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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 red eyes.

"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 something. Go!"

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 home."

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 you are."

"Well, is something still missing, younger brothers? What do your hearts believe?"

"Everything is so beautiful, elder brother. What could be missing?"

"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 happy."

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 all bored."

"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 the bear.

"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 one?"

"I am big and important. So I alone should dance."

"Why, listen to him, how he talks! Be polite to me who made you."

"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 think?"

"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 satisfied now?"

"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 take her?"

"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 loving."

"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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