Music: Munk Munk by R. Carlos Nakai
Long ago, when man was newly come into the world, there were days when he was the happiest creature of all. Those were the day when spring
brushed across the willow tails, or when his children ripened with the blueberries in the sun of summer, or when the goldenrod bloomed in the autumn
But always the mists of autumn evenings grew more chill, and the sun's strokes grew shorter. Then man saw winter moving near, and he became
fearful and unhappy. He was afraid for his children, and for the grandfathers and grandmothers who carried in their heads the sacred tales of the
tribe. Many of these, young and old, would die in the long, ice bitter months of the winter.
Coyote, like the rest of the People, had no need for fire. So he seldom concerned himself with it, until one spring day when he was passing a human
village. There the women were singing a song of mourning for the babies and the old ones who had died in the winter. Their voices moaned like the
west wind through a buffalo skull, prickling the hairs on Coyote's neck.
"Feel how the sun is now warm on our backs," one of the men was saying. "Feel how it warms the earth and makes these stones hot to the touch. If
only we could have had a small piece of the sun in our tipi's during the winter."
Coyote, overhearing this, felt sorry for the men and women. He also felt that there was something he could do to help them. He knew of a faraway
mountain top where the three Fire Beings lived. These Beings kept fire to themselves, guarding it carefully for fear that man might somehow acquire
it and become as strong as they. Coyote saw that he could do a good turn for man at the expense of these selfish Fire Beings.
So Coyote went to the mountain of the Fire Beings and crept to its top, to watch the way that the Beings guarded their fire. As he came near, the
Beings leaped to their feet and gazed searchingly round their camp. Their eyes glinted like bloodstones, and their hands were clawed like the talons of
the great black vulture.
"What's that? What's that I hear?" hissed one of the Beings.
"A thief, skulking in the bushes!" screeched another.
The third looked more closely, and saw Coyote. But he had gone to the mountain top on all fours, so the Being thought she saw only an ordinary
coyote slinking among the trees.
"It is no one, it is nothing!" she cried, and the other two looked where she pointed and also saw only a gray coyote. They sat down again by their fire
and paid Coyote no more attention.
So he watched all day and night as the Fire Beings guarded their fire. He saw how they fed it pine cones and dry branches from the sycamore trees.
He saw how they stamped furiously on runaway rivulets of flame that sometimes nibbled outwards on edges of dry grass. He saw also how, at night,
the Beings took turns to sit by the fire. Two would sleep while one was on guard; and at certain times the Being by the fire would get up and go into
their tipi, and another would come out to sit by the fire.
Coyote saw that the Beings were jealously watchful of their fire except during one part of the day. That was in the earliest morning, when the first
winds of dawn arose on the mountains. Then the Being by the fire would hurry, shivering, into the tipi calling, "Sister, sister, go out and watch the
fire." But the next Being would always be slow to go out for her turn, her head spinning with sleep and the thin dreams of dawn.
Coyote, seeing all this, went down the mountain and spoke to some of his friends among the People. He told them of hairless man, fearing the cold
and death of winter. And he told them of the Fire Beings, and the warmth and brightness of the flame. They all agreed that man should have fire, and
they all promised to help Coyote's undertaking.
Then Coyote sped again to the mountain top. Again the Fire Beings leaped up when he came close, and one cried out, "What's that? A thief, a thief!"
But again the others looked closely, and saw only a gray coyote hunting among the bushes. So they sat down again and paid him no more attention.
Coyote waited through the day, and watched as night fell and two of the Beings went off to the tipi to sleep. He watched as they changed over at
certain times all the night long, until at last the dawn winds rose.
Then the Being on guard called, "Sister, sister, get up and watch the fire." And the Being whose turn it was climbed slow and sleepy from her bed,
saying, "Yes, yes, I am coming. Do not shout so."
