Myths & Legends



Apache: Bear, Owl and Coyote

The White Mountain Apache are one of several Western Apache tribes, each of which has a different language, history, and culture despite being related. The account of their legends is the result of anthropological work done in and about 1910, recorded for the American Museum of Natural History, collected by Pliny Earle Goddard in Myths and Tales from the White Mountain Apache. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History Vol. XXIV, Part II

Pliny Earle Goddard (November 24, 1869 – July 12, 1928) was an American linguist and ethnologist noted for his extensive documentation of the languages and cultures of the Athabaskan peoples of western North America. He played a major role in creating the academic infrastructure for American Indian linguistics and anthropology in North America.

The short fables that follow feature bear, owl and coyote.
— Orly

The Hunter who secured the Bear Ceremony.

A man was out hunting when there was snow on the ground. As he walked along a hillside he slipped and fell off. Below was a bear's den and he fell right into it. When the female bear discovered him she jumped around and said, “Wau, wau, wau, wau.” “Please do not act like that, grandmother,” he said. “It seems I fell in here.” He remained there four days without anything to eat. “Are you not hungry?” the bear asked. “I am hungry,” he replied, “but what is there I can eat?” She shook herself and cactus fruit rained down from her. After a second period of fasting, the same question was asked and the same reply given. When the bear shook herself, juniper berries fell. The third time it was white oak acorns, and the fourth time, manzanita berries.

After that she said there were two persons living across the valley and that they would go there to visit. She also said the visit would be dangerous, for she had in mind bears and a bear's camp. The bear told the man to remain between her hind legs during the period of danger.

When they entered the bear's house and the hosts became aware of the man's presence, they became aroused and growled, “Wau, wau, wau.” The man remained between the hind legs of his companion who reached around with her front legs and defended him. “He has been with me a long time and he is our friend,” she said to the others.

Next they all went to a camp where there were three bears and there again the same things happened and the same expressions were used. From there they went with him to a camp where there were four bears. He was protected at that camp as on the former occasions and was introduced as a friend.

Accompanied by the bears, he went back to the camp at which he had first arrived. He had been gone a year. He came back to his own people. From this man there came to be bear songs and medicinemen with bear power.


The Cannibal Owl.

Owl was a person. He lived by eating people, carrying off the small children in a large burden basket. He had a wife to whom he brought them, saying to her, “Boil them.” When they were cooked he ate them.

There were some people who were living in a large house made of white cactus. Owl poked a pole in after them. The people inside held on to the pole. Owl pulled on it and the people held to it. They let go suddenly and Owl fell over backwards. He took two children on his back and carried them away toward the camp. He put the basket down with the children in it and went some distance away to urinate. While he was gone, the children put a large stone in the basket and defiled it. Owl started away again with his load, but when he passed under the limb of a tree the children caught hold of it. They turned into downy feathers and were blown away by the wind. “Boys, downy feathers are being blown about over there,” he said. They had been persons, but now they were downy feathers. Owl brought his load to the house for his wife. She took a knife and tried to cut across the stone with it. “It is a stone,” she said. He took it to his son-in-law. “It is a stone with manure on it,” he said. “That is its gall,” he replied. Owl went back to his wife. (The story was interrupted at this point.)


The Doings of Coyote.

Long ago, Coyote was told that the people were dying. He tied together a hairbrush, a wooden skin-dresser, and a stone pestle, and threw them in the water. “If these float let them come back to life,” he said. They sank and, therefore, the dead did not come back.

Snow fell. It rained down in the form of flour. This same Coyote said, “I chewed ice,” and it became ice.

Also the horns of deer were tallow. Coyote again said, “I chew bones.”

Coyote became ill. He had a handsome daughter. When he became ill, he told his wife to throw him away. He said their daughter was to be given to a man with a panther-skin quiver on his back who would come to play najonc. This man, he said, would also have a prairie-dog in his hand.

When Coyote was dead his wife gave the daughter to the man described by Coyote and he married her. It was Coyote himself, who married his own daughter. He had her hunt his lice. On the back of his head was a large wart. He told her that the lice always stay on this side, indicating a portion of his head remote from the wart. While she was looking for his lice, her husband fell asleep. Wondering why he always spoke as he did, she looked on the back of his head. There was a wart there. She slipped his head off her lap while he was asleep and going to her mother told her that the man was her father; that he had a wart on the back of his head. She picked up a large stone and was about to strike him on the crown of his head when he saw her shadow. He jumped, ran out, and trotted off toward the east. Whenever he came where there were camps people reviled him as the man who had his own daughter for his wife. They heard him saying “ci, ci, ci.” They referred to him as the scabby one and hit him. He cried “wai” and turned from human form into a coyote.

Coyote was driving some mules. He smothered five of the mules. He wondered what smothered them. “Hurry,” he said, “skin their throats. This place will be called Coyote Springs,” he said.

When coyotes were people they all drank whiskey and ran about everywhere shouting. When they became coyotes, they barked.



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