SW/CA: Three Coyote Creation Stories

These three Coyote stories come from California, more specifically from the Achomawi who live in the Pit River region in northeastern California, the Shastika of northern California (and southern Oregon), and the Ashochimi (Wappo) people of Napa Valley.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Southwestern and California Legends unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of California and the Old Southwest by Katharine Berry Judson (1912).

Creation and Longevity
Achomawi (Pit River, California)

Coyote began the creation of the earth, but Eagle completed it.

Coyote scratched it up with his paws out of nothingness, but Eagle complained there were no mountains for him to perch on. So Coyote made hills, but they were not high enough. Therefore Eagle scratched up great ridges. When Eagle flew over them, his feathers dropped down, took root, and became trees. The pin feathers became bushes and plants.

Coyote and Fox together created man. They quarreled as to whether they should let men live always or not. Coyote said, "If they want to die, let them die." Fox said, "If they want to come back, let them come back." But Coyote's medicine was stronger, and nobody ever came back.

Coyote also brought fire into the world, for the Indians were freezing. He journeyed far to the west, to a place where there was fire, stole some of it, and brought it home in his ears. He kindled a fire in the mountains, and the Indians saw the smoke of it, and went up and got fire.

Old Mole and Coyote
Shastika (California)

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 cast gleamed the white Fire Stone. Therefore Coyote journeyed eastward, and brought back the Fire Stone for the Indians. So people had fire.

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.

Legend of the Flood
Ashochimi (Coast Indians, California)

Long ago there was a great flood which destroyed all the people in the world. Only Coyote was saved. When the waters subsided, the earth was empty.

Coyote thought about it a long time.

Then Coyote collected a great bundle of tail feathers from owls, hawks, eagles, and buzzards. He journeyed over the whole earth and carefully located the site of each Indian village. Where the tepees had stood, he planted a feather in the ground and scraped up the dirt around it. The feathers sprouted like trees, and grew up and branched. At last they turned into men and women. So the world was inhabited with people again.

(500 words)

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