But before she could come out of the tipi, Coyote lunged from the bushes, snatched up a glowing portion of fire, and sprang away down the mountain
Screaming, the Fire Beings flew after him. Swift as Coyote ran, they caught up with him, and one of them reached out a clutching hand. Her fingers
touched only the tip of the tail, but the touch was enough to turn the hairs white, and coyote tailpipes are white still. Coyote shouted, and flung the fire
away from him. But the others of the People had gathered at the mountain's foot, in case they were needed. Squirrel saw the fire falling, and caught it,
putting it on her back and fleeing away through the tree-tops. The fire scorched her back so painfully that her tail curled up and back, as squirrels'
tails still do today.
The Fire Beings then pursued Squirrel, who threw the fire to Chipmunk, Chattering with fear, Chipmunk stood still as if rooted until the Beings were
almost upon her. Then, as she turned to run, one Being clawed at her, tearing down the length of her back and leaving three stripes that are to be seen
on chipmunks' backs even today. Chipmunk threw the fire to Frog, and the Beings turned towards him. One of the Beings grasped his tail, but Frog
gave a mighty leap and tore himself free, leaving his tail behind in the Being's hand -- which is why frogs have had no tails ever since.
As the Beings came after him again, Frog flung the fire on to Wood. And Wood swallowed it.
The Fire Beings gathered round, but they did not know how to get the fire out of Wood. They promised it gifts, sang to it and shouted at it. They
twisted it and struck it and tore it with their knives. But Wood did not give up the fire. In the end, defeated, the Beings went back to their mountain
top and left the People alone.
But Coyote knew how to get fire out of Wood. And he went to the village of men and showed them how. He showed them the trick of rubbing two dry
sticks together, and the trick of spinning a sharpened stick in a hole made in another piece of wood. So man was from then on warm and safe
through the killing cold of winter.
|How Coyote Stole Fire
A Shasta Legend
All Rights Reserved
|How Old Man Above Created the World
A Shasta Legend
Long, long ago, when the world was so new that even the stars where dark, it was very, very flat. Chareya, Old Man above, could not see through the
dark to the new, flat Earth. Neither could he step down to it because it was so far below him. With a large stone he bored a hole in the sky. Then
through the hole he pushed down masses of ice and snow, until a great pyramid rose from the plain. Old Man Above climbed down through the hole
he had made in the sky, stepping from cloud to cloud, until he could put his foot on top the mass of ice and snow. Then with one long step he reached
The sun shone through the hole in the sky and began to melt the ice and snow. It made holes in the ice and snow. When it was soft, Chareya bored
with his finger into the earth, here and there, and planted the first trees. Streams from the melting snow watered the new trees and made them grow.
Then he gathered the leaves which fell from the trees and blew upon them. They became birds. He took a stick and broke it into pieces. Out of the
small end he made fishes and placed them in the mountain streams. Of the middle of the stick, he made all the animals except the grizzly bear. From
the big end of the stick came the grizzly bear, who was made master of all. Grizzly was large and strong and cunning. When the Earth was new he
walked upon two feet and carried a large club. So strong was Grizzly that Old Man Above feared the creature he had made. Therefore, so that he
might be safe, Chareya hollowed out the pyramid of ice and snow as a tipi. There he lived for thousands of snows. The Indians knew he lived there
because they could see the smoke curling from the smoke hole of his tipi. When the pale-face came, Old Man Above went away. There is no longer any
smoke from the smoke hole. White men call the tipi Mount Shasta.
|How the People Got Arrowheads
A Shasta Legend
In the days when the first people lived, they used to go hunting with arrows that had pine-bark points. They did not know where to get obsidian, or
they would have used it, for obsidian made a sharp, deadly point which always killed the animals that were shot.
Ground Squirrel was the only one who knew that Obsidian Old Man lived on Medicine Lake, and one day he set out to steal some obsidian. Taking a
basket filled with roots, he went into Obsidian Old Man's house and offered him some. Obsidian Old Man ate the roots and liked them so much that
he sent Ground Squirrel out to get more. While Ground Squirrel was digging for them, Grizzly Bear came along.
"sit down," Grizzly Bear said. "Let me sit in your lap. Feed me those roots by the handful."
