tmay]. She lived at the
young maidens' lodge, and nobody about camp ever saw her. One night
this Modest Maiden got up, went outside, and urinated. But nearby
stood Lynx [qa' hap]. The Maiden went back to the lodge, and now
Lynx went over to where she had been and urinated on the same spot.
Days passed. The Modest Maiden became pregnant.
Then the people would ask her, "Whose is it?"
She would reply, "I don't know," because she did not
know what Lynx had done. Her child was born, a baby boy. At once
the baby seemed to miss his father and began to cry and cry, and
nobody could make it stop.
And now Coyote [itsaya' ya] decreed, "We, all who are men,
will assemble, and one by one we will take the baby in our arms.
Whichever of us will cause it to stop crying will thereby identified
as the father. The baby is only crying for its father."
All the men assembled and sat in a row. Coyote procured some marrow
from the bone of a deer. He thought, "I will have the baby
suck the marrow, and it will stop crying." The men began to
pass the child from one to another. It was passed down the row,
but continued to cry. Now came Coyote's turn, and he stuffed marrow
into the baby's mouth. "Ah, then it was mine," Coyote
exclaimed as the baby suddenly stopped crying.
But Fox [tili' ptsxi'] interjected, "What are you doing to
it? You will cause the baby to choke! What are you putting in its
"Confound you! Must you invariably interfere? As if it could
be your baby!" Coyote berated Fox. While the two were scolding
each other, the baby began to cry. Now the men began to pass it
along down the row.
Lynx, timorous, sat toward the end of the row. He rather suspected,
"Very likely it is mine," because he happened to remember
the night he had seen the Modest Maiden urinating. The people now
observed, "There is Lynx."
Coyote said, "Ho! When even I could not make the child hush,
how can one such as he do it? But give it to him, then." The
baby was handed to Lynx. The moment Lynx took it his arms the crying
stopped, and there were only deep sobs of contentment ["Iak',
lak'"] from the baby.
"Oh, Lynx is its father!" exclaimed the men in amazement.
[This incident predestined a practice. She who is considered by
others to be superior and difficult to win in marriage, she who
considers herself better than other women, she will be taken in
marriage by homely and poor man.]
So Coyote nourished a deep animosity toward Lynx. He proclaimed
to all the people, "One test is not enough to establish the
child as Lynx's. There is another way by which we will find out
definitely whose baby this is. We men will pack in from the hunt
to the mother, and whoever will bring in his pack first will establish
himself and win her for his wife. Tomorrow morning everybody will
go out hunting." Coyote made this pronouncement out of indignation,
but all the men heeded his words because he was the hunting chief.
As soon as Coyote had finished his announcement, he went surreptitiously
out of camp to hunt. He had decided, "Let me kill my game this
evening and hide it away for tomorrow." He shot a young deer,
packed it, and hid it in a tree near camp. "Tomorrow, very
early, I will take this and present it. I will be the first to arrive,
for how could anyone bring in his game so early?" Coyote said
to himself. The night passed, and dawn came.
Lynx decided, "I too will go hunting." He went out of
his lodge, plucked a whisker, and stuck it in the ground. At once
a heavy fog arose, a dense fog impenetrable to the vision. He went
off a short distance and shot a great antlered buck. He packed the
meat and brought it to the woman.
Meanwhile, Coyote went forth to get his tree-cache. He searched
around in the fog. "I thought I put it here. Perhaps someone
found it," he deliberated. He continued to search and search
among the pine trees, but his pack was not to be found. He would
look up into the trees, but the fog was too thick for him to see
clearly. But as soon as Lynx had carried in and presented his meat
to the woman, the fog suddenly cleared. Now when Coyote looked where
he had been searching about, suddenly he saw his tree-cache as the
fog lifted. "There it has been all the time; I just didn't
see it," he said to himself as he began to take down the pack.
"How could anyone have brought in his kill under these conditions?
I will be the first to arrive." He started off toward camp
with his pack.
Just as he was arriving, he met some boys, his own children. They
shouted, "Oh, our father packs in from the hunt!"
"Be silent! I am taking this to the woman," Coyote told
them. Now the boys informed him, "But another person packed
in to her long ago, early this morning, while it was foggy."
Upon hearing this. Coyote ran along and found that Lynx had won.
In deep indignation, Coyote thought, "She will not be his wife."
The people, however, were saying, "The woman becomes Lynx's
wife, for he has outdone us twice."
In his hatred Coyote now went to the flying people and said to
them, "You are all splendid men, and it is not right that this
good woman should become the wife of a destitute and loathsome man."
[The woman was a vireo.] Coyote talked to the flying people for
a long time, and now they were convinced.
