Native American Legends
Coyote and the origin of Death
A Caddo Legend
In the beginning of this world, there was no such thing as death.
Everybody continued to live until there were so many people that
the Earth had no room for any more.
The chiefs held a council to determine what to do. One man rose
and said he thought it would be a good plan to have the people die
and be gone for a little while, and then return.
As soon as he sat down, Coyote jumped up and said he thought people
ought to die forever. He pointed out that this little world is not
large enough to hold all of the people, and that if the people who
died came back to life, there would not be food enough for all.
All the other men objected. They said that they did not want their
friends and relatives to die and be gone forever, for then they
would grieve and worry and there would be no happiness in the world.
Everyone except Coyote decided to have people die and be gone for
a little while, and then come back to life again. The medicine men
built a large grass house facing the East. When they had completed
it, they called the men of the tribe together and told them that
people who died would be restored to life in the medicine house.
The chief medicine man explained that they would sing a song calling
the spirit of the dead to the grass house. When the spirit came,
they would restore it to life.
All the people were glad, because they were anxious for the dead
to come and live with them again. When the first man died, the medicine
men assembled in the grass house and sang.
In about ten days a whirlwind blew from the West and circled about
the grass house. Coyote saw it, and as the whirlwind was about to
enter the house, he closed the door. The spirit of the whirlwind,
finding the door closed, whirled on by.
In this way Coyote made death eternal, and from that time on, people
grieved over their dead and were unhappy.
Now whenever anyone meets a whirlwind or hears the wind whistle,
he says: "Someone is wandering about." Ever since Coyote
closed the door, the spirits of the dead have wandered over the
Earth trying to find some place to go, until at last they discovered
the road to the spirit land.
Coyote ran away and never came back, for when he saw what he had
done, he was afraid. Ever after that, he has run from one place
to another, always looking back first over one shoulder and then
over the other to see if anyone is pursuing him. And ever since
then he has been starving, for no one will give him anything to
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