Ground Squirrel was very much afraid of huge Grizzly Bear, so he did as he was told. Grizzly Bear gobbled the roots and got up. "Obsidian Old
Man's mother cleaned roots for someone," he said as he went away.
Ground Squirrel returned to Obsidian Old Man, but there were only a few roots left to give him. Ground Squirrel told him what Grizzly Bear had
done and what he had said as he departed. Obsidian Old Man was extremely angry at the insult to his dead mother.
"Tomorrow we will both go to find roots," he said.
So early the next morning they set off. Obsidian Old Man hid near the place where Ground Squirrel started digging. Soon Ground Squirrel's basket
was filled, and then along came Grizzly Bear.
"You dug all these for me!" he said. "Sit down!"
Ground Squirrel sat down, as he had the day before, and fed Grizzly Bear roots by the handful. But just then Grizzly Bear saw Obsidian Old Man
draw near, and the bear got up to fight. At each blow, a great slice of the grizzly's flesh was cut off by the sharp obsidian. Grizzly Bear kept fighting
till he was all cut to pieces, and then he fell dead. So Ground Squirrel and Obsidian Old Man went home and ate the roots and were happy. Early next
morning, Obsidian Old Man awakened by Ground Squirrel's groaning
"I am sick. I am bruised because that great fellow sat upon me. Really, I am sick," he was groaning.
Obsidian Old Man was sorry for Ground Squirrel. "I'll go and get some wood," he said to himself. "But I'll watch him, for he may be fooling me.
These people are very clever."
So he went for wood, and on the way he thought, "I had better go back and look."
When he crept back softly and peeped in, he saw Ground Squirrel lying there, groaning. :He is really sick!" Obsidian Old Man said to himself, and
went off in earnest, this time for wood.
But Ground Squirrel was very clever; he had been fooling all the time. As soon as Obsidian Old Man was far away, he got up. Taking all the obsidian
points, and tying them up in a bundle, he ran off.
As soon as Obsidian Old Man returned, he missed Ground Squirrel. He dropped the wood, ran after him, and almost caught him, but Ground
Squirrel ran into a hole in the ground. As he went, he kicked the earth into the eyes of the old man, who was digging fast, trying to catch him.
After a while Obsidian Old Man gave up and left. Ground Squirrel came out the other end of the hole, crossed the lake, and went home.
He emptied the bundle of points on the ground and distributed them to everyone. All day long the people worked, tying them onto arrows. They
threw away all the old bark points, and when they were hunting they used the new arrow points and killed a great many deer.
Before people were on the Earth, the Chief of the Great Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in the Above World because it was always cold. So he made
a hole in the sky by turning a stone around and around. Through the hole he pushed snow and ice until he made a big mound. This mound was
Then the Sky Spirit stepped from the sky to the mountain and walked down. When he got about halfway down, he thought: "On this mountain there
should be trees." So he put his finger down and everywhere he touched, up sprang trees. Everywhere he stepped, the snow melted and became rivers.
The Sky Spirit broke off the end of his big walking stick he carried from the sky and threw the pieces in the water. The long pieces became Beaver and
Otter. The smaller pieces became fish. From the other end of his stick he made the animals.
Biggest of all was Grizzly Bear. They were covered with fur and had sharp claws just like today, but they could walk on their hind feet and talk. They
were so fierce looking that the Sky Spirit sent them to live at the bottom of the mountain.
When the leaves fell from the trees, Sky Spirit blew on them and made the birds.
Then Sky Spirit decided to stay on the Earth and sent for his family. Mount Shasta became their lodge. He made a BIG fire in the middle of the
mountain and a hole in the top for the smoke and sparks. Every time he threw a really big log on the fire, the Earth would tremble and sparks would
fly from the top of the mountain.
Late on spring, Wind Spirit was blowing so hard that it blew the smoke back down the hole and burned the eyes of Sky Spirit's family. Sky Spirit told
his youngest daughter to go tell Wind Spirit not to blow so hard.
Sky Spirit warned his daughter: "When you get to the top, don't poke your head out. The wind might catch your hair and pull you out. Just put your
arm through and make a sign and then speak to Wind Spirit."
