A long time ago, only the three Yellow Jacket sisters had fire. Even though other animals froze, the fire was kept from them. Wise Old Coyote,
however, devises a plan to steal fire, and enlists the other animals to help. Coyote diverts the yellow jackets, seizes a burning stick, and runs away.
As the yellow jackets chase him, he hands it off to Eagle, who hands it to Mountain Lion. Several hand-offs later, Frog hides a hot coal in his mouth
on a river bottom, and the yellow jackets give up. When Frog spits the coal out, Willow Tree swallows it, and Coyote shows the animals how to
extract it: by rubbing two sticks together over dry moss. Now that the animals have fire, each night they gather in a circle while the elders tell stories.
A meaningful tale which stresses the importance of the natural world and our need to live cooperatively with it.
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
Music: Sacred Spirits by AH-NEE-MAH
|How Coyote Brought Fire To The People
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
In the beginning, the animal people had no fire. The only fire anywhere was on top of a high, snow-covered mountain, where it was guarded by the
skookums. The skookums were afraid that if the animal people had any fire they might become very powerful as powerful as the skookums. So the
skookums would not give any of the fire away to anyone.
Because the animal people had no fire, they were always shivering, and they had to eat their food raw. When Coyote came along he found them cold
"Coyote," they begged, "you must bring us fire from the mountain or we will one day die of this cold."
"I will see what I can do for you," promised Coyote. As soon as the sun came up the next morning, Coyote began the long and difficult climb to the
top of the mountain where the skookums kept the fire.
When he got to the top he saw that there wrinkled, old skookums, all sisters, guarding the fire all say and all night, each taking a turn. While one
kept watch the other two ate and slept in a lodge nearby. When it was time to change the watch the one at the fire would go to the door of the lodge
and call out "Sister, get up and guard the fire."
At dawn, the skookum who had been watching the fire all night was always stiff with the cold and she walked very slowly through the snow to the
lodge door to call her sister. "This is the time to steal a brand of the fire," thought Coyote to himself. But he knew, too, that he would be chased. And
he knew that even though the skookums were old they were swift and strong runners. Coyote would have to devise a plan.
Coyote thought and thought, but he could not come up with any plan. So he decided to ask his three sister who always lived in his stomach in the
form of huckleberries to help him. They were very wise, and they would tell him what top do.
At first, Coyote's sisters were reluctant to help him. "If we tell you," they said, "you will only say that you knew it all along."
Coyote remembered that his sisters were afraid of hail and so he called up into the sky, "Hail! Hail! Fall down from the sky."
This made his sisters very afraid. "Stop!" they called. "Don't bring the hail down. We will tell you what you want to know."
Coyote's sisters then told him how to steal the fire and get it down the mountain to the people without getting caught. When they had finished talking,
Coyote said, "Yes, that was my plan all along."
Coyote then went to see the animal people. He called everyone together, as his sisters had directed, and told each animal, Antelope, Fox, Weasel,
Beaver, Squirrel and the others to take up certain places along the mountainside. When they were all in place, they stretched in a long line from the
top of the mountain all the way back to the village.
Coyote climbed back up the mountain and waited for sunrise. The old skookum who was watching the fire had keen eyes and she saw him. But she
thought it was just an animal skulking around looking for scraps.
At dawn the skookum left the fire and walked slowly over to the lodge door. "Sister, get up and guard the fire."
Just at that moment Coyote sprang from the bushes. He seized a burning brand from the fire and ran away as fast as he could across the snow. The
three skookums were right behind him in an instant. They were so close they were showering Coyote with the snow and ice they were churning up in
their fury. Coyote was running as fast as he had ever run in his life. He leaped over cracks in the ice and rolled part way down the mountain like a
snowball, but the skookums were right behind him, so close behind that their hot breath scorched his fur.
When Coyote finally reached the tree line, Cougar jumped out from his hiding place, snatched up the fire brand and raced away just as Coyote fell flat
on his face from exhaustion. Cougar ran all the way to the high trees where he gave the fire to Fox. Fox raced until he came to the heavy
undergrowth where he gave the fire to Squirrel. Squirrel ran away through the trees, leaping from branch to branch. The skookums could not go
through the trees so they planed to catch Squirrel at the edge of the woods. But Antelope was waiting there to get the fire from Squirrel, and Antelope,
who was the fastest of all the animals, bounded away across the meadow. One after another, each one of the animals carried the fire, but the
skookums stayed right behind them.
