Native American Legends
Iktomi and the Coyote
A Lakota Legend
Afar off upon a large level land, a summer sun was shining bright.
Here and there over the rolling green were tall bunches of coarse
gray weeds. Iktomi in his fringed buckskins walked alone across
the prairie with a black bare head glossy in the sunlight.
He walked through the grass without following any well-worn footpath.
From one large bunch of coarse weeds to another he wound his way
about the great plain. He lifted his foot lightly and placed it
gently forward like a wildcat prowling noiselessly through the thick
grass. He stopped a few steps away from a very large bunch of wild
From shoulder to shoulder he tilted his head. Still farther he
bent from side to side, first low over one hip and then over the
other. Far forward he stooped, stretching his long thin neck like
a duck, to see what lay under a fur coat beyond the bunch of coarse
grass. A sleek gray-faced prairie wolf!
His pointed black nose tucked in between his four feet drawn snugly
together; his handsome bushy tail wound over his nose and feet;
a coyote fast asleep in the shadow of a bunch of grass! - this is
what Iktomi spied.
Carefully he raised one foot and cautiously reached out with his
toes. Gently, gently he lifted the foot behind and placed it before
the other. Thus he came nearer and nearer to the round fur ball
lying motionless under the sage grass. Now Iktomi stood beside it,
looking at the closed eyelids that did not quiver the least bit.
Pressing his lips into straight lines and nodding his head slowly,
he bent over the wolf. He held his ear close to the coyote's nose,
but not a breath of air stirred from it. "Dead!" said
he at last. "Dead, but not long since he ran over these plains!
See! there in his paw is caught a fresh feather. He is nice fat
Taking hold of the paw with the bird feather fast on it, he exclaimed,
"Why, he is still warm! I'll carry him to my dwelling and have
a roast for my evening meal. Ah-ha!" he laughed, as he seized
the coyote by its two fore paws and its two hind feet and swung
him over head across his shoulders.
The wolf was large and the tipi was far across the prairie. Iktomi
trudged along with his burden, smacking his hungry lips together.
He blinked his eyes hard to keep out the salty perspiration streaming
down his face. All the while the coyote on his back lay gazing into
the sky with wide open eyes. His long white teeth fairly gleamed
as he smiled and smiled. "To ride on one's own feet is tiresome,
but to be carried like a warrior from a brave fight is great fun!"
said the coyote in his heart."
He had never been borne on any one's back before and the new experience
delighted him. He lay there lazily on Iktomi's shoulders, now and
then blinking blue winks. Did you never see a birdie blink a blue
wink? This is how it first became a saying among the plains people.
When a bird stands aloof watching your strange ways, a thin bluish
white tissue slips quickly over his eyes and as quickly off again;
so quick that you think it was only a mysterious blue wink. Sometimes
when children grow drowsy they blink blue winks, while others who
are too proud to look with friendly eyes upon people blink in this
The coyote was affected by both sleepiness and pride. His winks
were almost as blue as the sky. In the midst of his new pleasure
the swaying motion ceased. Iktomi had reached his dwelling place.
The coyote felt drowsy no longer, for in the next instant he was
slipping out of Iktomi's hands. He was falling, falling through
space, and then he struck the ground with such a bump he did not
wish to breathe for a while. He wondered what Iktomi would do, thus
he lay still where he fell. Humming a dance-song, one from his bundle
of mystery songs, Iktomi hopped and darted about at an imaginary
dance and feast.
He gathered dry willow sticks and broke them in two against his
knee. He built a large fire out of doors. The flames leaped up high
in red and yellow streaks. Now Iktomi returned to the coyote who
had been looking on through his eyelashes.
Taking him again by his paws and hind feet, he swung him to and
fro. Then as the wolf swung toward the red flames, Iktomi let him
go. Once again the coyote fell through space. Hot air smote his
nostrils. He saw red dancing fire, and now he struck a bed of cracking
With a quick turn he leaped out of the flames. From his heels were
scattered a shower of red coals upon Iktomi's bare arms and shoulders.
Dumbfounded, Iktomi thought he saw a spirit walk out of his fire.
His jaws fell apart. He thrust a palm to his face, hard over his
He could scarce keep from shrieking. Rolling over and over on the
grass and rubbing the sides of his head against the ground, the
coyote soon put out the fire on his fur. Iktomi's eyes were almost
ready to jump out of his head as he stood cooling a burn on his
brown arm with his breath.
Sitting on his haunches, on the opposite side of the fire from
where Iktomi stood, the coyote began to laugh at him. "Another
day, my friend, do not take too much for granted. Make sure the
enemy is stone dead before you make a fire!"
Then off he ran so swiftly that his long bushy tail hung out in
a straight line with his back.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends