Long before the world was created there was an island, floating in the sky, upon which the Sky People lived. They lived quietly and happily. No one ever died or was born or experienced sadness. However one day one of the Sky Women realized she was going to give birth to twins. She told her husband, who flew into a rage. In the center of the island there was a tree which gave light to the entire island since the sun hadn't been created yet. He tore up this tree, creating a huge hole in the middle of the island. Curiously, the woman peered into the hole. Far below she could see the waters that covered the earth. At that moment her husband pushed her. She fell through the hole, tumbling towards the waters below.
Water animals already existed on the earth, so far below the floating island two birds saw the Sky Woman fall. Just before she reached the waters they caught her on their backs and brought her to the other animals. Determined to help the woman they dove into the water to get mud from the bottom of the seas. One after another the animals tried and failed. Finally, Little Toad tried and when he reappeared his mouth was full of mud. The animals took it and spread it on the back of Big Turtle. The mud began to grow and grow and grow until it became the size of North America.
Then the woman stepped onto the land. She sprinkled dust into the air and created stars. Then she created the moon and sun.
The Sky Woman gave birth to twin sons. She named one Sapling. He grew to be kind and gentle. She named the other Flint and his heart was as cold as his name. They grew quickly and began filling the earth with their creations.
Sapling created what is good. He made animals that are useful to humans. He made rivers that went two ways and into these he put fish without bones. He made plants that people could eat easily. If he was able to do all the work himself there would be no suffering.
Flint destroyed much of Sapling's work and created all that is bad. He made the rivers flow only in one direction. He put bones in fish and thorns on berry bushes. He created winter, but Sapling gave it life so that it could move to give way to Spring. He created monsters which his brother drove beneath the Earth.
Eventually Sapling and Flint decided to fight till one conquered the other. Neither was able to win at first, but finally Flint was beaten. Because he was a god Flint could not die, so he was forced to live on Big Turtle's back. Occasionally his anger is felt in the form of a volcano.
The Iroquois people hold a great respect for all animals. This is mirrored in their creation myth by the role the animals play. Without the animals' help the Sky Woman may have sunk to the bottom of the sea and earth may not have been created.
Native American Legends
Coyote and the Monster of Kamiah
A Nez Perce Legend
This story tells how Coyote made the different people, including the Nez Perce, and how certain animals came to look as they do today. Without Coyote's cleverness in outwitting the monster, the people and animals today would still be imprisoned in the Monster's belly.
Once upon a time, Coyote was tearing down the waterfall at Celilo and building a fish ladder, so that salmon could go upstream for the people to catch. He was very busy at this, when someone shouted to him, "Why are you doing that? All the people are gone now because the Monster has eaten them."
"Well," said Coyote to himself, "then I'll stop doing this because I was doing it for the people, and they are gone. Now I'll go along, too."
From there he went upstream, by way of the Salmon River country. As he was walking along, he stepped on the leg of Meadowlark and broke it. Meadowlark got mad and shouted, "Lima, lima, lima! What chance do you have of finding people, walking along like this?"
Coyote said, "My Aunt! Please tell me what is happening, and I will make for you a new leg from the wood of a chokecherry tree."
So the Meadowlark told him, "Already all the people have been swallowed by the Monster."
Coyote replied, "Well, that is where I, too, am going." Then he fixed Meadowlark's leg with a chokecherry branch. From there, he traveled on. Along the way he took a good bath, saying to himself, "I will make myself tasty to the Monster." Then he dressed himself all up, saying, "This is so he won't vomit me up." Coyote tied himself with rawhide rope to three great mountains, Tuhm-lo-yeets-mekhs (Pilot Knob), Se-sak-khey-mekhs (Seven Devil's Mountain), and Ta-ya-mekhs (Cottonwood Butte). After the people came, these same mountains were used by young men and women as special places to seek the wey-a-kin, or spirit who helped guide them through life.
From there, Coyote went along the mountains and over the ridges. Suddenly, he saw a great head. He quickly hid himself in the grass and gazed at it. Never before in his life had he seen anything like it. The head was huge, and sweating off somewhere i n the distance was its big body. Then Coyote shouted to him, "Oh Monster, let us inhale each other!" The big eyes of the monster looked all around for Coyote, but did not find him, because Coyote's body was painted with clay and was the same color as the grass. Then Coyote shouted again, "Oh Monster, let us inhale each other!" Coyote shook the grass back and forth where he sat.
Suddenly the Monster saw the swaying grass and said, "Oh you Coyote, you inhale first. You swallow me first." So Coyote tried. Powerfully and noisily he drew in his breath, but the great Monster only swayed and shook.
