Native American Legends
How the Turtle out hunting duped the Coyote
A Zuni Legend
In the times of the ancients, long, long ago, near the high flowing
River on the Zuñi Mountains, there lived an old Turtle. He
went out hunting, one day, and by means of his ingenuity killed
a large, fine deer. When he had thrown the deer to the ground, he
had no means of skinning it. He sat down and reflected, scratching
the lid of his eye with the nail of his hind foot. He concluded
he would have to go hunting for a flint-knife; therefore he set
forth. He came after a while to a place where old buildings had
stood. Then he began to hum an old magic song, such as, it is said,
the ancients sung when they hunted for the flint of which to make
knives. He sang in this way:
"Apatsinan tse wash,
Apatsinan tse wash,
which may be translated, not perhaps correctly, but well enough:
Fire-striking flint-stone, oh, make yourself known!
Fire-striking flint-stone, oh, make yourself known!
As he was thus crawling about and singing, a Coyote running through
the woods overheard him.
He exclaimed: "Uh! I wonder who is singing and what he is
saying. Ah, he is hunting for a flint-knife, is he?--evidently somebody
who has killed a deer!" He turned back, and ran over to where
the old Turtle was. As he neared him, he cried out: "Halloo,
friend! Didn't I hear you singing?"
"Yes," was the reply of the Turtle.
"What were you singing?"
"Nothing in particular."
"Yes, you were, too. What were you saying?"
"Nothing in particular, I tell you; at least, nothing that
"Yes, you were saying something, and this is what you said."
And so the Coyote, who could not sing the song, deliberately repeated
the words he had heard.
"Well, suppose I did say so; what of that?" said the
"Why, you were hunting for a flint-knife; that is why you
said what you did," replied the Coyote.
"Well, what of that?"
"What did you want the flint-knife for?"
"Nothing in particular," replied the Turtle.
"Yes, you did; you wanted it for something. What was it?"
"Nothing in particular, I say," replied the Turtle. "At
least, nothing that concerns you."
"Yes, you did want it for something," said the Coyote,
"and I know what it was, too."
"Well, what?" asked the Turtle, who was waxing rather
"You wanted it to skin a deer with; that's what you wanted
it for. Where is the deer now, come? You have killed a deer and
I know it. Tell, where is it."
"Well, it lies over yonder," replied the Turtle.
"Where? Come, let us go; I'll help you skin it."
"I can get along very well without you," replied the
"What if I do help you a little? I am very hungry this morning,
and would like to lap up the blood."
"Well, then, come along, torment!" replied the Turtle.
So, finding a knife, they proceeded to where the deer was lying.
"Let me hold him for you," cried the Coyote. Whereupon
he jumped over the deer, spread out its hind legs, and placed a
paw on each of them, holding the body open; and thus they began
to skin the deer. When they had finished this work, the Coyote turned
to the Turtle and asked: "How much of him are you going to
"The usual parts that fall to anyone who comes along when
the hunter is skinning a deer," replied the Turtle.
"What parts?" eagerly asked the Coyote.
"Stomach and liver," replied the Turtle, briefly.
"I won't take that," whined the Coyote. "I want
you to give me half of the deer."
"I'll do no such thing," replied the Turtle. "I
killed the deer; you only helped to skin him, and you ought to be
satisfied with my liberality in giving you the stomach and liver
alone. I'll throw in a little fat, to be sure, and some of the intestines;
but I'll give you no more."
"Yes, you will, too," snarled the Coyote, showing his
"Oh, will I?" replied the Turtle, deliberately, hauling
in one or two of his flippers.
"Yes, you will; or I'll simply murder you, that's all."
The Turtle immediately pulled his feet, head, and tail in, and
cried: "I tell you, I'll give you nothing but the stomach and
liver and some of the intestines of this deer!"
"Well, then, I will forthwith kill you!" snapped the
Coyote, and he made a grab for the Turtle. Kopo! sounded his teeth
as they struck on the hard shell of the Turtle; and, bite as he
would, the Turtle simply slipped out of his mouth every time he
grabbed him. He rolled the Turtle over and over to find a good place
for biting, and held him between his paws as if he were a bone,
and gnawed at him; but, do his best, kopo, kopo! his teeth kept
slipping off the Turtle's hard shell. At last he exclaimed, rather
hotly: "There's more than one way of killing a beast like you!"
So he set the Turtle up on end, and, catching up a quantity of sand,
stuffed it into the hole where the Turtle's head had disappeared
and tapped it well down with a stick until he had completely filled
the crevice. "There, now," he exclaimed, with a snicker
of delight. "I think I have fixed you now, old Hardshell, and
served you right, too, you old stingy-box!"--whereupon he whisked
away to the meat.
