Native American Legends
How the Corn-Pests were ensnared
A Zuni Legend
In the days of the ancients, long, long ago, there lived in our
town, which was then called the Middle Ant Hill of the World, a
proud maiden, very pretty and very attractive, the daughter of one
of the richest men among our people. She had every possession a
Zuñi maiden could wish for,-- blankets and mantles, embroidered
dresses and sashes, buckskins and moccasins, turquoise earrings
and shell necklaces, bracelets so many you could not count them.
She had her father and mother, brothers and sisters, all of whom
she loved very much. Why, therefore, should she care for anything
There was only one thing to trouble her. Behold! it came of much
possession, for she had large corn-fields, so large and so many
that those who planted and worked them for her could not look after
them properly, and no sooner had the corn ears become full and sweet
with the milk of their being than all sorts of animals broke into
those fields and pulled down the corn-stalks and ate tip the sweet
ears of corn. Now, how to remove this difficulty the poor girl did
Yes, now that I think of it, there was another thing that troubled
her very much, fully as much as did the corn-pests,--pests of another
kind, however, for there wasn't an unmarried young man in all the
valley of our ancients who was not running mad over the charms of
this girl. Besides all that, not a few of them had an eye on so
many possessions, and thought her home wouldn't be an uncomfortable
place to live in. So they never gave the poor girl any peace, but
hung round her house, and came to visit her father so constantly
that at last she determined to put the two pests together and call
them one, and thereby get rid, if possible, of one or the other.
So, when these young men were very importunate, she would say to
them, "Look you! if any one of you will go to my cornfields,
and destroy or scare away, so that they will never come back again,
the pests that eat up my corn, him I will marry and cherish, for
I shall respect his ability and ingenuity."
The young men tried and tried, but it was of no use. Before long,
everybody knew of this singular proposition.
There was a young fellow who lived in one of the outer towns, the
poorest of the poor among our people; and not only that, but he
was so ugly that no woman would ever look at him without laughing.
Now, there are two kinds of laugh with women. One of them is a
very good sort of thing, and makes young men feel happy and conceited.
The other kind is somewhat heartier, but makes young men feel depressed
and very humble. It need not be asked which kind was laughed by
the women when they saw this ugly, ragged, miserable-looking young
man. He had bright twinkling eyes, however, and that means more
than all else sometimes.
Now, this young man came to hear of what was going on. He had no
present to offer the girl, but he admired her as much as--yes, a
good deal more than--if he had been the handsomest young man of
his time. So just in the way that he was he went to the house of
this girl one evening. He was received politely, and it was noticeable
to the old folks that the girl seemed rather to like him,--just
as it is noticeable to you and me today that what people have they
prize less than what they have not. The girl placed a tray of bread
before the young man and bade him eat; and after he had done, he
looked around with his twinkling little eyes. And the old man said,---Let
us smoke together." And so they smoked.
By-and-by the old man asked if he were not thinking of something
in coming to the house of a stranger. And the young man replied,
it was very true; he had. thoughts, though he felt ashamed to say
it, but he even wished to be accepted as a suitor for his daughter.
The father referred the matter to the girl, and she said she would
be very well satisfied; then she took the young man aside and spoke
a few words to him,--in fact, told him what were the conditions
of his becoming her accepted husband. He smiled, and said he would
certainly try to the best of his ability, but this was a very hard
thing she asked.
"I know it is," said the girl; "that is why I ask
Now, the young man left the house forthwith. The next day he very
quietly went down into the corn-fields belonging to the girl, and
over toward the northern mesa, for that is where her corn-fields
were---lucky being! He dug a great deep pit with a sharp stick and
a bone shovel. Now, when he had dug it--very smooth at the sides
and top it was--he went to the mountain and got some poles, placing
them across the hole, and over these poles he spread earth, and
set up corn-stalks just as though no hole had been dug there; then
he put some exceedingly tempting bait, plenty of it, over the center
of these poles, which were so weak that nobody, however light of
foot, could walk over them without breaking through.
Night came on, and you could hear the Coyotes begin to sing; and
the whole army of pests--Bears, Badgers, Gophers, all sorts of creatures,
as they came down slowly, each one in his own way, from the mountain.
The Coyotes first came into the field, being swift of foot; and
one of them, nosing around and keeping a sharp lookout for watchers,
happened to espy those wonderfully tempting morsels that lay over
"Ha!" said he (Coyotes don't think much what they are
doing), and he gave a leap, when in he went--sticks, dirt, bait,
and all--to the bottom of the hole. He picked himself up and rubbed
the sand out of his eyes, then began to jump and jump, trying to
get out; but it was of no use, and he set up a most doleful howl.