The little girl hurried to the top of the mountain and spoke to Wind Spirit. As she started back down, she remembered that her father had told that the
ocean could be seen from the top of the mountain. He had made the ocean since moving his family to the mountain and his daughter had never seen it.
She put her head out of the hole and looked to the west. The Wind Spirit caught her hair and pulled her out of the mountain. She flew over the ice and
snow and landed in the scrubby fir trees at the timberline, her long red hair flowing over the snow.
There Grizzly Bear found her. He carried the little girl home with him wondering who she was. Mother Grizzly Bear took care of her and brought her
up with her cubs. The little girl and the cubs grew up together.
When she became a young woman, she and the eldest son of Grizzly Bear were married. In the years that followed they had many children. The
children didn't look like their father of their mother.
All the grizzly bears throughout the forest were proud of these new creatures. They were so pleased, they made a new lodge for the red-haired mother
and her strange looking children. They called the Lodge -- Little Mount Shasta.
After many years had passed, Mother Grizzly Bear knew that she would soon die. Fearing that she had done wrong in keeping the little girl, she felt
she should send word to the Chief of the Sky Spirits and ask his forgiveness. So she gathered all the grizzlies at Little Mount Shasta and sent her oldest
grandson to the top of Mount Shasta, in a cloud, to tell the Spirit Chief where he could find his daughter.
The father was very glad. He came down the mountain in great strides. He hurried so fast the snow melted. His tracks can be seen to this day.
As he neared the lodge, he called out for his daughter.
He expected to see a little girl exactly as he saw her last. When he saw the strange creatures his daughter was taking care of, he was surprised to learn
that they were his grandchildren and he was very angry. He looked so sternly at the old grandmother that she died at once. Then he cursed all the
"Get down on your hands and knees. From this moment on all grizzlies shall walk on four feet. And you shall never talk again. You have wronged
He drove his grandchildren out of the lodge, threw his daughter over his shoulder and climbed back up the mountain. Never again did he come to the
forest. Some say he put out the fire in the center of his lodge and returned to the sky with his daughter.
Those strange grandchildren scattered and wandered over the earth. They were the first Indians, the ancestors of all the Indian Tribes.
That is why the Indians living around Mount Shasta never kill Grizzly Bear. Whenever one of them was killed by a grizzly bear, his body was burned
on the spot. And for many years all who passed that way cast a stone there until a great pile of stones marked the place of his death.
|Old Man Above and the Grizzlies
A Shasta Legend
Along time ago, while smoke still curled from the smoke hole of the tepee, a great storm arose. The storm shook the tepee. Wind blew the smoke down
the smoke hole.
Old Man Above said to Little Daughter, "Climb up to the smoke hole. Tell Wind to be quiet. Stick your arm out of the smoke hole before you tell him."
Little Daughter climbed up to the smoke hole and put her arm out. But Little Daughter put out her head also. She wanted to see the world. Little
Daughter wanted to see the rivers and trees, and the white foam on the Bitter Waters.
Wind caught Little Daughter by the hair. Wind pulled her out of the smoke hole and blew her down the mountain. Wind blew Little Daughter over the
smooth ice and the great forests, down to the land of the Grizzles. Wind tangled her hair and them left her cold and shivering near the tepees of the
Soon Grizzly came home. In those days Grizzly walked on two feet and carried a big stick. Grizzly could talk as people do. Grizzly laid down the
young elk he had killed and picked up Little Daughter. He took Little Daughter to his tepee. Then Mother Grizzly warmed her by the fire. Mother
Grizzly gave her food to eat.
Soon Little Daughter married the son of Grizzly. Their children were not Grizzlies. They were men. So the Grizzlies built a tepee for Little Daughter
and her children. White men call the tepee Little Shasta.
At last Mother Grizzly sent a son to Old Man Above. Mother Grizzly knew that Little Daughter was the child of Old Man Above, but she was afraid.
Ahe said: "Tell Old Man Above that Little Daughter is alive."