Then Coyote said, "Now you inhale me. You have already swallowed all the people, so you should swallow me too, so I won't be lonely." The Monster did not know that Coyote had a pack strapped to his back with five flintstone knives, a flint fire-making set, and some pure pitch in it.
Now the Monster inhaled like a mighty wind. He carried Coyote right towards him, but as Coyote Went, he left along the way great keh-mes (Camas bulbs) and great serviceberry fields, saying, "Here the people will find them and will be glad, for only a short time away is the coming of the La-te-tel-wit (Human Beings)." Coyote almost got caught on one of the ropes, but he cut it with his knife. Thus he dashed right into the monster's mouth.
Coyote looked around and walked down the throat of the Monster. Along the way he saw bones scattered about, and he thought to himself, "I can see that many people have been dying." As he went along he saw some boys and he said to them, "Where is the Monster's heart? Come, show me." As they were heading that way, Grizzly Bear rushed out at them, roaring. Coyote said, "So! You make yourself scary only to me," and he kicked Bear on the nose. Thus, the bear today has only a short nose.
As they went on, Rattlesnake rattled at them in fury. "So, only towards me you are vicious. We are nothing but dung to you." Then he stomped on Rattlesnake's head, and flattened it out. It is still that way.
Coyote then met Brown Bear who said, "I see the Monster has kept you for last. Hah! I'd like to see you try to save your people!"
But then, all along the way, people began to greet Coyote and talk to him. His close friend, Fox, greeted him from the side and said, "The Monster is so dangerous. What are you going to do to him ?"
Coyote told him, "You and the boys go find some wood or anything that will burn."
About this time, Coyote had arrived at the heart of the Monster. He cut off slabs of fat from the great heart and threw them to the people. "It's too bad you are hungry. Here, eat this." Coyote now started a fire with his flint, and smoke drifted up through the Monster's eyes, nose, ears, and anus.
The Monster said, "Oh you Coyote! That's why I didn't trust you. Let me cast you out."
Coyote said, "If you do, people will later say, 'He who was cast out is giving salmon to the people.'" "Well, then, go out through the nose," the Monster said. "But then they will say the same thing." "Well, then, go out through the ears," the Monster said.
"If I do," answered Coyote, "they will say, 'There is old ear-wax, giving food to the people."
"Hn, hn, hn, Oh you Coyote! This is why I didn't trust you. Then, go out through the anus."
And Coyote replied, "Then people will say, 'Old faeces is giving food to the people."
The fire was now burning near the Monster's heart, and he began to feel the pain. Coyote began cutting away on the heart, but then broke one of his stone knives. Right away he took another knife and kept cutting, but soon that one broke, too. Coyote t hen said to the people, "Now gather up all the bones around here and carry them to the eyes, ears, month, and anus of the Monster. Pile them up, and when he falls dead, kick them out the openings." With the third knife he began cutting away at the heart. The third knife broke, and then the fourth, leaving only one more. He told the people, "All right, get yourselves ready because as soon as he falls dead, each one of you must go out through the opening that is closest to you. Take the old women and old me n close to the openings so that they may get out easily."
Now the heart hung by only a small piece of muscle and Coyote was cutting away on it, using his last stone knife. The Monster's heart was still barely hanging when Coyote's last knife broke. Coyote then threw himself on the heart, just barely tearing it loose with his hands. Then the Monster died and opened up all the openings of his body. The people kicked the bones out and then went out themselves. Coyote went out, too.
The Monster fell dead and the anus began closing, but Muskrat was still inside. Just as the anus closed he squeezed out, barely getting his body out, but his tail was caught. He pulled and pulled and all the hair got pulled right off it. Coyote scold ed him, "Now what were you doing? You probably thought of something to do at the last minute. You're always behind in everything."
Then Coyote told the people, "Gather up all the bones and arrange them well." They did this. Then Coyote said, "Now we are going to cut up the Monster." Coyote smeared blood on his hands and sprinkled this blood on the bones. Suddenly there came to life again all those who had died while inside the Monster. Everyone carved up the great Monster and Coyote began dealing out parts of the body to different areas of the country all over the land, towards the sunrise, towards the sunset, towards the north, and towards the south. Where each part landed, he named a tribe and described what their appearance would be. The Cayuse were formed and became small and hot tempered. The Flatheads got a flat headed appearance. The Blackfeet became tall, slender, and war -like. The Coeur d'Alene and their neighbors to the north became skillful gamblers. The Yakima became short and stocky and were good fishermen.
He used up the entire body of the Monster in this way. Then Fox came up to Coyote and said, "What is the meaning of this, Coyote? You have used up the body of the Monster and given it to far away lands, but have given yourself nothing for this area."
