"Meet Mr. Coyote"

Title

"Meet Mr. Coyote"

Description

A small booklet of ten Aboriginal legends/stories illustrated by Aboriginal students of Noel Stewart at St. George's Indian Residential School in Lytton, B.C. that was published by the British Columbia Indian Arts and Welfare Society in 1941. The legends are from the Thompson Tribe near Lytton, B.C. It is unknown who the storyteller and recorder were in the original transcription of these legends.

Creator

Noel Stewart

Source

Royal BC Museum, BC Archives (F/1/R19); an application for a non-exclusive copyright license has been submitted to the Copyright Board of Canada.

Publisher

The British Columbia Indian Arts and Welfare Society; J. Parker Buckle Printing Co., Ltd.

Date

1941

Text

Introduction to "Meet Mr. Coyote"

Who was this Mr. Coyote that you should be pleased to meet him? Well, he was a great leader among the Animal People in the misty far-off days, ages before white men came to disturb the old customs or to take possession of the land where for generations the Animal People had made their homes along the great rivers (now known as the Thompson and the Fraser) in the beautiful Canadian Province of British Columbia. Indeed Mr. Coyote's most palmy days were in that shadowy period before human beings appeared on the earth and presumed to interfere with the Animal People who occupied this lovely land of mountains, lakes and valleys.

Mr. and Mrs. Coyote climbed down to earth by a magic ladder from the Sky-World and brought with them as gifts from the Great Father of Mysteries all the arts and crafts wherewith to instruct those who dwelt below, which they in turn could pass on to the feckless kind of men who later on appeared among them. So to meet Mr. Coyote is quite an adventure as you will agree when you have read about some of his good deeds. There still remain [p.3] a very few, very aged folk who could tell you what their grandparents told them how he taught their forebears to make serviceable and beautiful coiled baskets, how to tan deer skin for clothing, how to weave blankets, how to make bows and arrows and how to shape birch bark into canoes.

Meanwhile certain boys of the Thompson Tribe at the Indian School of St. George at Lytton have made these pictures, to give you their own ideas of this great "Culture Hero" of long ago. Their forefathers used to paint somewhat similar pictures on the cliffs and rocks in that district where they can still be seen by those who know where to seek them. These boys are 11, 12, and 13 years of age. Their sympathetic teacher, Noel Stewart, gave gladly of his scanty leisure to find out the stories for them and encourage them to draw these happy pictures 'out of their heads'. Indeed they will gladly make some more for you, if you care to ask, for they inherit the fertile imaginations and artistic qualities of their race and delight to use them.

This booklet is published by the Victoria Branch of the Society for the Furtherance of B.C. Tribal Arts and Crafts. Copies can be obtained from the bookstores in that city, in Vancouver, and elsewhere.

-ALICE RAVENHILL, (Hon. Sec.)

Windermere Hotel,
Victoria, B. C. [p.4]

I.
Mr and Mrs. Coyote and Their Magic Kettle

Long, long ago when the Animal People lived in British Columbia they were all very friendly together and looked loyally to Mr. Coyote as their Leader. They were clever folk, so that when after many years Mankind first appeared in their world it was the Animal People who taught these men how to build shelters against wind and rain, how to make fires for warmth and how to make stone tools.

Before Mr. and Mrs. Coyote left the Sky-World the Father of Mysteries gave Mrs. Coyote this wonderful kettle made of coiled basket work; it could hold water and cook food; but of much greater importance it had the magic power to grant the wishes of its owner and to protect her from danger. Who can be surprised at the care taken by Mrs. Coyote of this precious gift, for it possessed another amazing property. If by chance Mrs. Coyote was injured a sweet herb or flower or fine shade tree instantly sprang up to heal the wound. And once, when by accident Mrs. Coyote was shot in one arm and lost much strength, at that exact moment a much-needed stream began to flow on a far distant [p.5] hill-side providing an ample supply of pure water for the thirsty folk who lived there.

So the Animal People felt very sad when, after Mrs. Coyote had spent four thousand years among them, she decided to climb up the Magic Ladder down which she had come to earth and return to the Great Father of Mysteries, taking with her this precious Magic Basket.