They said, "Yes, there is no question about it; Lynx should
not be allowed to take a good woman of our kind from us. Thus we,
too, are angry at him, and we will kill him. It is you say that
Lynx is no good."
Meanwhile, Lynx had begun to fear for his safety. He knew that
Coyote did not think well of him. so he said to his wife, "If
anyone should kill me, and even if they should pound me to a pulp,
you must look for remains. Find even a very little piece of my body,
wrap it in buckskin, and put it under your pillow." A few days
later the flying people set upon Lynx and killed him. Eagle [wa'
ptas], Robin [wi' tspiyaqs], Bobolink [timu' ytimuy] and all knew
that Lynx had strong powers of resurrection. To preclude any such
occurrence, they pounded him to a pulp, mixed the flesh with dirt,
and ground up all, even the bones, to a pulp.
Now all the people broke camp and moved away. Coyote went to the
woman and said, "Now that Lynx is dead, you must come with
me. The people are moving away, and you will do pitifully here all
alone. You will do poorly by your child. Let me take the child,
and let us go. Someday you will find another man, and why do you
need to keep thinking of that ugly Lynx?" Coyote tried to convince
her to go with him, but she did not heed him. She on sprang up into
a tree and became a bird again. She gave her bird calls, and she
wept. Coyote coaxed her, "Why do you feel such a deep attachment
to him? I can take care of you just as well as he could have. Do
come down." But she did not move. Coyote at last gave up hope
and left her.
When all the people had moved away, she came down out of the tree.
She went to the place where Lynx had been killed, and she searched
around for a piece of his body. But every part seemed to have been
too finely pulverized, and nothing remained. She kept looking, and
after a long search managed to find a very small piece of bone.
She took the little fragment and wrapped it in buckskin. Now she
erected a lodge and lived there. In about ten days she heard a noise,
a stirring, in the buckskin packet that she kept under her pillow.
It sounded as if someone were groaning very faintly. Then each day
the moaning became more distinctly audible.
One day she heard a voice from within the packet say, "Untie
me now. I'm in a suffocating place, and I'm getting cramped."
The woman unwrapped the packet, and Lynx emerged. Oh, he had sores
all over his body. He said to his wife, "Go and make a bathing
place for me." She did his bidding. Now Lynx began to sweat
bath continually. He got better; he got stronger.
One day Coyote decided, "How is it that nobody has gone to
see the woman? I wonder how she has been getting along. I will go
and take a look." He set out, and traveling along he saw a
column of smoke. He crept up and saw a man sweat bathing -- it was
Recognizing him. Coyote approached and said, "Ah, friend,
so you have recovered am very, very glad. At the time they attacked
you, I told them point-blank, 'Do not do this to him.' But they
were insistent, and they killed you. It was on Bear's [xa' xats]
orders their action was founded; he caused them to attack you. And
now it is for you to avenge yourself. When I told them, 'Leave Lynx
alone,' they did not heed me. Now I say it is for you avenge yourself."
Coyote returned home.
The men were getting ready to go on a hunt, and Coyote began to
officiate. "You go this direction, and you over this way to
there. My nephews, the young bears, will go in this other direction
past the place which is called, 'The-place-where-one-seems-to-be-aiming
[nika' kunwaku's].' You bears will see a figure that appears to
be aiming right at you, but think nothing of it. Do not be alarmed
and think, 'Someone is about to shoot us.' "
Their father, old Bear, thought, "I have never, never heard
that name." And now became suspicious and alarmed because he
had never in all his travels, and he had been every part of the
country, heard of or seen a place where a figure appeared to be
Coyote continued his hunting instructions. "My brother Bear
and I will go up the valley opposite each other." Coyote was
thinking, "I will be able to run away very conveniently the
moment it is found out that my lies have caused the death of the
young bears. All the hunters went forth to their assignments. Bear
was suspicious and worried.
The young bears went along their designated route. Soon they saw
a figure. "It looks like a person, and it is aiming right at
us," they commented. "Yes, but our uncle told us that
it isn't really a person," they added. But there stood Lynx,
bow raised, aiming right at the approaching bears. His arrow was
one of his whiskers. Now he shot; he hit all five of them. His arrow,
penetrating from one to another, pinned them together.
But a Marten [ispa' c'ax] had been following the bears, and the
arrow struck him a glancing blow on the hip, tearing off a chunk
of flesh. He fled from there, carrying the report news. "paq'
paq' paq'", Coyote with his lies has caused the five young
bears to be exterminated!" he shouted as he fled.
"Brother," Coyote said to Bear as they went along up
the valley, "brother they are shouting that the game is heading
down the valley."
"No," Bear replied, "they are saying something else.
