1. Coyote and Blue Bunting1
From there Coyote had gone farther on.
He had gone to the Blue Bunting.
"Coyote, why do you come?" said the Blue Bunting to him.
"Well, friend, I'm coming [to see] you.
You will do something for me.
For that reason I'm coming to you."
"Nothing but that of which I know would I do for you.
But [I know] something.
Stand over here.
Friend, give me tobacco."
"There is no tobacco here [that] I can give you."
"Well anyhow, sit down on the ground.
Now, wife, bring some of the bark from over there."
"Here it is," [she said].
"Give it to me."
She put it down for him.
And then the Blue Bunting man picked it up.
Then he pulverized it.
Then he put it in a bag.
He picked up another bag.
He pressed [the two bags] together four times2.
Putting his hand in it, he took out some paper3.
He put down before Coyote
paper and tobacco that had not existed before.
"Now smoke," he said to him.
"Yes, I'll smoke," said Coyote.
Then, rolling a cigarette, he sat down facing him.
And then he gave [Coyote] a light.
Then he [also] smoked.
And the two sat there.
Now they had [finished] smoking.
"Now, friend, you also will come to [visit] me," he said
to Blue Bunting.
"Yes, I will come to you," said the Blue Bunting to him.
"Four days from now I will come to you," he said to
Then Coyote started to leave him.
Then he arose and they embraced each other.
Then he went away.
Then, when exactly four days had passed, [Blue Bunting and his
family] came to his home.
"Friend, why do you come?" he said to Blue Bunting.
"I am here now because you told me to come, Coyote."
"Wife, bring some of that bark," said Coyote to his wife.
His wife took out a dish.
Having filled it with bark, she brought it into him.
Before him, before her husband, she put it down.
Then he picked up the bark.
Now he sat pounding it.
Just as Coyote had pulverized it, he asked his wife for a sack.
Coyote put that which he had pulverized into the sack and asked for
His wife gave him the sack.
Then he pressed the sacks that she had given him together four
But, in spite of this, there was absolutely nothing in them4.
However, he put it down before Blue Bunting.
"You will smoke," he said to him.
There was no tobacco at all!
Then [Blue Bunting] just looked at it.
He was embarrassed by it.
Picking it up himself, he poured out that [bark] which was in it
Then he filled a sack with bark himself.
Then he picked up the other sack.
He pressed them together just four times.
Blue Bunting himself having made paper and tobacco for
[Coyote], he gave it to him.
Then, without smoking, he went away.
They had not even embraced each other because he was ashamed of [Coyote's] imitation of him.5
The Mescalero coyote cycle is a connected series of episodes describing the travels and
adventures of a trickster with attributes and characteristics, now those of a human being, now
those of an animal. At the beginning of the cycle, Coyote speaks as humans do, and exhibits,
except for bodily form, all the traits of humankind. Throughout the narrative it is impossible to
determine whether Coyote, to the Apache mind, appears in the guise of an animal or of a man.
In the concluding episode the point is plainly marked where Coyote loses his power of speech
and assumes the bodily shape and mental qualities of the beast.
Again, it is difficult to decide whether the pranks and experiences we follow in the story are
those of one and the same coyote. Frequently, at the close of one episode, Coyote will pay with
his life for some escapade. Yet the next episode will resume in the usual way, "Coyote was
going along ..." When the informant is questioned concerning this apparent resurrection and the
number of coyotes involved in his tale, he most often answers without too much interest or
anxiety over the point, "I guess it must have been some other coyote."
The truth of the matter is that these are academic questions. To the Mescalero Apache,
Coyote is a type, a character. Whether he is human in form at the beginning of the cycle is an
unimportant problem. What is certain, and far more important, is that Coyote as a character
reveals a remarkable self-portrait of the Apache, and a shrewd and powerful satire of his culture
and of human foibles. To this we shall turn in a moment.
I have said something concerning the continuity of the cycle and the definite order of the
episodes. This is an aspect of the coyote stories not fully appreciated, a circumstance which has
resulted in violence to the rich esthetic and ethnological content of the cycle. An investigator
who asks for coyote stories without first determining their nature and their significance in the
culture, obtains little more than outlines of widely separated episodes selected for their plot
value. Since, in the full body of the myth, such plots often run through more than one episode
and there is much interweaving of the whole cycle by reference to what has gone before, the
procedure of isolating separate coyote stories ends in truncating and mutilating them. For
instance, in one of the last episodes of the cycle, Coyote meets Beetle, and, after making some
caustic references to a previous encounter of the two, eats him. The allusion is not clear unless
one is familiar with the details of an earlier episode in which Beetle outwitted Coyote and
escaped from him.
It must not be supposed that all Mescalero Apache tell the coyote cycle in exactly the same
way or even relate the episodes in the same order. There is considerable individual variation,
and I have listened to animated arguments between various Apache concerning the proper
manner in which the cycle should be told. In aboriginal times, the Mescalero lived in camp
clusters of related families, and ordinarily each of these harbored some very old person whose
age and interests led him to take the initiative in communicating the folk-lore to the youngsters.