II.
The Three Coyote Brothers

Mr. Coyote had three clever brothers who were very friendly with the Animal People among whom they spent many years, although they loved also to travel long journeys to study the ways of the strange people they met. Once on their return after a long period they made known to the surprised Animal People that during their absence the elder brother had become a doctor able to cure every kind of sickness. The second brother had studied law and could settle all disputes justly; while the third brother could now invent a number of useful conveniences to add to the comfort of the Animal People.

But, sad to say, the Brothers envied Mrs. Coyote her Magic Kettle. Again and again they made plans to secure this precious treasure; but their plans always failed because the Magic Kettle warned Mrs. [p.7] Coyote of their treachery in time for her to take means to defeat it. Thus the Brothers were saved from committing a very wrong deed.

For at heart they were good, and did all sorts of kind acts for the Animal People. Thus, with hard labour they made safe trails from Lytton to Kamloops, for they believed in being good neighbours; and by this means enabled the Animal People to make friends with the Lake Folk at Kamloops. Again, when after two thousand years of happy life the Father of Mysteries told them there would be a great flood the three Brothers gathered all the Animal People on the very highest mountain peak to save them from destruction in the raging waters, as you will learn.

III.
The Great Flood and the Capture of Wind-Man

During the time that Mr. Coyote ruled the Animal World it once came to pass that rain poured down in torrents and Wind-Man raged so fiercely that all the land was flooded. Happily the People had already been guided to safety on a very high mountain, (look for it when you visit the Lytton country), and on this narrow peak Mrs. Coyote saved their lived with food from her Magic Basket. [p.9] At last the Storm Clouds wearied; the downpour ceased and the Sun-Man shone to warm the shivering people and to dry the sodden ground. But the Wind-Man still raged furiously; even the kind Moon-Man tried to calm him, but in vain.

Suddenly the Cloud-Man appeared saying he would surely tame the Wind-man. Telling the frightened Animal People to make a long, strong rope, this daring Cloud-Man threw a coil of the rope suddenly round the mad Wind-Man, calling to all the People to pull hard. And pull they did with all their might! Soon the Wind-Man's struggles weakened and at least he ceased to breathe. Then Cloud-Man told him he would die unless he gave his word only to rage madly from time to time, so that between whiles the world could enjoy calm days and quiet night. Broken and breathless he gave this pledge. Then Cloud-Man vanished and Mr. Coyote led a happy family down from their narrow peak, and all of them sang songs and danced for joy that they were saved from their great danger.

IV.
The Dance of the Animal People

If was a habit among the Animal People to gather on certain days in the year to perform ceremonial dances. In winter time they met in one of their large Community Houses but in the summer [p.11] they assembled out of doors in customary selected places. The ceremony consisted of three groups of four dances each, performed at sunrise, at noon and at sunset. A pause was made for rest and food after each four dances which varied in their details. Sometimes the movements were by sudden jerks; in others the body was thrown back with both hands and feet in violent continuous action. No word was spoken as each Animal chose his partner for the dance. He touched her on the shoulder and she followed him to the circle in which the two were to take their places.

In all these proceedings they were guided by Mr. Coyote. On the appointed day at Sunrise all the dancers arranged themselves in three large circles, one within the other, in the centre of which stood Mr. Coyote and his three brothers. Then all joined in a song, for these dances were a form of Thanksgiving to the Father of Mysteries for all his many good gifts to the Animal People. Then under Mr. Coyote's direction the dancers marked time with their feet, moving slowly in their respective circles. Soon the pace quickened, until the dancers in the inner and outer circles had to hold firmly to the sashes of those in the middle circle so swiftly did they whirl round and round.

Next in order a dance in which all sang, while taking short steps, raising their arms shoulder high and then lowering them, keeping time with the [p.13] movements of their feet. At the completion of each set of four dances, when food was served it was eaten in silence and preceded by prayers, in keeping with the solemn occasion.

