from the Nez Percé tradition, retold by Barry Lopez
From the very beginning, Coyote was traveling around all over the
earth. He did many wonderful things when he went along. He killed the
monsters and the evil spirits that preyed on the people. He made the
Indians, and put them out in tribes all over the world because Old Man
Above wanted the earth to be inhabited all over, not just in one or two
He gave all the people different names and taught them different
languages. This is why Indians live all over the country now and speak
in different ways.
He taught the people how to eat and how to hunt the buffalo and catch
eagles. He taught them what roots to eat and how to make a good lodge
and what to wear. He taught them how to dance. Sometimes he made
mistakes, and even though he was wise and powerful, he did many foolish
things. But that was his way.
Coyote liked to play tricks. He thought about himself all the time,
and told everyone he was a great warrior, but he was not. Sometimes he
would go too far with some trick and get someone killed. Other times, he
would have a trick played on himself by someone else. He got killed
this way so many times that Fox and the birds got tired of bringing him
back to life. Another way he got in trouble was trying to do what
someone else did. This is how he came to be called Imitator.
Coyote was ugly too. The girls did not like him. But he was smart. He
could change himself around and trick the women. Coyote got the girls
when he wanted.
One time, Coyote had done everything he could think of and was
traveling from one place to another place, looking for other things that
needed to be done. Old Man saw him going along and said to himself,
“Coyote has now done almost everything he is capable of doing. His work
is almost done. It is time to bring him back to the place where he
So Great Spirit came down and traveled in the shape of an old man. He met Coyote. Coyote said, “I am Coyote. Who are you?”
Old Man said, “I am Chief of the earth. It was I who sent you to set the world right.”
“No,” Coyote said, “you never sent me. I don’t know you. If you are
the Chief, take that lake over there and move it to the side of that
“No. If you are Coyote, let me see you do it.”
Coyote did it.
“Now, move it back.”
Coyote tried, but he could not do it. He thought this was strange. He tried again, but he could not do it.
Chief moved the lake back.
Coyote said, “Now I know you are the Chief.”
Old Man said, “Your work is finished, Coyote. You have traveled far
and done much good. Now you will go to where I have prepared a home for
Then Coyote disappeared. Now no one knows where he is anymore.
Old Man got ready to leave, too. He said to the Indians, “I will send
messages to the earth by the spirits of the people who reach me but
whose time to die has not yet come. They will carry messages to you from
time to time. When their spirits come back into their bodies, they will
revive and tell you their experiences.
“Coyote and myself, we will not be seen again until Earthwoman is
very old. Then we shall return to earth, for it will require a change by
that time. Coyote will come along first, and when you see him you will
know I am coming. When I come along, all the spirits of the dead will be
with me. There will be no more Other Side Camp. All the people will
live together. Earthmother will go back to her first shape and live as a
mother among her children. Then things will be made right.”
Now they are waiting for Coyote.