The Turtle considered it best to die, as it were; but he listened
intently to what was going on. The Coyote cut up the deer and made
a package of him in his own skin. Then he washed the stomach in
a neighboring brook and filled it with choppings of the liver and
kidneys, and fat stripped from the intestines, and clots of blood,
dashing in a few sprigs of herbs here and there. Then, according
to the custom of hunters in all times, he dug an oven in the ground
and buried the stomach, in order to make a baked blood-pudding of
it while he was summoning his family and friends to help him take
the meat home.
The Turtle clawed a little of the sand away from his neck and peered
out just a trifle. He heard the Coyote grunting as he tried to lift
the meat in order to hang it on a branch of a neighboring pine tree.
He was just exclaiming: "What a lucky fellow I am to come on
that lame, helpless old wretch and get all this meat from him without
the trouble of hunting for it, to be sure! Ah, my dear children,
my fine old wife, what a feast we will have this day!"--for
you know the Coyote had a large family over the way,--he was just
exclaiming this, I say, when the Turtle cried out, faintly: "Natipa!"
"You hard-coated old scoundrel! You ugly, crooked-legged beast!
You stingy-box!" snarled the Coyote. "So you are alive,
are you?" Dropping the meat, he leaped back to where the Turtle
was lying, his head hauled in again, and, jamming every crevice
full of sand, made it hard and firm. Then, hitting the Turtle a
clip with the tip of his nose, he sent him rolling over and over
like a flat, round stone down the slope.
"This is fine treatment to receive from the hands of such
a sneaking cur as that," thought the Turtle. "I think
I will keep quiet this time and let him do as he pleases. But through
my ingenuity I killed the deer, and it may be that through ingenuity
I can keep the deer."
So the Turtle kept perfectly dead, to all appearances, and the
Coyote, leaving the meat hanging on a low branch of a tree and building
a fire over the oven he had excavated, whisked away with his tail
in the air to his house just the other side of the mountain.
When he arrived there he cried out: "Wife, wife! Children,
children! Come, quick! Great news! Killed an enormous deer today.
I have made a blood-pudding in his stomach and buried it. Let us
go and have a feast; then you must help me bring the meat home."
Those Coyotes were perfectly wild. The cubs, half-grown, with their
tails more like sticks than brushes, trembled from the ends of their
toe-nails to the tips of their stick-like tails; and they all set
off--the old ones ahead, the young ones following single file-as
fast as they could toward the place where the blood-pudding was
Now, as soon as the old Turtle was satisfied that the Coyote had
left, he dug the sand out of his collar with his tough claws, and,
proceeding to the place where the meat hung, first hauled it up,
piece by piece, to the very top of the tree; for Turtles have claws,
you know, and can climb, especially if the trunk of the tree leans
over, as that one did. Having hauled the meat to the very topmost
branches of the tree, and tied it there securely, he descended and
went over to where the blood-pudding was buried. He raked the embers
away from it and pulled it out; then he dragged it off to a neighboring
ant-hill where the red fire-ants were congregated in great numbers.
Immediately they began to rush out, smelling the cooked meat, and
the Turtle, untying the end of the stomach, chucked as many of the
ants as he could into it. Then he dragged the pudding back to the
fire and replaced it in the oven, taking care that the coals should
not get near it.
He had barely climbed the tree again and nestled himself on his
bundle of meat, when along came those eager Coyotes. Everything
stuck up all over them with anxiety for the feast--their hair, the
tips of their ears, and the points of their tails; and as they neared
the place and smelt the blood and the cooked meat, they began to
sing and dance as they came along, and this was what they sang:
"Na-ti tsa, na-ti tsa!
Tui-ya si-si na-ti tsa!
Tui-ya si-si na-li tsa!
Tui-ya si-si! Tui-ya si-si!"
We will have to translate this--which is so old that who can remember
exactly what it means?--thus:
Meat of the deer, meat of the deer!
Luscious fruit-like meat of the deer!
Luscious fruit-like meat of the deer!
Luscious fruit-like! Luscious fruit-like
No sooner had they neared the spot where they smelt the meat than,
without looking around at all, they made a bound for it. But the
old Coyote grabbed the hindmost of the young ones by the car until
he yelped, shook him, and called out to all the rest: "Look
you here! Eat in a decent manner or you will burn your chops off!
I stuffed the pudding full of grease, and the moment you puncture
it, the grease, being hot, will fly out and burn you. Be careful
and dignified, children. There is plenty of time, and you shall
be satisfied. Don't gorge at the first helping!"
But the moment the little Coyotes were freed, they made a grand
bounce for the tempting stomach, tearing it open, and grabbing huge
mouthfuls. It may be surmised that the fire-ants were not comfortable.
They ran all over the lips and cheeks of the voracious little gormands
and bit them until they cried out, shaking their heads and rubbing
them in the sand: "Atu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu!"
"There, now, didn't I tell you, little fools, to be careful?