Finally, when there was only a glowing coal left, the fire was passed to Frog. Frog swallowed the hot coal and hopped away as fast as he could hop.
The skookums were almost on top of him when he dove into a deep river and swam across to the other side. The youngest skookum had already
leaped across the water and was waiting for him. As soon as he landed, Frog saw what had happened and jumped between the skookum's legs and
bounded away. An instant later the skookums were on him again and Frog was too tires to jump. So he spat the hot coal out on Wood and Wood
swallowed it. The three skookums stood there not knowing what to do. None of them could figure a way to take the fire away from Wood. After a
while they left and went slowly back to their lodge on the top of the mountain.
Coyote then called the animals together and they all gathered around Wood. Coyote, who was very wise, knew how to get the fire out of Wood. He
showed the animals how to rub two dry sticks together until sparks came. Then he showed them how to collect dry moss and make chips of wood to
add to the sparks to make a little fire. Then he showed them how to add small twigs and pine needles to make a bigger fire.
From then on, the people knew how to get the fire out of Wood. They cooked their meat, their houses were warm, and they were never cold again.
|How Coyote Got His Cunning
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
Kareya was the God who in the very beginning created the world. First he made the fishes in the ocean; then he made the animals on the land; and
last of all he made man. He had, however, given all the animals the same amount of power and rank.
So he went to the man he had created and said: "Make as many bows and arrows as there are animals. I am going to call all the animals together,
and you are to give the longest bow and arrow to the one that should have the most power, and the shortest to the one that should have the least."
So the man set to working making bows and arrows, and at the end of nine days he had turned out enough for all the animals created by Kareya.
Then Kareya called them all together and told them that the man would come to them the next day with the bows, and the one to whom he gave the
longest bow would have the most power.
Each animal wanted to be the one with the longest bow. Coyote schemed to outwit the others by staying awake all night. He thought that if he was
the first to meet the man in the morning, he could get the longest bow for himself. So when the animals went to sleep, Coyote lay down and only
pretended to sleep. About midnight, however, he began to feel genuinely sleepy. He got up and walked around, scratching his eyes to keep them
open. As time passed, he grew sleepier. He resorted to skipping and jumping to keep himself awake, but the noise woke some of the other animals, so
he had to stop.
About the time the morning star came up, Coyote was so sleepy that he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. So he took two little sticks and
sharpened them at the ends, and with these he propped his eyelids open. Then he felt it was safe to sleep, since his eyes could watch the morning star
rising. He planned to get up before the star was completely up, for by then all the other animals would be stirring. In a few minutes, however,
Coyote was fast asleep. The sharp sticks pierced right through his eyelids, and instead of keeping them open, they pinned them shut. When the rest of
the animals got up, Coyote lay in a deep sleep.
The animals went to meet the man and receive their bows. Cougar was given the longest. Bear the next-longest, and so on until the next -to- last
bow was given to Frog.
The shortest bow was still left, however.
"What animal have I missed?" the man cried.
The animals began to look about, and soon spied Coyote lying fast asleep. They all laughed heartily and danced around him. Then they led him to
the man, for Coyote's eyes were pinned together by the sticks and he could not see. The man pulled the sticks out of Coyote's eyes and gave him the
shortest bow. The animals laughed so hard that the man began to pity Coyote, who would be the weakest of them all. So he prayed to Kareya about
Coyote, and Kareya responded by giving Coyote more cunning than any other animal. And that's how Coyote got his cunning.
|The Fable of the Animals
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
A great many hundred snows ago, Kareya, sitting on the Sacred Stool, created the world. First, he made the fishes in the Big Water, then the animals
on the green land, and last of all, Man! But at first the animals were all alike in power.
No one knew which animal should be food for others, and which should be food for man. Then Kareya ordered them all to meet in one place, that
Man might give each his rank and his power. So the animals all met together one evening, when the sun was set, to wait overnight the coming of
Man on the next morning. Kareya also commanded Man to make bows and arrows, as many as there were animals, and to give the longest one to
the animal which was to have the most power, and the shortest to the one which would have the least power.
