Native American Legends
Coyote fights a lump of pitch
An Apache Legend
Even long ago, when our tribe and animals and birds lived together
near white people, Coyote was always in trouble. He would visit
among the camps, staying in one for a while and then moving on,
and when he stayed at Bear's camp, he used to go over at night to
a white man's fields and steal the ears off the wheat. When the
white man who owned the farm found out what Coyote was up to, he
trailed him long enough to locate his path into the field. Then
he called all the white men to council, and they made a figure of
pitch just like a man and placed it in Coyote's path.
That might when Coyote went back to steal wheat again, he saw the
pitch man standing there. Thinking it was a real person, he said,
"Gray eyes" - he always talked like a Chiricahua Apache
- "Get to one side and let me by. I just want to a little wheat.
Get over, I tell you." The pitch man stayed where he was.
"If you don't move," Coyote said, "you'll get my
fist in your face. Wherever I go on this earth, if I hit a man with
my fist, it kills him." The pitch man never stirred. "All
right, then I'm going to hit you." Coyote struck out, but his
fist stuck fast in the pitch, clear to his elbow.
"What's the matter?" Coyote cried. "Why have you
caught my hand? Turn loose or you'll get my other fist. If I hit
a man with that one, it knocks all his wits out!" Then Coyote
punched with his other fist, and this arm got stuck in the pitch
Now he was standing on his two hind legs. "I'm going to kick
you if you keep holding me, and it'll knock you over." Coyote
delivered a powerful kick, and his leg went into the pitch and stuck.
"This other leg is worse still, and you're going to get it!"
he said. He kicked, and his leg stuck into the pitch. Now Coyote's
legs were fast in the pitch; only his tail was free.
"If I whip you with my tail, it will cut you in two. So turn
me loose!" But the pitch man just stood there. Coyote lashed
the pitch with his tail and got it stuck also. Only his head was
free, and he was still talking with it. "Why do you hold me
this way? I'll bite you in the neck and kill you, so you'd better
turn me loose." When the pitch did nothing, Coyote bit it and
got his mouth stuck, and there he was.
In the morning the farmer put a chain around Coyote's neck, took
him out of the pitch, and led him to the house. "This is the
one who has been stealing from me," he said to his family.
The white people held a meeting to discuss what they should do with
Coyote. They decided to put him into a pot of boiling water and
scald him, so they set the water on to heat and tied Coyote up at
the side of the house.
Pretty soon Coyote saw Gray Fox coming along, loafing around the
farmer's yard, looking for something to steal from the white man.
Coyote called him over. "My cousin," he said, "there
are lots of things cooking for me in that pot," though of course
the pot was only heating water to scald him in.
"There are potatoes, coffee, bread and all kinds of food for
me. It'll soon be done, and the white people are going to bring
them to me. You and I can eat them together, but you must help me
first. Can you put this chain around your neck while I go and urinate
behind that bush?" Fox agreed and, taking the chain off Coyote,
put it on his own neck. As soon as Coyote was out of sight behind
the bush, he ran off.
After a while the water was good and hot, and the white men came
out to Gray Fox. "He seems so little! What happened? He must
have shrunk, I guess," they said. They lifted him into the
pot. Now the water boiled his hair right off, leaving Gray Fox bright
red and hairless. They took off the chain and threw him under a
tree, where he lay motionless until evening. When it got dark and
cold, he woke up and started off.
After a while Gray Fox came to Bear's camp and asked, "Where
is Coyote?" Bear replied that Coyote always went for his water
to some springs above Bear's camp at midnight. So Gray Fox ran off
to the springs and hid himself.
Now at midnight Coyote came as usual to the springs, but when he
put his head to the water to drink, Gray Fox jumped him. "Now
I'm going to kill you and eat you," the fox said. The moon
was shining from the sky down into the water, and Coyote, pointed
to it's reflection, replied, "Don't talk like that, when we
can both eat this delicious 'ash bread' down there. All we have
to do is drink all the water, and we can take the bread out and
have a feast."
They both started to lap up the water, but soon Coyote was merely
pretending to drink. Gray Fox drank lots, and when he was full,
he got cold. Then Coyote said, "My cousin, some white people
left a camp over here, and I'm going to look for some old rags or
quilts to wrap you up in. Wait for me." So Coyote started off,
and as soon as he was out of sight, he ran away.
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