"Well," snorted Coyote, "Why didn't you tell me this before? I was so busy that I didn't think of it." Then he turned to the people and said, "Bring me some water with which to wash my hands." He washed his hands and made the water bloody. Then with t his bloody water, he threw drops over the land around him and said, "You may be little people, but you will be powerful. You will be little because I did not give you enough of the Monster's body, but you will be very brave and intelligent and will work hard. In only a short time, the La-te-tel-wit (Human Beings) are coming. And you will be known as the Nu- me-poo (later referred to as Nez Perce), or Tsoop-nit-pa-lu (People Crossing over into the Divide). Thus, the Nu-me-poo Nation was born. Today, the heart and liver of the Monster are to be found in the beautiful Kamiah Valley in Idaho, the home of the Nez Perce tribe. Thus, the beginning of the La-te-tel- wit (Human Beings) was at hand.
The Trickster kills the children
An Arapaho Legend
Nihansan was traveling down a stream. As he walked along on the bank he saw something red in the water. They were red plums. He wanted them badly. Taking off his clothes, he dived in and felt over the bottom with his hands; but he could find nothing, and the current carried him down-stream and to the surface again. He thought. He took stones and tied them to his wrists and ankles so that they should weigh him down in the water. Then he dived again; he felt over the bottom, but could find nothing. When his breath gave out he tried to come up, but could not. He was nearly dead, when at last the stones on one side fell off and he barely rose to the surface sideways and got a little air. As he revived, floating on his back, he saw the plums hanging on the tree above him. He said to himself: "You fool!" He scolded himself a long time. Then he got up, took off the stones, threw them away, and went and ate the plums. He also filled his robe with them.
Then he went on down the river. He came to a tent. He saw a bear-woman come out and go in again. Going close to the tent, he threw a plum so that it dropped in through the top of the tent. When it fell inside, the bear-women and children all scrambled for it. Then he threw another and another. At last one of the women said to her child: "Go out and see if that is not your uncle Nihansan." The child went out, came back, and said: "Yes, it is my uncle Nihansan." Then Nihansan came in.. He gave them the plums, and said: " I wonder that you never get plums, they grow so near you!" The bear-women wanted to get some at once. He said: "Go up the river a little way; it is not far. Take all your children with you that are old enough to pick. Leave the babies here and I will watch them." They all went.
Then he cut all the babies' heads off. He put the heads back into the cradles; the bodies he put into a large kettle and cooked. When the bear-women came back, he said to them: "Have you never been to that hill here? There were many young wolves there." "In that little hill here?" they asked. "Yes. While you were gone I dug the young wolves out and cooked them." Then they were all pleased. They sat down and began to eat. One of the children said: "This tastes like my little sister." "Hush!" said her mother, "don't say that." Nihansan became uneasy. "It is too hot here," he said, and took some plums and went off a little distance; there he sat down and ate. When he had finished, he shouted: "Ho! Ho! bear-women, you have eaten your own children."
All the bears ran to their cradles and found only the heads of the children. At once they pursued him. They began to come near him. Nihansan said: " I wish there were a hole that I could hide in." When they had nearly caught him he came to a hole and threw himself into it.
The hole extended through the hill, and he came out on the other side while the bear-women were still standing before the entrance. He painted himself with white paint to look like a different person, took a willow stick, put feathers on it, and laid it across his arm. Then he went to the women. " What are you crying about?" he asked them. They told him. He said: " I will go into the hole for you," and crawled in. Soon he cried as if hurt, and scratched his shoulders. Then he came out, saying: "Nihansan is too strong for me. Go into the hole yourselves; he is not very far in." They all went in, but soon came out again and said: "We cannot find him."
Nihansan entered once more, scratched himself bloody, bit himself, and cried out. He said: "He has long finger nails with which he scratches me. I cannot drag him out. But he is at the end of the hole. He cannot go back farther. If you go in, you can drag him out. He is only a little farther than you went last time."
They all went into the hole. Nihansan got brush and grass and made a fire at the entrance. "That sounds like flint striking," said one of the women. "The flint birds are flying," Nihansan said. "That sounds like fire," said another woman. "The fire birds are flying about; they will soon be gone by." "That is just like smoke," called a woman. "The smokebirds are passing. Go on, he is only a little farther, you will catch him soon," said Nihansan. Then the heat followed the smoke into the hole. The bear-women began to shout. "Now the heat birds are flying," said Nihansan.
Then the bears were all killed. Nihansan put out the fire and dragged them out. "Thus one obtains food when he is hungry," he said. He cut up the meat, ate some of it, and hung the rest on branches to dry. Then he went to sleep.