Native American Legends
How Coyote brought fire to the People
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
In the beginning, the animal people had no fire. The only fire
anywhere was on the top of a high, snow-covered mountain, where
it was guarded by the skookums. The skookums were afraid that if
the animal people had any fire they might become very powerful as
powerful as the skookums. So the skookums would not give any of
the fire away to anyone.
Because the animal people had no fire, they were always shivering,
and they had to eat their food raw. When Coyote came along he found
them cold and miserable.
"Coyote," they begged, "you must bring us fire from
the mountain or we will one day die of all this cold."
"I will see what I can do for you," promised Coyote.
As soon as the sun came up the next morning, Coyote began the long
and difficult climb to the top of the mountain where the skookums
kept the fire.
When he got to the top he saw that there wrinkled, old skookums,
all sisters, guarded the fire all day and all night, each taking
a turn. While one kept watch the other two ate and slept in a lodge
nearby. When it was time to change the watch the one at the fire
would go to the door of the lodge and call out "Sister, get
up and guard the fire."
At dawn, the skookum who had been watching the fire all night was
always stiff with the cold and she walked very slowly through the
snow to the lodge door to call her sister. "This is the time
to steal a brand of the fire," thought Coyote to himself. But
he knew, too, that he would be chased. And he knew that even though
the skookums were old they were swift and strong runners. Coyote
would have to devise a plan.
Coyote thought and thought, but he could not come up with any plan.
So he decided to ask his three sisters who always lived in his stomach
in the form of huckleberries to help him. They were very wise, and
they would tell him what to do.
At first, Coyotes sisters were reluctant to help him. "If
we tell you," they said, "you will only say that you knew
it all along."
Coyote remembered that his sisters were afraid of hail and so he
called up into the sky, "Hail! Hail! Fall down from the sky."
This made his sisters very afraid. "Stop!" they called.
"Dont bring the hail down. We will tell you what you
want to know."
Coyotes sisters then told him how to steal the fire and get
it down the mountain to the people without getting caught. When
the had finished talking, Coyote said, "Yes, that was my plan
Coyote then went to see the animal people. He called everyone together,
as his sisters had directed, and told each animal Antelope, Fox,
Weasel, Beaver, Squirrel and the others to take up certain places
along the mountainside. When they were all in place, they stretched
in a long line from the top of the mountain all the way back to
Coyote climbed back up the mountain and waited for sunrise. The
old skookum who was watching the fire had keen eyes and she saw
him. But she thought it was just an animal skulking around looking
At dawn the skookum left the fire and walked slowly over to the
lodge door. "Sister, get up and guard the fire."
Just at that moment Coyote sprang from the bushes. He seized a
burning brand from the fire and ran away as fast as he could across
the snow. The three skookums were right behind him in an instant.
They were so close they were showering Coyote with the snow and
iced they were churning up in their fury. Coyote was running as
fast as he had ever run in his life. He leaped over cracks in the
iced and rolled part way down the mountain like a snowball, but
the skookums were right behind him. so close behind that their hot
breath scorched his fur.
When Coyote finally reached the tree line, Cougar jumped out from
his hiding place, snatched up the fire brand and raced away just
as Coyote fell flat on his face from exhaustion. Cougar ran all
the way to the high trees where he gave the fire to Fox. Fox raced
until he came to the heavy undergrowth where he gave the fire to
Squirrel. Squirrel ran away through the trees, leaping from branch
to branch. The skookums could not go through the trees so they planned
to catch Squirrel at the edge of the woods. But Antelope was waiting
there to get the fire from Squirrel, and Antelope, who was the fastest
of all the animals, bounded away across the meadow. One after another,
each one of the animals carried the fire, but the skookums stayed
right behind them.
Finally, when there was only a glowing coal left, the fire was
passed to Frog. Frog swallowed the hot coal and hopped away as fast
as he could hop. The skookums were almost on top of him when he
dove into a deep river and swam across to the other side. The youngest
skookum had already leaped across the water and was waiting for
him. As soon as he landed, Frog saw what had happened and jumped
between the skookums legs and bounded away. An instant later
the skookums were on him again and Frog was too tired to jump. So
he spat the hot coal out on Wood and Wood swallowed it. The three
skookums stood there not knowing what to do. None of the could figure
a way to take the fire away from Wood. After a while they left and
went slowly back to their lodge on the top of the mountain.
Coyote then called the animals together and they all gathered around
Wood. Coyote, who was very wise, knew how to get the fire out of
Wood. He showed the animals how to rub two dry sticks together until
sparks came. Then he showed them how to collect dry moss and make
chips of wood to add to the sparks to make a little fire. Then he
showed them how to add small twigs and pine needles to make a bigger
From then on, the people knew how to get the fire out of Wood.
They cooked their meat, their houses were warm, and they were never
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