V.
Mrs. and Mrs. Coyote Renew Friendship With Brother and Sister Skunk

For many years the Skunk family had been in disgrace with other Animal People, because when annoyed or alarmed they expressed their feelings in a most offensive way. Yet the Skunks were a very handsome people and possessed unusual wisdom; indeed it was believed that the strip of white fur down each skunk's back was a sign of very superior knowledge. They were specially clever in finding lost articles and their ears were so sharp they were quick to catch strange sounds. Thus they could give wise advice if their ears caught warnings of trouble. They were also excellent playmates. Further, they were very kind to the Insect People and report said that it was the Skunk family which taught wise habits to the tiny ants.

So it was not surprising that Mr. and Mrs. Coyote felt they must bring back the Skunk family into good fellowship with the other Animal People. [p.15] The puzzle was how to make friends without alarming or annoying them, which might revive the disgusting Skunk habit. However, by degrees, tactful Mrs. and Mrs. Coyote made little friendly advances and so overcame the Skunk shyness that they could take pleasant walks together. Later on they began to give small "Socials," when they invited more and more of the Animal people to meet Brother and Sister Skunk; and presently they ventured to introduce favourite dances. Thus gradually by their kindness Mr. and Mrs. Coyote coaxed the Skunk family back into sharing the happy lives of all the other Animal People.

VI. Mr. Coyote and His Friends the Birds

Mr. Coyote loved the singing birds which filled the forests with their happy songs and knew each one by its own sweet notes of welcome when he was seen approaching through the trees. He made great friends among them and they completely trusted his care. Thus, one day soon after Mr. Coyote had renewed his friendship with Brother and Sister Skunk he invited them to go with him to help him make a special feast for their feathered folk. The birds felt no fear of these strange visitors, [p.17] their trust in Mr. Coyote's protection was so strong. Indeed so great was their faith that often they would take part in Mr. Coyote's "Socials" and some of the shy Prairie Chickens actually performed special dances for the entertainment of her guests.

Mr. Coyote also encouraged the Squirrel folk to share in his guardianship of these favoured birds. If, for instance, a bird was hurt a friendly Squirrel would free and protect it until it was once more able to fly. You must understand that in those days all Animals and Birds talked the same language and understood each other’s little ways. It was only the large fierce Birds of Prey that Mr. Coyote felt it right to destroy with his bow and arrows because of their cruelty to defenceless creatures. But he felt this duty a hard one and took great care to aim so accurately that the cruel bird should die instantly and not suffer the wounds and distress caused to its own victims.

VII.
The Mysterious Lake

Contented as were the Animal People nevertheless they felt uneasy about a certain lake on whose waters mysterious happenings occurred. Sometimes canoes could be seen with human figures paddling towards the onlookers, yet both canoes and men [p.19] vanished as they approached the shore. These appearances gave great anxiety. If only four figures were in the canoe all boded well to the watchers on the shore; but if there only three men or five their disappearance boded ill to those who caught sight of them; for you must know the numbers four or eight were good omens, especially in gambling games when dividing a catch of fish; whereas odd numbers foretold disaster.

At other times floating logs could be seen on the lake with creatures like dogs on them running to and fro; these likewise disappeared before reaching the shore. Some of the Animal People believed these mysterious figures were the spirits of men escaped from the other world, but they never reached any definite conclusion on the matter. So of course they took their fears to Mr. Coyote. Their wise Councillor promptly advised them to hide their faces when they saw these uncanny sights and to run away at once, not to stand by the shore watching and wondering what these appearances might be. "Sheer waste of time," he said, "to feed their fears, waiting for what might never happen!"

Nevertheless, even to-day the Thompson Indians whisper that this lake gives mysterious signs of coming events to those who know how to discern them. These may be good or bad, but are evidence of a mystery still unexplained. [p.21]

VIII.
The Giant Animal People

The Animal People were so happy with their wise and kind leaders Mr. and Mrs. Coyote, that it seems sad to report that they had bitter enemies in certain huge, very strong creatures called "The Giant Animals," who despised and were jealous of Mr. Coyote's leadership. These enemies were really stupid folk; they could not sing or dance; they never enjoyed pleasant social meetings; all they wanted to do was to injure, maim or kill others of their own kind. They were specially harsh and cruel to all the weaker Animal People and to the defenceless Bird Families. They stamped with all their great strength on bushes, destroying the delicious berry crops; they trampled down sweet herbs and lovely flowers and even set fire to the forests whenever they could do so unobserved.

