Native American Legends
Old Man Coyote makes the World
A Crow Legend
How water came to be, nobody knows. Where Old Man Coyote came from,
nobody knows. But he was, he lived. Old Man Coyote spoke: "It
is bad that I am alone. I should have someone to talk to. It is
bad that there is only water and nothing else." Old Man Coyote
walked around. Then he saw some who were living - two ducks with
"Younger brothers," he said, "is there anything
in this world but water and still more water? What do you think?"
"Why," said the ducks, "we think there might be
something deep down below the water. In our hearts we believe this."
"Well, younger brothers, go and dive. Find out if there is
One of the ducks dove down. He stayed under water for a long, long
time. "How sad!" Old Man Coyote said. "Our younger
brother must have drowned."
"No way has he drowned," said the other duck. "We
can live underwater for a long time. Just wait."
At last the first duck came to the surface. "What our hearts
told us was right," he said. "There is something down
there, because my head bumped into it."
"Well, my younger brother, whatever it may be, bring it up."
The duck dived again. A long time he stayed down there. when he
came up, he had something in his beak. "Why, what can this
be?" Old Man Coyote took it. "Why, this is a root,"
he said. "Where there are roots, there must be earth. My younger
brother, dive again. If you find something soft, bring it up."
The duck went down a third time. This time he came up with a small
lump of soft earth in his bill. Old Man Coyote examined it. "Ah,
my younger brother, this is what I wanted. This I will make big.
This I will spread around. This little handful of mud shall be our
Old Man Coyote blew on the little lump, which began to grow and
spread all over. "What a surprise, elder brother!" said
the ducks. "this is wonderful! We are pleased." Old Man
Coyote took the little root.
In the soft mud he planted it. Then things started to grow. Grasses,
plants, trees, all manner of food Old Man Coyote made in this way.
"Isn't this pretty?" he asked. "What do you think?"
"Elder brother," answered the ducks, "this is indeed
very pretty. But it's too flat. why don't you hollow some places
out, and here and there make some hills and mountains. Wouldn't
that be a fine thing?"
"Yes, my younger brothers. I'll do as you say. While I'm about
it, I will also make some rivers, ponds, and springs so that wherever
we go, we can have cool, fresh water to drink."
"Ah, that's fine, elder brother," said the ducks after
Old Man Coyote had made all these things. "How very clever
"Well, is something still missing, younger brothers? What
do your hearts believe?"
"Everything is so beautiful, elder brother. What could be
"Companions are missing," Old Man Coyote said. "We
are alone. It's boring."
He took up a handful of mud, and out of it made people. How he
did this, no-one can imagine. The people walked about. Watching
them, Old Man Coyote was pleased, but the ducks were not so happy.
"Elder brother," they said, "you have made companions
for yourself, but none for us."
"Why, that's true. I forgot it." Right away he made all
kinds of ducks. "There, my younger brothers, now you can be
After a while Old Man Coyote remarked: "Something's wrong
here." "But everything is good. We're no longer bored.
What could be wrong?"
"Why, don't you see, I've made all these people men, and all
the ducks I made are male. How can they be happy? How can they increase?"
Forthwith he made women. Forthwith he made female ducks. Then there
was joy. Then there was contentment. Then there was increase. That's
the way it happened.
Old Man Coyote walked about on the earth he had made. Suddenly
he encountered Cirape, the coyote.
"Why, younger brother, what a wonderful surprise! Where did
you come from?"
"Well, my elder brother, I don't know. I exist. That's all.
Here I am. Cirape, I call myself. What's your name?"
"Old Man Coyote, they call me." He waved his hand: "All
that you see around you, I made."
"You did well. But there should be some animals besides ducks."
"Yes, you're right, come to think of it. Now, I'll pronounce
some animal names. As soon as I say one, that animal will be made."
Old Man Coyote named buffalo, deer, elk, antelopes, and bear. And
all these came into being. After some time the bear said to Old
Man Coyote: "Why did you make me? There's nothing to do. We're
"I have made females for you. this should keep everybody busy."
"Well, elder brother, one can't do that all the time."
"Yes, you're right; it's true. Well, I'll think of something.
I'll make a special bird."
From one of the bear's claws he made wings. From a caterpillar's
hair he made feet. From a bit of buffalo sinew he made a beak. From
leaves he made a tail. He put all these things together and formed
a prairie chicken. Old Man Coyote instructed it: "There are
many pretty birds. You I haven't made pretty, but I gave you a special
power. Every dawn as the sun rises, you shall dance. You will hop
and strut with your head down. You will raise your tail and shake
it. Spreading your wings, you shall dance - thus!"
At once the prairie chicken danced. All the animals watched, and
soon they began to dance too. Now there was something to keep them
amused. But the bear still wasn't satisfied. "I gave you a
claw to make part of this prairie chicken," he told Old Man
Coyote. "why didn't you give me my own dance? I don't want
to dance like a chicken."