He had just stopped for breath, when a Bear came along. "What
in the name of all the devils and witches are you howling so for?"
said he. "Where are you?"
The Coyote swallowed his whimpers immediately, set himself up in
a careless attitude, and cried out: "Broadfoot, lucky, lucky,
lucky fellow! Did you hear me singing? I am the happiest creature
on the face of the earth, or rather under it."
"What about? I shouldn't think you were happy, to judge from
"Why! Mercy on me!" cried the Coyote, "I was singing
"How's that?" asked the Bear.
"Why," said the Coyote, "I came along here this
evening and by the merest accident fell into this hole. And what
do you suppose I found down here? Green-corn, meat, sweet-stuff,
and everything a corn-eater could wish for. The only thing I lacked
to complete my happiness was someone to enjoy the meal with me.
jump in! -- it isn't very deep -- and fall to, friend. We'll have
a jolly good night of it."
So the old Bear looked down, drew back a minute, hesitated, and
then jumped in. When the Bear got down there, the Coyote laid himself
back, slapped his thighs, and laughed and laughed and laughed. "Now,
get out if you can," said he to the Bear. "You and I are
in a pretty mess. I fell in here by accident, it is true, but I
would give my teeth and eyes if I could get out again!"
The Bear came very near eating him up, but the Coyote whispered
something in his ear. "Good! yelled the Bear. "Ha! ha!
ha! Excellent idea Let us sing together. Let them come!"
So they laughed and sang and feasted until they attracted almost
every corn-pest in the fields to the spot to see what they were
doing. "Keep away, my friends," cried out the Coyote.
"No such luck for you. We got here first. Our spoils!"
"Can't I come? Can't I come?" cried out one after another.
"Well, yes, -- no,- there may not be enough for you all."
"Come on, though; come on! who cares?"-- cried out the
old Bear. And they rushed in so fast that very soon the pit-hole
was almost full of them, scrambling to get ahead of one another,
and before they knew their predicament they were already in it.
The Coyote laughed, shuffled around, and screamed at the top of
his voice; he climbed up over his grandfather the Bear, scrambled
through the others, which were snarling and biting each other, and,
knowing what he was about, skipped over their backs, out of the
hole, and ran away laughing as hard as he could.
Now, the next morning down to the corn-field came the young man.
Drawing near to the pit he heard a tremendous racket, and going
to the edge and peering in he saw that it was half filled with the
pests which had been destroying the corn of the maiden, - every
kind of creature that had ever meddled with the corn-fields of man,
there they were in that deep pit; some of them all tired out, waiting
for "the end of their daylight," others still jumping
and crawling and falling in their efforts to get out.
"Good! good! my friends," cried the young man. "You
must be cold; I'll warm you up a little." So he gathered a
quantity of dry wood and threw it into the pit. "Be patient!
be patient!" said he. "I hope I don't hurt any of you.
It will be all over in a few minutes." Then he lighted the
wood and burned the rascals all up. But he noticed the Coyote was
not there. "What does it matter?" said he. "One kind
of pest a man can fight, but not many."
So he went back to the house of the girl and reported to her what
he had done. She was so pleased she hardly knew how to express her
gratitude, but said to the young man with a smile on her face and
a twinkle in her eye, "Are you quite sure they were all there?"
"Why, they were all there except the Coyote," said the
young man; "but I must tell you the truth, and somehow he got
out or didn't get in."
"Who cares for a Coyote!" said the girl. "I would
much rather marry a man with some ingenuity about him than have
all the Coyotes in the world to kill." Whereupon she accepted
this very ugly but ingenious young man; and it is notable that ever
since then pretty girls care very little how their husbands look,
being pretty enough themselves for both. But they like to have them
able to think and guess at a way of getting along occasionally.
Furthermore, what does a rich girl care for a rich young man? Ever
since then, even to this day, as you know, rich girls almost invariably
pick out poor young men for their husbands, and rich young men are
sure to take a fancy to poor girls.
Thus it was in the days of the ancients. The Coyote got out of
the trap that was set for him by the ugly young man. That is the
reason why coyotes are so much more abundant than any other corn-pests
in the land of Zuñi, and do what you will, they are sure
to get away with some of your corn, anyhow.
Thus shortens my story.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends