Coyote Obtains Fire

When the people came up on earth, Coyote was the very last one of the animals to emerge.

When this world was made the trees wouldn’t burn. The people were living without fire.

The coyote was running all over. No one knew where he would be the next day. He was running from place to place.

One time he found a place with great rock cliffs all around. In the bottom was a hollow place. A great spruce tree was standing there. The people who lived there were the fireflies. They came up in the cliffs by means of rock steps, so that no one could see their footprints and know the way to enter. The stones were laid one ahead of the other, so that the people, when they came out, could step on these rocks.

Coyote saw some little children playing on the other side of the cliff. He asked them, “Where is the entrance to this place?”

The children paid no attention to him, however.

He thought and thought, “What will these children like?”

He picked some cedar berries. He made beads out of these. He took four strings of these beads to the children. He colored them four colors, the first black, the second blue, the third yellow, and the fourth all colors. He went back to the children with them. He started to speak to them, but they paid no attention to him. They acted as if they didn’t understand what Coyote was talking about. He was trying to make a game for the children so that he could draw them to him. He wanted them to talk to him and laugh at him too.

Finally they noticed him. He said to them, “Now I’ll give you these beads, but you have to show me the way to get in. I want to see the inside of this cliff place. If you show me the way, I’ll give you these beads.”

He put the beads around the necks of two girls and two boys. He said, “How pretty you are! You look nice now. You have on pretty necklaces.”

The four children were pleased then and led Coyote to this entrance. They showed him the stones and said, “Right here is where you go down. Right at this tree is the door. We live beyond this cliff. This is the way we get in; this is the way we get out.”

They spoke to the tree and said, “Come, bend down to us.”

Then the tree bent down to each of the children.

“Now bend away from us,” they said, and it took them across the cliff.

But Coyote didn’t go in yet. He just learned how. The four children got on the other side and then had a tree which was standing there throw them on the outside again in the same way. Both were spruce trees. Now Coyote saw how to do it, but he didn’t go in yet.

He asked the children, “What’s going on down there?”

“We have great fun every night,” they told him. “We have a big fire there each night and we dance around it.”

Now Coyote knew all about what was going on on the other side. That’s what he wanted. He wanted to get that fire and take it to his people. He wanted his own people to have good times at night too.

He went back to the people and told the chief. The chief gave commands to all fast birds and fast animals to help.

Coyote said, “Now I’m going to go to those people. When I get fire I’m going to hand it to one of you, and the one who takes it should run, and when he tires he should give it to another fellow.”

Now everything was arranged. The fast running birds were notified too. They were told to stand all around the world and to be prepared to run. “The fireflies might prove to be good runners,” Codi said. That is why all these helpers were picked out. These people were all around the world waiting. If the fireflies were not good runners, Coyote was not going to pass it on, but if they proved to be good runners he was going to do so. He explained all this to them.

Coyote then went and got some dry cedar bark. He shredded it and tied it around his tail. He made a regular torch.

When night came he went over to the place of the cliff. He went to the young spruce and spoke to it, and it put him over on the other side.

He saw the fireflies dancing with the deer and antelopes, with the white-tailed deer too. Flicker was there too. They were all having a good time dancing.

Coyote came up. He asked permission to join the dance.

Mountain-lion was chief there. Mountain-lion told him, “If you won’t be too rough I’ll let you join the dance.” “I’ll try,” said Coyote.

Coyote danced. He tried to dance close to the fire. But some were suspicious of him. Every time he got too close to the fire, someone got in between him and the fire.

After a while the people got tired of watching him and relaxed their vigilance. Then he approached even nearer to the fire and pushed his tail with the cedar bark into the flames. Someone called to him, “Codi [Coyote addresses the other animals and birds and is addressed by them as Codi in these tales. The word cannot be translated but has the force of “friend”], your tail will be burned!”

“No, I always do that without any trouble. I am a wonder worker.”

He watched his tail. When it was ignited he started to run.

Someone called, “Codi is running!”

Everyone started to run after him. He lost his way. They all tried to circle around him, but he ran between them whenever he saw a space. Then he remembered where the place of exit was. He started to run that way.

He ran to the tree, crying, “Come, bend to me!” It bent down. Then he said, “Now you turn the other way with me.” It did.

The people from that place were coming close behind him. They were gaining on him. He dodged about among the trees. Some trees he hit with his tail while he was running, and those are the ones which burn well today, like the oak and the pine. But he did not hit the rocks with his tail, and that is why they can’t be made to burn now.

The fireflies and others were running after him still. Codi began to run around the world. On his way he set many things on fire; he spread it all over. Those who were running after him grew tired when they got about half way. They gave up, thinking, “Let him keep the fire.”

The fireflies came back to one place. They had a council. They asked, “Who was it who told the coyote how to come in?”

Then the other children told on the four who had taken the beads from Coyote and given him the information. They said, “Coyote paid those beads for the fire.”

The parents of those children got after them, but it was too late then.

Coyote had run far. He was tired by the time they gave up the chase. He fell right in the shade, his tail still burning. He rested and started running again. He went on until he had circled the world.

He meant to touch every kind of tree with his tail, but he missed one which was standing to the east. So all wood but this one kind will burn. Even if you put this one into the stove it will not burn [The informant did not know the name of this tree. According to Goddard, it is petrified wood.].

Coyote came back to the Indian camps. He said, “Now you can use this fire.”

The people were all glad now that they had fire.

When Coyote ran around the world he went the way the sun goes. He headed for the east and then for the south, and so on. But he didn’t run straight. He zig-zagged all around. The others took no part in the run. They stood around and just watched him.

*

Return to the List of Jicarilla Apache Tales

Return to Main Index of Tales