Wait, let me listen." The shouting was heard again, "Coyote's
lies have caused the death of the five young bears!"
This time Bear heard aright. He turned to Coyote and said, "Coyote,
see where the sun now stands; you are now dead. Whatever form you
may assume in your trickery, for you are like that, Coyote, I am
going to kill you. Take a last look at the land; you are seeing
it for the last time." Now Bear and Coyote began to fight.
Bear shot Coyote on the forehead; but the arrow glanced off and
only tore off a piece of skin.
"The homely one has shot me!" Coyote shouted, and he
fled. The blood poured out of the wound. The people who had been
watching said, "Bear is killing poor Coyote.
"Huh, not such a one as he! Coyote is powerful. He and I will
soon be pit-cooking Bear," Fox told them. Coyote fled; he ran
with the intensity of a breaking tendon. The blood trickled from
Bear shouted after him, "You may run away, but I will not
stop chasing you until I have bitten you to death!"
Coyote ran far ahead and going along, charmed himself, "Let
there be a foul, dingy lodge, an old, filthy lodge that has stood
since the origin of the land. Let it be covered with ashes and stained
with smoke. Let there be a dirty dog, sick and covered with sores.
And let me become an old man, an old man hideously loathsome, verminous,
and so repulsive that nobody would suffer to bite me to death or
even to touch me. Let me be ill abed there."
Coyote invoked his powers in this way as he ran, and as Bear came
on. Coyote continued, "Then let there be a deep flood channel,
a waterway with banks so steep that nothing could possibly climb
out of the water. Let there be a piece of timber spanning this channel
in the manner of a bridge, and let drops of blood be splattered
As he ran along, he saw the lodge which he had prescribed for himself
up ahead. He rushed forward, entered the lodge, and lay writhing
and gasping from exhaustion. Then quickly he threw ashes all over
his body. He was very scared. In a few moments he heard the preaching
footsteps and the angry snorting of Bear. The fury of Bear's pursuit
was terrific. Inside, Coyote was gripped by fear in the thought,
"He will recognize me and bite to death." He almost jumped
up to run away, but he managed to control himself. "I will
remain here," he vowed. Bear rushed up to the lodge, and the
dog barked furiously at him. "You, Coyote, whatever form you
may assume, I am bound to bite you to death. You are a vile person,
Coyote," Bear raved as he pushed open the door of the dilapidated
lodge. There he suddenly beheld a dirty, old, bedridden man. It
was a revolting sight, and Bear halted at door. "Old man, have
you heard anything pass by here?" he asked.
"Well, there was something going along. I heard the dog barking,
but I wasn't very able to get up to see who it was," the old
"I am chasing Coyote because he caused the death of my five
children, and I am determined to catch him and bite him to death,"
"Yes. I understand. It is too bad what he has done to your
children. Coyote has always been a villain and a troublemaker,"
commented the old man.
"Coyote is a vile person, indeed," said Bear.
"Yes, I heard someone going past, and the dog barked at him.
Perhaps he crossed over bridge. There is a bridge there, you know.
When you cross over, you must watch yourself because the timber
is aslant," the old man said. "Yes, he must have gone
over the bridge. I was tracking him by a trail of blood. Perhaps
there are drops of blood on the bridge," replied Bear.
"Yes, perhaps there are. Let me go with you to the bridge,
and I will hold it steady for you to cross," offered the old
man. He got out of bed with the greatest difficulty and followed
Bear. There they saw a trail of blood on the footbridge.
Bear said, "Yes, he went across here all right, and now I
will take up the chase again " "Yes, you certainly ought
to kill him," the old man encouraged him. Bear began to edge
his way across the bridge.
The old man held the timber steady and cautioned Bear, "Be
careful. This footbridge has always been aslant." Bear crept
along, and just as he reached the middle, the old man suddenly tipped
the plank. Bear gasped and toppled into the water below. Coyote
danced around and shouted in glee, "Why did you think there
would be an old man living here? Now I am going to kill you!"
Bear pleaded with him, "Coyote, let me live! Do not kill me!
Now it is established that are more powerful than I, and you can
let me live!"
But Coyote only gloated, "We were angry at each other, and
you told me, 'Look at the for the last time.' Now, I tell you the
same thing because I am going to kill you " Bear pleaded and
begged for his life, but Coyote only took an arrow and shot him
dead. The body floated down with the current.
Then Coyote made another pronouncement. "Let there be a plain,
and let Bear's body float ashore there." Now he went along
down the water channel, and here it had floated ashore. Then Coyote
and Fox made a great barbecue; they pit-cooked the bear meat. Meanwhile
Bears wife ran away and hid. She was afraid of Coyote because he
had already killed six of her family.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends