Native American Legends
How The Old Man made People
An American Indian Legend - Nation Unknown
Long ago, when the world was new, there was no one living in it
at all, except the Old Man, Na-pe, and his sometimes-friend and
sometimes-enemy A-pe'si, the Coyote, and a few buffalo. There were
no other people and no other animals. But the Old Man changed all
that. He changed it first because he was lonely, and then because
he was lazy; and maybe be shouldn't have, but anyway, he did. And
this was the way of it.
Na-pe was sitting by his fire one day, trying to think of some
way to amuse himself. He had plenty to eat--a whole young buffalo;
no need to go hunting. He had a lodge; no work to do; and a fire.
He was comfortable, but he wasn't contented. His only companion,
A-pe'si the Coyote, was off somewhere on some scheme of his own,
and anyway he had quarreled with A-pe'si, and they were on bad terms;
so even if he had been there, Old Man would still have been lonely.
He poked some sticks in the fire, threw a rock or two in the river,
Lit his pipe, and walked around. . . then sat down, and thought
how nice it would be to have someone to smoke with, and to talk
to. "Another one, like me," he thought. And he poked some
more sticks in the fire, and threw some more rocks in the river.
Then he thought, "Why not? I am the Old Man! I can make anything
I want to. Why shouldn't I make another like me, and have a companion?"
And he promptly went to work.
First, he found a little still pool of water, and looked at his
reflection carefully, so as to know just what he wanted to make.
Then he counted his bones as best he could, and felt the shape of
Next, he went and got some clay, modeled a lot of bones, and baked
them in his fire. When they were all baked, he took them out and
looked at them. Some of them were very good, but others were crooked,
or too thin, or had broken in the baking. These he put aside in
a little heap.
Then he began to assemble the best of the clay bones into a figure
of a man. He tied them all together with buffalo sinews, and smoothed
them all carefully with buffalo fat. He padded them with clay mixed
with buffalo blood, and stretched over the whole thing skin taken
from the inside of the buffalo. Then he sat down and lit his pipe
He looked at the man he had made rather critically. It wasn't exactly
what he had wanted, but still it was better than nothing.
"I will make some more," said Na-pe.
He picked the new man up and blew smoke into his eyes, nose, and
mouth, and the figure came to life. Na-pe sat him down by the fire,
and handed him the pipe. Then he went to get more clay.
All day long Na-pe worked, making men. It took a long time, because
some of the bones in each lot weren't good, and he must discard
them and make others. But at last he got several men, all sitting
by the fire and passing the pipe around. Na-pe sat down with them,
and was very happy. He left the heap of discarded bones where they
were, at the doorway of his lodge.
So Na-pe and the men lived in his camp, and the men learned to
hunt, and Na- pe had company, someone to smoke with, and they were
all quite contented.
But the heap of left-over bones was a nuisance. Every time one
of the men went in or out of Na-pe's lodge, they tripped over the
bones. The wind blew through them at night, making a dreadful noise.
The bones frequently tumbled over, making more of a disturbance.
Na-pe intended to throw them in the river, but he was a bit lazy,
and never got around to it. So the left-over bones stayed where
By this time A-pe'si, the Coyote, was back from wherever he had
been. He went around the camp, looking the men over, and being very
superior, saying that he didn't think much of Na-pe's handiwork.
He was also critical of the heap of bones at the door of the lodge.
"I should think you would do something with them--make them
into men," said A-pe'si, the Coyote.
"All right, I will," said Na-pe. "Only they aren't
very good. It will be difficult to make men out of them!" "Oh,
I'll help, I'll help!" said A-pe'si. "With my cleverness,
we will make something much better than these poor creatures of
yours!" So the two of them set to work. The discarded bones,
clicking and tattling, were sorted out, and tied together. Then
Na-pe mixed the clay and the buffalo blood to cover them. He fully
intended to make the bones into men, but A-pe'si the Coyote kept
interfering; consequently, when the job was done, the finished product
was quite different. Na-pe surveyed it dubiously, but he blew the
smoke into its eyes and nose and mouth, as he had with the men.
And the woman came to life.
A-pe'si and Na-pe made the rest of the bones into women, and as
they finished each one they put them all together, and the women
immediately began to talk to each other. A-pe'si was very pleased
with what he had done. "When I made my men," said Na-pe,
"I set them down by the fire to smoke."
And even to this day, if you have one group of men, and another
of women, the men will want to sit by the fire and smoke. But the
women talk. And whether it is because they were made out of the
left-over bones that clicked and rattled, or whether it is because
A-pe'si, the Coyote --who is a noisy creature himself--had a part
in their making, no one can say.
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