Coyote is an important mythological character or personality and has an important place in folklore of North American Plains, California and Southwest Indians. It is regarded as one of the chief animals before humans. Coyotes are revered as an independent creative force that secured necessities for humans. He is cultural hero revered from tribe to tribe that teaches, and helps, is a comic trickster that is sometimes intelligent and sometimes acts foolish.
The Coyote mythology is wide. Pueblo tribe viewed coyote as someone who hunt medicine and as such, Zuni hunters kept his stone effigies. Other tribes revering Coyote include Cahuilla, Mohave, Hopi, Zuni, and Pomo.
Coyote as Savior
Among all the famous myths of Coyote, it is believed that old man coyote created people using mud and his creative powers. The coyote mythology goes on to state that he gave the animals their name to be called as buffalo, deer, bear, etc. When we hear to this folklore, one can hardly imagine coyote as the modern day four-legged animal but as a human being or a supreme being who took handful of mud and created humans. According to Chelan myths, there is society of animal people and coyote is from such society and is just like creator.
While there are myths that present good things about coyote and represent him as creator or savior, there are myths that portray him as greedy and foolish. The myth of Silver Fox and Coyote portrays Coyote as someone who created people by using sticks and shavings and then later tried to molest the same women created by him. Interestingly, they turned back into sticks and shavings.
Folklore about coyotes
Among Native American legends, coyote is the reason for storms during winter. The story goes on: Coyote and Cloud decided to race wherein cloud bet storm and coyote clear weather. While coyote was already leading cloud by distance, could lured coyote by growing fruits in front of coyote. Seeing that cloud was far behind, coyote took time to eat fruits forgetting that cloud was catching up, eventually winning the race. Though this myth is similar to hare and the rabbit story, this has a different moral, if one cloud see with open eyes, that one should fulfill his responsibility and do not rest until the goal is achieved.
The coyote mythology is unending and the stories reveal the heroic and anti-heroic traits of coyote. The main heroic traits include transformation, good deeds, strength, and travelling to distant places. As known of many legends of folklore, the coyote is also known for bringing changes in the lifestyle of people, creating rivers, changing landscape of mountains, and fighting monsters.
In one of the Wasco tradition, coyote is believed to kill Thunderbird, a monster bird with the support of spiritual power drawn from the Spirit Chief. The Wasco tradition believes that the Spirit Chief advised coyote had to fast for ten days in order to gain strength and power to kill Thunderbird. Coyote’s good deeds rivals that of crow (known as raven) and the Wasco myths consider Multnomah Falls exist because of coyote’s effort while other traditions believe that Raven is credited for its existence.
Coyote as trickster
Coyote is a dangerous trickster and his tricks have either damaged his reputation or helped others. In one of the stories, Coyote gathers water from frogs and distributes it to others because water is natural ingredient and should be accessed by all and not controlled by any. There are stories where Coyote is tricked herself. Coyote, in one of the stories, hunts and hides meat for her children, but the hideout for meat is known to the wildcat that eats the meat and hides back on top of the tree.
When Coyote along with her children comes to location and finds no meat, her children label her mother as lair. Not knowing where the meat has gone, Coyote sees pieces of meat in the river and in order to collect it, baby coyotes tie stones to her mother’s neck and she jumps in the river, finally drowning. The wild-cat climbs down from the tree and says what has happened and laughs at the stupidity of coyotes. The wild-cat since then hunt animals and took food for the coyotes and took care of them. This story shows stupidity of the coyote.
However, the clever side of the Coyote is evident from other myth where it got stuck inside some kind of a magical tree and called its friends to dig a hole on the branch of the tree. The robin bird, sparrow and wren were called to dig hole on the tree but were unsuccessful and they broke their beak. According to this myth, these birds today have small beaks because of this reason. Woodpecker finally came and created a small hole before flying back. In order to come out from this small home, coyote dismantled its body parts and threw each body part out of the hole and after coming out of the hole, starting joining his all the parts. But, later he came to know that his eyes were taken by Raven.
In order to get new eyes, coyote tricked an old woman to give her eyes for his supernatural and powerful eyes that could see spirits in the broad daylight. Coyote god the eyes of old woman and was able to see again and laughed at the foolishness and greediness of the old woman who did not want to help initially but on knowing about the supernatural eyes of Coyote, agreed to exchange her eyes.
Many realities link to coyote mythology like the existing landscape of the mountains, the size, and traits of certain animals or birds with short or long beaks. Numerous myths provide good information about various traits of coyote as illusionary, trickster, savior, helper and destroyer of monsters that were threat to various peoples. One thing that is important to note is that many myths consider all the species as people and that all races are equal, not different or classified as different animals.