It was the grease that burnt you. Now I hope you know enough to
eat a little more moderately. There's plenty of time to satisfy
yourselves, I say," cried the old Coyote, sitting down on his
Then the little cubs and the old woman attacked the delicacy again.
"Atu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu-tu!" they exclaimed, shaking their
heads and flapping their cars; and presently they all went away
and sat down, observing this wonderful hot pudding.
Then the Coyote looked around and observed that the meat was gone,
and, following the grease and blood spots up the tree with his eye,
saw in the top the pack of meat with the Turtle calmly reclining
upon it and resting, his head stretched far out on his hand. The
Turtle lifted his head and exclaimed: "Pe-sa-las-ta-i-i-i-i!"
"You tough-hided old beast!" yelled the Coyote, in an
ecstasy of rage and disappointment. "Throw down some of that
meat, now, will you? I killed that deer; you only helped me skin
him; and here you have stolen all the meat. Wife! Children! Didn't
I kill the deer?" he cried, turning to the rest.
"Certainly you did, and he's a sneaking old wretch to steal
it from you!" they exclaimed in chorus, looking longingly at
the pack of meat in the top of the tree.
"Who said I stole the meat from you?" cried out the Turtle.
"I only hauled it up here to keep it from being stolen, you
villain! Scatter yourselves out to catch some of it. I will throw
as fine a pair of ribs down to you as ever you saw. There, now,
spread yourselves out and get close together. Ready?" he called,
as the Coyotes lay down on their backs side by side and stretched
their paws as high as they could eagerly and tremblingly toward
"Yes, yes!" cried the Coyotes, in one voice. "We
are all ready! Now, then!"
The old Turtle took up the pair of ribs, and, catching them in
his beak, crawled out to the end of the branch immediately over
the Coyotes, and, giving them a good fling, dropped them as hard
as he could. Over and over they fell, and then came down like a
pair of stones across the bodies of the Coyotes, crushing the wind
out of them, so that they had no breath left with which to cry out,
and most of them were instantly killed. But the two little cubs
at either side escaped with only a hurt or two, and, after yelling
fearfully, one of them took his tail between his legs and ran away.
The other one, still very hungry, ran off with his tail lowered
and his nose to the ground, side-wise, until he had got to a safe
distance, and then he sat down and looked up. Presently he thought
he would return and eat some of the meat from the ribs.
"Wait!" cried the old Turtle, "don't go near that
meat; leave it alone for your parents and brothers and sisters.
Really, I am so old and stiff that it took me a long time to get
out to the end of that limb, and I am afraid they went to sleep
while I was getting there, for see how still they lie."
"By my ancestors!" exclaimed the Coyote, looking at them;
"that is so."
"Why don't you come up here and have a feast with me,"
said the Turtle, "and leave that meat alone for your brothers
and sisters and your old ones?"
"How can I get up there?" whined the Coyote, crawling
nearer to the tree.
"Simply reach up until you get your paw over one of the branches,
and then haul yourself up," replied the Turtle.
The little Coyote stretched and jumped, and, though he sometimes
succeeded in getting his paw over the branch, he fell back, flop!
every time. And then he would yelp and sing out as though every
bone in his body was broken.
"Never mind! never mind cried the Turtle. "I'll come
down and help you." So he crawled down the tree, and, reaching
over, grabbed the little Coyote by the topknot, and by much struggling
he was able to climb up. When they got to the top of the tree the
Turtle said, "There, now, help yourself."
The little Coyote fell to and filled himself so full that he was
as round as a plum and elastic as a cranberry. Then he looked about
and licked his chops and tried to breathe, but couldn't more than
half, and said: "Oh, my! if I don't get some water I'll choke!"
"My friend," said the Turtle, "do you see that drop
of water gleaming in the sun at the end of that branch of this pine
tree?" (It was really pitch.) "Now, I have lived in the
tops of trees so much that I know where to go. Trees have springs.
Look at that."
The Coyote looked and was convinced.
"Walk out, now, to the end of the branch, or until you come
to one of those drops of water, then take it in your mouth and suck,
and all the water you want will flow out."
The little Coyote started. He trembled and was unsteady on his legs,
but managed to get half way. "Is it here?" he called,
turning round and looking back.
"No, a little farther," said the Turtle.
So he cautiously stepped a little farther. The branch was swaying
dreadfully. He turned his head, and just as he was saying, "Is
it here?" he lost his balance and fell plump to the ground,
striking so hard on the tough earth that he was instantly killed.
"There, you wretched beast!" said the old Turtle with
a sigh of relief and satisfaction. "Ingenuity enabled me to
kill a deer. Ingenuity enabled me to retain the deer."
It must not be forgotten that one of the little Coyotes ran away.
He had numerous descendants, and ever since that time they have
been characterized by pimples all over their faces where the mustaches
grow out, and little blotches inside of their lips, such as you
see inside the lips of dogs.
Thus shortens my story.
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