So he did, and after nine sleeps his work was ended, and the bows and arrows which he had made were very many.
Now the animals, being all together, went to sleep, so they might be ready to meet Man on the next morning. But Coyote was exceedingly
cunning-he was cunning above all the beasts. Coyote wanted the longest bow and the greatest power, so he could have all the other animals for his
meat. He decided to stay awake all night, so that he would be the first to meet Man in the morning. So he laughed to himself and stretched his nose
out on his paw and pretended to sleep. About midnight he began to be sleepy.
He had to walk around the camp and scratch his eyes to keep them open. He grew more sleepy, so that he had to skip and jump about to keep awake.
But he made so much noise, he awakened some of the other animals. When the morning star came up, he was too sleepy to keep his eyes open any
longer. So he took two little sticks, and sharpened them at the ends, and propped open his eyelids. Then he felt safe. He watched the morning star,
with his nose stretched along his paws, and fell asleep. The sharp sticks pinned his eyelids fast together.
The morning star rose rapidly into the sky. The birds began to sing. The animals woke up and stretched themselves, but still Coyote lay fast asleep.
When the sun rose, the animals went to meet Man. He gave the longest bow to Cougar, so he had the greatest power, the second longest he gave to
Bear; others he gave to the other animals, giving all but the last to Frog.
But the shortest one was left. Man cried out, "What animal have I missed?" then the animals began to look about and found Coyote fast asleep, with
his eyelids pinned together. All the animals began to laugh, and they jumped upon Coyote and danced upon him. Then they led him to Man, still
blinded, and Man pulled out the sharp sticks and gave him the shortest bow of all. It would hardly shoot an arrow farther than a foot. All the
But Man took pity on Coyote, because he was now weaker even than Frog. So at his request, Kareya gave him cunning, ten times more cunning
than before, so that he was cunning above all the animals of the wood. Therefore Coyote was friendly to Man and his children, and did many things
|The Theft of Fire
A Karok (Karuk) Legend
There was no fire on Earth and the Karoks were cold and miserable. Far away to the east, hidden in a treasure box, was fire which Kareya had made
and given to two old hags, lest the Karoks steal it.
So Coyote decided to steal fire for the Indians.
Coyote called a great council of the animals. After the council he stationed a line from the land of the Karoks to the distant land where the fire was
kept. Lion was nearest the Fire Land, and Frog was nearest the Karok land. Lion was the strongest and Frog was weakest, and the other animals
took their places, according to the power given them by Man.
Then Coyote took an Indian with him and went to the hill top, but he hid the Indian under the hill. Coyote went to the tepee of the hags. He said,
"Good-evening." They replied, "Good-evening."
Coyote said, "It is cold out here. Can you let me sit by the fire?" So they let him sit by the fire. He was only a coyote. He stretched his nose out along
his forepaws and pretended to go to sleep, but he kept the corner of one eye open watching. So he spent all night watching and thinking, but he had
no chance to get a piece of the fire.
The next morning Coyote held council with the Indian. He told him when he, Coyote, was within the tepee, to attack it. Then Coyote went back to the
fire. The hags let him in again. He was only a Coyote. But Coyote stood close by the casket of fire. The Indian made a dash at the tepee. The hags
rushed out after him, and Coyote seized a fire brand in his teeth and flew over the ground. The hags saw the sparks flying and gave chase.
But Coyote reached Lion, who ran with it to Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bear ran with it to Cinnamon Bear; he ran with it to Wolf, and at last the fire came
to Ground-Squirrel. Squirrel took the brand and ran to fast that his tail caught fire. He curled it up over his back and burned the black spot in his
shoulders. You can see it even today. Squirrel came to Frog, but Frog couldn't run. He opened his mouth wide and swallowed the fire.
Then he jumped but the hags caught his tail. Frog jumped again, but the hags kept his tail. That is why Frogs have no tail, even to this day. Frog
swam under water, and came up on a pile of driftwood. He spat out the fire into the dry wood, and that is why there is fire in dry wood even today.
When an Indian rubs two pieces together, the fire comes out.