Native American Legends
Coyote and the Monsters of the Bitterroot Valley
A Flathead Legend
This story was recorded from a great-great-grandmother whose name
means "Painted-Hem-of-the-Skirt." In the summer of 1955,
she was the only person on the Flathead Reservation in western Montana
that even an interested interpreter could find who knew the old
stories of their people.
The Bitterroot Valley is in western Montana.
After Coyote had killed the monster near the mouth of the Jocko
River, he turned south and went up the Bitterroot Valley. Soon he
saw two huge monsters, one at each end of a ridge. Coyote killed
them, changed them into tall rocks, and said, "You will always
There the tall rocks still stand.
Then he went on. Someone had told him about another monster, an
Elk monster, up on a mountain to the east. Coyote said to his wife,
Mole, "Dig a tunnel clear to the place where that monster is.
Dig several holes in the tunnel. Then move our camp to the other
Coyote went through the tunnel Mole had made, got out of it, and
saw the Elk monster. The monster was surprised to see him.
"How did you get here?" he asked. "Where did you
come from?" The monster was scared.
"I came across the prairie," lied Coyote. "Don't
you see my trail? You must be blind if you didn't see me."
The monster became more scared. He thought that Coyote must have
greater powers than he himself had.
Coyote's dog was Pine Squirrel, and the Elk monster's dog was Grizzly
Bear. Grizzly Bear growled at Pine Squirrel, and Pine Squirrel barked
"You'd better stop your dog," said the monster. "If
you don't, he'll lose his head."
The dogs wanted to fight. Grizzly Bear jumped at Coyote's dog.
Pine Squirrel went under him and killed him with the flint he wore
on his head. The flint ripped Grizzly Bear. Bones and flesh flew
"Look down there," said Coyote to the Elk monster. "See
those people coming along that trail? Let's go after them."
He knew that what he saw was Mole moving their camp, but the monster
could not see clearly in the tunnel. Elk monster picked up his shield,
his spear, and his knife. "I'm ready," he said.
After they had gone a short distance along the trail, the monster
fell into the first hole. Coyote called loudly, as if he were calling
to an enemy ahead of them. The monster climbed out of the hole,
tried to run, but fell into one hole after another. At last Coyote
said to him, "Let me carry your shield. Then you can run faster."
Coyote put the shield on his back, but the monster still had trouble.
"Let me carry your spear," Coyote said. Soon he got the
monster's knife, also--and all of his equipment. Then Coyote ran
round and round, shouting, "This is how we charge the enemy."
And he jabbed the monster with the monster's spear. "I have
the enemy's war-bonnet!" he yelled. He jabbed the monster four
times, each time yelling that he had taken something from the enemy.
The fifth time he jabbed the monster, he yelled, "I have stripped
the enemy." Then he said to the Elk monster, "You can
never kill anyone again."
Coyote went on up the Bitterroot Valley. He heard a baby crying,
up on a hill. Coyote went up to the baby, not knowing it was a monster.
He put his finger in the baby's mouth, to let it suck. The baby
ate the flesh off Coyote's finger, then his hand, and then his arm.
The monster baby killed Coyote. Only his skeleton was left.
After a while, Coyote's good friend Fox came along. Fox stepped
over the dead body, and Coyote came to life. He began to stretch
as if he had been asleep. "I've slept a long time," he
said to Fox.
You've been dead," Fox told him. "That baby is a monster,
and he killed you."
Coyote looked around, but the baby was gone. He put some flint
on his finger and waited for the baby to come back. When he heard
it crying, he called out, "Hello, baby! You must be hungry."
Coyote let it have his flinted finger to suck. The baby cut himself
"That's the last of you," said Coyote. "This hill
will forever be called Sleeping Child."
And that is what the Indians call it today.
After Coyote had left Sleeping Child, Fox joined him again and
they traveled together. Soon Coyote grew tired of carrying his blanket,
and so he laid it on a rock. After they had traveled farther, they
saw a storm coming. They went back to the rock, Coyote picked up
his blanket, and the two friends moved on. When the rain began to
fall, he put the blanket over himself and Fox. While lying there,
covered by the blanket, they looked out and saw the rock running
Fox went uphill, but Coyote ran downhill. The rock followed close
on Coyote's trail. Coyote crossed the river, sure that he was safe.
Spreading his clothes out on a rock, he thought he would rest while
they dried. But the rock followed him across the river. When he
saw it coming out of the water, Coyote began to run. He saw three
women sitting nearby, with stone hammers in their hands.
"If that rock comes here," Coyote said to the women,
"you break it with your hammers."
But the rock got away from the women. Coyote ran on to where a
creek comes down from the mountains near Darby. There he took some
vines-- Indians call them "monkey ropes"--and placed them
so that the rock would get tangled up in them. He set fire to the
monkey ropes. The rock got tangled in the burning ropes and was
killed by the heat.
Then Coyote said to the rock, "The Indians will come through
here on their way to the buffalo country. They will play with you.
They will find you slick and heavy, and they will lift you up."
In my childhood, the rock was still there, but it is gone now,
no one knows where.
Coyote left the dead rock and went on farther. Soon he saw a mountain
sheep. The sheep insulted Coyote and made him angry. Coyote grabbed
him and threw him against a pine tree. The body went clear through
the tree, but the head stayed on it. The horns stuck out from the
trunk of the tree.
Coyote said to the tree, "When people go by, they will talk
to you. They will say, 'I want to have good luck. So I will leave
a gift here for you.' They will leave gifts and you will make them
lucky--in hunting or in war or in anything they wish to do."
The tree became well known as the Medicine Tree. People from several
tribes left gifts in it when they passed on their way to the buffalo
country that is on the rising-sun side of the mountains.
In my childhood, the skull and face were still there. When I was
a young girl, people told me to put some of my hair inside the sheep's
horn, so that I would live a long time. I did. That's why I'm nearly
ninety years old.
As the interpreter and I were leaving Painted-Hem- of-the-Skirt,
she bent low and made a sweeping movement around her ankles and
the hem of her long skirt. Then she said a few words and laughed
heartily. The interpreter explained: "She says she hopes that
she will not find a rattlesnake wrapped around her legs because
she told some of the old stories in the summertime."
She had laughed often as she told the tales, but I feel sure that
her mother would not have related them in the summertime. "It
is good to tell stories in the wintertime," the Indians of
the Northwest used to say. "There are long nights in the wintertime."
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