Often the Animal People talked of their alarms to Mr. Coyote, for they were sorely frightened of these Giant People, though too terrified to attempt their destruction. Then their wise leader showed them the better way was to pray for protection and guidance to the Father of Mysteries; and to their intense delight they were saved by this means from the dangers they feared. For, when the Great Flood swept over the earth and they themselves were shivering but safe on the narrow mountain peak, [p.22] the roaring torrents of storm-tossed waters swept the Giant Animal People right off their feet, dashed them again and again against the sharp rocks and destroyed them every one.

Thus were the Animal People and all other living things made secure against this danger to their happiness and lives.

IX.
The Precious Tobacco Tree or the First "Smoke" of the Season

"Tobacco Day" was a happy event for the Animal People. Carefully they had watched the precious Tree for the hour when its leaves ripened, for Mr. Coyote had taught them that the leaves must be cut at this precise moment to ensure their full delightful flavour. There was a time when this Tree was poisonous to Animal Folk, but Mr. Coyote's magic removed this danger and transformed its leaves to their wholesome enjoyment.

At early dawn on this festive day Mr. Coyote summoned all his people, and taking his place in their midst as they sat around he led them in giving thanks to the Father of Mysteries for this great gift of tobacco. Then he gathered and cut up the ripe leaves, mixing them with those of the bear-[p.23]berry, previously roasted, after which he filled the high narrow bowl of his large soapstone pipe with the mixture and called for a light.

After a short smoke he handed the pipe round to each person in the circle, warning them after a moment's enjoyment to pass it on in the same direction as the course the Sun-Man ran in the heavens. After each man had enjoyed his "pull" on the pipe he put both hands together on a level with his lips and blew the smoke downward over his chest; then, crossing his hands, he vigorously rubbed his breast and shoulders. Finally all present prayed together: "O Leaf of Good, make long my breath so that I may be well and live for many moons."

Finally the crop of Tobacco leaves was picked and divided equally between all the Animal People.

X.
Sunflower Roots and Their Gifts

The Animal People set a great value on Sunflower roots, believing that the Sun-Man bestowed peculiar blessings upon this particular plant; hence special ceremonies took place when the root was ripe. Thus, the people prayed to the root itself when called upon to make exertion for any worthy purpose, asking that it would give them of its life-force when special endurance was required, such as climbing a steep, high mountain, or to enable [p.25] them to exercise special dexterity when in need of great skill, or to avoid clumsy movements when much depended upon being sure-footed or silent in approach to a threatened dangerous encounter.

This root is difficult to cook but well worth the trouble. To eat it renews energy, and particularly was it recommended as a sure cure for those disposed to laziness; for be it known that to oversleep in the morning meant many penalties among young lads in later days, when children were strictly trained to rise early and not to shirk cold bathing even in winter time. So, it is easy to believe that many young folk, when eating their fourth root of sunflower, which was credited with possessing special value, prayed earnestly that they might resist the temptation to lie late and the making of untrue excuses when they evaded the morning bathe.

So I think you will be pleased to hear that though the Thompson Tribe ceased long ago to worship the Sunflower Roots, yet the boys at St. George's School at Lytton have made for themselves Eight Health Rules about food, cleanliness, sleep and exercise, which they try to keep very earnestly, for they all belong to the Junior Red Cross. [p.27]

Printed in Victoria, B.C., Canada
by
J. Parker Buckle Printing Co., Ltd.

Files

IMG_7200.jpg
IMG_7201.jpg
IMG_7202.jpg
IMG_7203.jpg
IMG_7204.jpg
IMG_7205.jpg
IMG_7206.jpg
IMG_7207.jpg
IMG_7208.jpg
IMG_7209.jpg
IMG_7210.jpg
IMG_7211.jpg
IMG_7212.jpg
IMG_7213.jpg
IMG_7214.jpg
IMG_7215.jpg

Citation

Noel Stewart, “"Meet Mr. Coyote",” The Story is More than Itself, accessed November 24, 2017, http://thestoryismorethanitself.omeka.net/items/show/1.