"Well, all right, cousin. I'll give you a dance of your own.
Thus and thus, this way and that, you shall dance."
"Old Man Coyote," the bear kept complaining, "how
can I dance? Something is missing."
"How can something be missing? I've made everything."
"There should be some kind of sound to dance to."
"Why, you're right. There should be." Forthwith Old Man
Coyote made a little grouse and gave him a song. Then he made a
drum - how, no man can imagine. The little grouse sang and drummed,
and everybody danced.
"Why should this no-account prairie chicken dance?" asked
"Why should all those little, no-account animals dance? I
alone should have this dance power."
"Why, they're happy. The chokecherries are ripe, the sun is
shining. All of them feel like dancing. Why should you be the only
"I am big and important. So I alone should dance."
"Why, listen to him, how he talks! Be polite to me who made
"Ho! You didn't make me. I made myself."
"How impolite!" said Old Man Coyote. "He is threatening
the little animals with his big claws." He told the bear: "You're
not fit to live among us. You will stay in a den by yourself and
eat decayed, rotten things. In winter you will sleep, because the
less we see of you, the better." So it was.
One day Old Man Coyote and Cirape were walking and talking. "Something
you forgot," Cirape said to Old Man Coyote. "How could
I have forgotten something?" "Why, those people you made.
They live poorly. They should have tools, tipi's to live in, a fire
to cook by and warm themselves." "You're right. Why didn't
I think of that?" Forthwith he made a fire with lightning and
the people rejoiced. "Now everything is finished. What do you
"Oh, elder brother, the people should have bows and arrows
and spears for better hunting. Often they starve."
"That's so, I'll give out weapons."
"Elder brother, give weapons, but only to the people, not
to the animals."
"Why should the animals have bows and arrows too?"
"Don't you see? The animals are swift; they already have big
claws, teeth, and powerful horns. The people are slow. Their teeth
and nails are not very strong. If animals had weapons, how could
the people survive?"
"Why, my younger brother, you think of everything." Forthwith
he gave the people bows and spears. "Younger brother, are you
"No, not at all. There's only one language, and you can't
fight somebody who speaks your language. There should be enmity;
there should be war."
"What are wars good for?"
"Oh, my respected elder brother, sometimes you're just not
thinking. War is a good thing. Say you're a young warrior. You paint
yourself with vermilion. You wear a fine war shirt. You start. You
sing wars songs. You have war honors. You look at the good-looking
young girls. You look at the young women whose husbands have no
war honors. They look back at you. You go on the warpath. You steal
the enemy's horses. You steal his women and maidens. You count coup,
do brave deeds. You are rich. You have gifts to give away. They
sing songs honoring you. You have many loves. And by and by you
become a chief."
"Ah, Cirape, my younger brother, you've hit upon something."
Old Man Coyote divided the people into tribes, giving them different
languages. Then there was war, then there was horse stealing, then
there was counting coup, then there was singing of honoring songs.
After a long time, Old Man coyote was walking with Cirape again.
"You are very clever, my younger brother, but there are some
things you don't know. Let me tell you: When we marry a young woman,
when we take her to wife secretly, how satisfying it is! What pleasure
it gives us!"
"Yes, my elder brother, just so. That's how it is with me."
"Ah, but after some years, after you have lived with one woman
for awhile, you lose interest. You are yearning for someone new.
So you steal someone else's wife. In this back-and-forth wife stealing
that goes on in our tribe, has some fellow ever made off with your
wife? A proud young warrior, maybe?"
"Why yes, my elder brother. It was such a man who took a plump,
pleasing young wife away from me. It would have been better if an
enemy from another tribe had done it. It would have been easier
to bear if she were far away where I couldn't see them together."
"Well, younger brother, if she would come back, would you
"What, take her back? Never! I have honor, I respect myself.
How could I do such a thing?"
"Ah, Cirape, how foolish you are. You know nothing. Three
times my wife has been abducted, and three times I have taken her
back. Now when I say 'come', she comes. When I say 'go', she goes.
Whenever I tell her to do something, she remembers that she has
been stolen. I never have to remind her. She is eager to please.
she fulfills my every desire. Under the blanket she's a hot one
- she has learned things. This is the best wife, the best kind of
"That's how you feel. But people mock you. They look at you
sideways and laugh behind your back. They say: 'He has taken what
another one threw away.'"
"Ah, younger brother of mine, what do I care if they laugh
behind my back when, under our buffalo robe, I am laughing for my
own reasons? Let me tell you, there's nothing more satisfying than
having a wife who has been stolen once or twice. Tell me: Do they
steal ugly old wives, or young and pretty ones ?"
So because of Old Man Coyote's sensible advice, there was mutual
wife stealing among the Crows in the old days. And that's why Crow
men ever since have taken back wives they had already divorced.
In one way or another, everything that exists or that is happening
goes back to Old Man Coyote.
- Based on a number of anthropological accounts, including Robert
Lowie's "The Crow Indians."
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