Iktomi And The Coyote
: Old Indian Legends
AFAR off upon a large level land, a summer sun was shining bright. Here
and there over the rolling green were tall bunches of coarse gray weeds.
Iktomi in his fringed buckskins walked alone across the prairie with
a black bare head glossy in the sunlight. He walked through the grass
without following any well-worn footpath.
From one large bunch of coarse weeds to another he wound his way about
the great p
ain. He lifted his foot lightly and placed it gently forward
like a wildcat prowling noiselessly through the thick grass. He stopped
a few steps away from a very large bunch of wild sage. From shoulder to
shoulder he tilted his head. Still farther he bent from side to side,
first low over one hip and then over the other. Far forward he stooped,
stretching his long thin neck like a duck, to see what lay under a fur
coat beyond the bunch of coarse grass.
A sleek gray-faced prairie wolf! his pointed black nose tucked in
between his four feet drawn snugly together; his handsome bushy tail
wound over his nose and feet; a coyote fast asleep in the shadow of a
bunch of grass!--this is what Iktomi spied. Carefully he raised one foot
and cautiously reached out with his toes. Gently, gently he lifted the
foot behind and placed it before the other. Thus he came nearer and
nearer to the round fur ball lying motionless under the sage grass.
Now Iktomi stood beside it, looking at the closed eyelids that did not
quiver the least bit. Pressing his lips into straight lines and nodding
his head slowly, he bent over the wolf. He held his ear close to the
coyote's nose, but not a breath of air stirred from it.
"Dead!" said he at last. "Dead, but not long since he ran over these
plains! See! there in his paw is caught a fresh feather. He is nice
fat meat!" Taking hold of the paw with the bird feather fast on it, he
exclaimed, "Why, he is still warm! I'll carry him to my dwelling and
have a roast for my evening meal. Ah-ha!" he laughed, as he seized the
coyote by its two fore paws and its two hind feet and swung him over
head across his shoulders. The wolf was large and the teepee was far
across the prairie. Iktomi trudged along with his burden, smacking his
hungry lips together. He blinked his eyes hard to keep out the salty
perspiration streaming down his face.
All the while the coyote on his back lay gazing into the sky with wide
open eyes. His long white teeth fairly gleamed as he smiled and smiled.
"To ride on one's own feet is tiresome, but to be carried like a warrior
from a brave fight is great fun!" said the coyote in his heart. He
had never been borne on any one's back before and the new experience
delighted him. He lay there lazily on Iktomi's shoulders, now and then
blinking blue winks. Did you never see a birdie blink a blue wink? This
is how it first became a saying among the plains people. When a bird
stands aloof watching your strange ways, a thin bluish white tissue
slips quickly over his eyes and as quickly off again; so quick that you
think it was only a mysterious blue wink. Sometimes when children grow
drowsy they blink blue winks, while others who are too proud to look
with friendly eyes upon people blink in this cold bird-manner.
The coyote was affected by both sleepiness and pride. His winks were
almost as blue as the sky. In the midst of his new pleasure the swaying
motion ceased. Iktomi had reached his dwelling place. The coyote
felt drowsy no longer, for in the next instant he was slipping out
of Iktomi's hands. He was falling, falling through space, and then he
struck the ground with such a bump he did not wish to breathe for a
while. He wondered what Iktomi would do, thus he lay still where he
fell. Humming a dance-song, one from his bundle of mystery songs, Iktomi
hopped and darted about at an imaginary dance and feast. He gathered dry
willow sticks and broke them in two against his knee. He built a large
fire out of doors. The flames leaped up high in red and yellow streaks.
Now Iktomi returned to the coyote who had been looking on through his
Taking him again by his paws and hind feet, he swung him to and fro.
Then as the wolf swung toward the red flames, Iktomi let him go. Once
again the coyote fell through space. Hot air smote his nostrils. He saw
red dancing fire, and now he struck a bed of cracking embers. With a
quick turn he leaped out of the flames. From his heels were scattered a
shower of red coals upon Iktomi's bare arms and shoulders. Dumbfounded,
Iktomi thought he saw a spirit walk out of his fire. His jaws fell
apart. He thrust a palm to his face, hard over his mouth! He could
scarce keep from shrieking.
Rolling over and over on the grass and rubbing the sides of his head
against the ground, the coyote soon put out the fire on his fur.
Iktomi's eyes were almost ready to jump out of his head as he stood
cooling a burn on his brown arm with his breath.
Sitting on his haunches, on the opposite side of the fire from where
Iktomi stood, the coyote began to laugh at him.
"Another day, my friend, do not take too much for granted. Make sure the
enemy is stone dead before you make a fire!"
Then off he ran so swiftly that his long bushy tail hung out in a
straight line with his back.