Old Man Above climbed out of the smoke hole. He ran down the mountain side to the land of the Grizzlies. Old Man Above ran very quickly.
Wherever he set his foot the snow melted. The snow melted very quickly and made streams of water. Now Grizzlies stood in line to welcome Old Man
Above. They stood on two feet and carried clubs.
Then Old Man Above saw his daughter and her children. He saw the new race of men. Then Old Man Above became very angry. He said to Grizzlies,
"Never speak again. Be silent. Neither shall ye stand upright. Ye shall use your hands as feet. Ye shall look downward."
Then Old Man Above put out the fire in the tepee. Smoke no longer curls from the smoke hole. He fastened the door of the tepee. The new race of men
he drove out. Then Old Man Above took Little Daughter back to his tepee.
That is why grizzlies walk on four feet and look downward. Only when fighting they stand on two feet and use their fists like men.
|Old Mole's Creation
A Shasta Legend
Long, long ago, before there was any Earth, Old Mole burrowed underneath Somewhere, and threw up the Earth which forms the world. Then Great
Man created the people. But the Indians were cold.
Now in the east gleamed the white Fire Stone. Therefore Coyote journeyed eastward, and brought back the Fire Stone for the Indians. So the people
In the beginning, Sun had nine brothers, all flaming hot like himself. But Coyote killed the nine brothers and so saved the world from burning up.
But Moon also had nine brothers all made of ice, like himself, and the Night People almost froze to death. Therefore Coyote went away out on the
eastern edge of the world with his flint-stone knife. He heated stones to keep his hands warm, and as the Moons arose, he killed one after another with
his flint-stone knife, until he had slain nine of them.
Thus the people were saved from freezing at night.
When it rains, some Indian, sick in heaven, is weeping. Long, long ago, there was a good young Indian on Earth. When he died the Indians wept so
that a flood came upon the Earth, and drowned all people except one couple.
|Why Mt. Shasta Erupted
A Shasta Legend
Coyote, a universal and mischievous spirit, lived near Mount Shasta in what is now California. Coyote's village had little fish and no salmon. His
neighboring village of Shasta Indians always had more than they could use.
Shasta Indians had built a dam that served as a trap for fish, especially the wonderful salmon. They ate it raw, baked it over hot coals, and dried large
quantities for their winter food supply. Other tribes came to Shasta Village to trade for salmon, which created wealth and respect for the Shasta tribe.
One day Coyote was dreaming of a delicious meal of salmon. His mouth watered at the thought of a nice freshly cooked, juicy salmon.
"I am so terribly hungry," he said to himself upon waking. "If I visit the Shasteans, maybe I can have a salmon dinner."
Coyote washed and brushed himself to look neat and clean, then started for Shasta Village with visions of fresh salmon swimming behind his eyes. He
found the Shasteans at the dam hauling in big catches of salmon. They welcomed him and said that he could have all the fish he could catch and carry.
Hunger and greed caused Coyote to take more fish than was good for him. Finally, he lifted his big load onto his back and began his homeward
journey, after thanking the Shasta Indians or their generosity.
Because his load was extra heavy and he still had a long way to go Coyote soon tired.
"I think I had better rest for a while," he thought. "A short nap will do me good."
He stretched himself full length upon the ground, lying on his stomach, with his pack still on his back. While Coyote slept, swarms and swarms of
Yellow Jackets dived down and scooped up his salmon. What was left was bare bones.
Coyote waked very hungry. His first thought was how good a bite of salmon would taste at that moment. Still half-asleep, he turned his head and took
a large bite. To his great surprise and anger, his mouth was full of fish bones! His salmon meat was gone. Coyote jumped up and down in a rage
shouting, "Who has stolen my salmon? Who has stolen my salmon?"
Coyote searched the ground around him but could not locate any visible tracks. He decided to return to Shasta Village and ask his good friends there if
he could have more salmon.
"Whatever happened to you?" they asked when they saw his pack of bare salmon bones.
"I was tired and decided to take a nap," replied Coyote. "While I slept, someone slightly stole all of the good salmon meat that you gave me. I feel very
foolish to ask, but may I catch more fish at your dam?"
All of the friendly Shasteans invited him to spend the night and to fish with them in the morning. Again, Coyote caught salmon and made a second
pack for his back and started homeward.
Strangely, Coyote tired at about the same place as he had on the day before. Again he stopped to rest, but he decided that he would not sleep today.
With his eyes wide open, he saw swarms of hornets approaching. Because he never imagined they were the culprits who stole his salmon, he did
Quicker than he could blink his eyes, the Yellow Jackets again stripped the salmon meat from the bones and in a flash they disappeared!
Furious with himself, Coyote raged at the Yellow Jackets. Helpless, he ran back to Shasta Village, relating to his friends what he had seen with his own
eyes. They listened to his story and they felt sorry for Coyote, losing his second batch of salmon.
"Please take a third pack of fish and go to the same place and rest. We will follow and hide in the bushes beside you and keep the Yellow Jackets from
stealing your fish," responded the Shasta Indians.
Coyote departed carrying his third pack of salmon. The Shasteans followed and hid according to plan. While all were waiting, who should come along
but Grandfather Turtle.
"Whoever asked you to come here?" said Coyote, annoyed at Grandfather Turtle's intrusion.
Turtle said nothing but just sat there by himself.
"Why did you come here to bother us," taunted Coyote. "We are waiting for the robber Yellow Jackets who stole two packs of salmon. We'll scare them
away this time with all my Shasta friends surrounding this place. Why don't you go on your way?"
But Turtle was not bothered by Coyote; he continued to sit there and rest himself. Coyote again mocked Grandfather Turtle and became so involved
with him that he was completely unaware when the Yellow Jackets returned. In a flash, they stripped the salmon bones of the delicious meat and flew
Coyote and the Shasta Indians were stunned for a moment. But in the next instant, they took off in hot pursuit of the Yellow Jackets. They ran and ran
as fast as they could, soon exhausting themselves and dropping out of the race. Not Grandfather Turtle, who plodded steadily along, seeming to know
exactly how and where to trail them.
Yellow Jackets, too, knew where they were going, as they flew in a straight line for the top of Mount Shasta. There they took the salmon into the center
of the mountain through a hole in the top. Turtle saw where they went, and waited patiently for Coyote and the other stragglers to catch up to him.
Finally, they all reached the top, where the turtle showed them the hole through which the Yellow Jackets had disappeared.
Coyote directed all the good people to start a big fire on the top of Mount Shasta. They fanned the smoke into the top hole, thinking to smoke out the
yellow jackets. But the culprits did not come out, because the smoke found other holes in the side of the mountain.
Frantically, Coyote and the Shasta Indians ran here, there, and everywhere, closing up the smaller smoke holes. They hoped to suffocate the Yellow
Jackets within the mountain.
Furiously, they worked at their task while Grandfather Turtle crawled up to the very top of Mount Shasta. Gradually, he lifted himself onto the top hole
and sat down, covering it completely with his massive shell, like a Mother Turtle sits on her nest. He succeeded in completely closing the top hole, so
that no more smoke escaped.
Coyote and his friends closed all of the smaller holes.
"Surely the Yellow Jackets will soon be dead," said Coyote as he sat down to rest.
What is that rumbling noise, everyone questioned? Louder and louder the noise rumbles from deep within Mount Shasta. Closer and closer to the top
came the rumble. Grandfather Turtle decided it was time for him to move from his hot seat.
Suddenly, a terrific explosion occurred within the mountain, spewing smoke, fire, and gravel everywhere!
Then to Coyote's delight, he saw his salmon miraculously pop out from the top hole of Mount Shasta --cooked and smoked, ready to eat!
Coyote, the Shasta Indians, and Grandfather Turtle sat down to a well-deserved meal of delicious salmon.
To this day, the Shasta Indian tribe likes to conclude this tale saying, "This is how volcanic eruptions began long, long ago on Mount Shasta."
|Shasta (Shastika) Legends