The children of that group were likely to become most familiar with his version of the tales and
to recount them in that form when they grew up. When I was recording the cycle, my informant
might interrupt his discourse to say, "Now I learned my story from Old Man T. Others told it
differently. One man put in a different story at this place." Then would follow a variant or an
additional episode with the name of the old storyteller whose narrative included it.
A great deal of the interest in folk-lore in general, and very certainly it is true of these
trickster tales, has centered around the determination of the geographical distribution of the
elements or motifs found in the stories. Without gainsaying the value of such labors, I believe
that there is still another approach to native tales and legends which offers tempting
opportunities to study the psychology and culture of preliterate groups. This approach may best
be thrown into relief, perhaps, by a brief discussion of the place and function of the coyote cycle
in Mescalero culture.
In the first place, the cycle is appreciated as a good story. It can be told in winter only, when
the snakes are not around, and at night. The coyote story therefore helps to pass many a long
winter evening. To tell this cycle is a test of dramatic ability and virtuosity; it requires the
successful imitation of the many animals and birds which are mentioned in the course of the
episodes, and can be made more lively and persuasive by apt pantomime. Those who do not feel
able to tell the tale with proper effect nevertheless thoroughly enjoy the performance of
Quite as important as its entertaining qualities is the didactic value of the coyote cycle.
Coyote, as represented in these episodes, is given to every reprehensible vice and excess. He
indulges in falsehood, theft, gluttony, impiety, adultery, and incest. Almost always these acts
end in embarrassment and hardship for him. As the account of these misdeeds unfolds, the
raconteur, especially if there are many children present, does not fail to expand on the
difference between Coyote's lapse and Apache standards, and to point the inevitable moral. At
least once each winter the children of a camp cluster were brought together, and they listened
for an entire night to legends. The coyote cycle, with all possible moralistic flourishes, was
always told at this time. A child whose interest lagged or who fell asleep during this recital was
reminded of his duties by a sharp tap on the head.
Psychologically there is no more interesting phase of this coyote cycle than the extent to
which it operates as a cultural safety valve. In a culture where practically all the customs, even
those concerned with the daily round of life, are validated by the blessing and approval of some
supernatural, any deviation from, freedom with, or levity regarding the mores, smacks of
profanity. Yet these Apache are not without a sense of humor and proportion concerning their
folk-ways, as I have had many occasions to learn. The Apache cannot laugh at his fellow man
or even openly at himself for honoring tradition at all times in place of common sense. But he
can and does set up a straw man, Coyote, at whom he has reserved the right to jibe, and with
Coyote as buffer, many of the Apache usages and beliefs are treated slyly and not without
Likewise there are certain tabooed subjects which seldom get an airing except through the
good offices of Coyote. To talk ill of another is to open oneself to the charge of having a
"witchmouth". The Apache lays a great emphasis upon never talking of evil lest it occur. An
Apache may not even look at his mother-in-law; to talk of intimacy between a man and his
wife's mother would be an unpardonable scandal. Yet we find an episode in the coyote cycle
where Coyote tricks his mother-in-law and has intercourse with her, and tales of incest and
sexual perversion in which Coyote is involved. These are called "funny stories" and elicit
laughter and appreciation in proportion to the amount of repression exercised over the subject
matter in daily life.
Coyote functions in still another role among the Mescalero. Despite the kindly interest of
the supernaturals, the beneficial influence of ceremony and tradition, and the virtuous
professions of most individuals, the Apache is faced with a world in which sorcery, deceit,
ingratitude, and misconduct are not uncommon occurences. How shall he account for this?
The particular scapegoat he has selected is his mythical counterpart, Coyote; the
misadventures of Coyote are the Apache original sin. "Coyote did it first. We follow in Coyote's
footsteps." These are the typical explanations of the defects and imperfections in human nature.
Coyote blazed a trail which men were bound to follow, and with mellow resignation the frailties
of the flesh are dismissed as a consequence of Coyote's initial errors.
One more important function distinguishes the Mescalero coyote cycle. A number of other
Southern Athabaskan speaking tribes tell an emergence legend in the course of which reference
is made to the creation and to the origins of the major ceremonies. The Mescalero have no such
story. Instead they have utilized the coyote cycle to introduce these elements. When Coyote has
run the gamut of his adventures, the culture hero takes possession of him, and, speaking through
him, begins the creation of the living things of the earth. Later the culture hero himself appears,
transforms Coyote into the brute he is to be henceforth, and continues the task of creation.
Finally White Painted Woman, mother of the culture hero, makes her appearance, aids in the
creation, and gives rules and advice for the ordering of human life. Then these supernaturals
disappear, and the world stage is set for the human occupation to follow.
That portion of the coyote cycle which Dr. Hoijer has recorded in text is a continuous
section beginning with the sixty eighth episode and carrying the story to the end. I was engaged
in ethnological research upon the Mescalero Indian Reservation when Dr. Hoijer came to gather
linguistic material. I was just then recording the coyote cycle from a very competent
English-speaking Mescalero man whom we thought would prove an excellent informant for
linguistic purposes. So it was decided that Dr. Hoijer should carry on the account from where I
stopped, in part because we thought it would be interesting to learn whether the episodes which
I had been taking in English were faithful to the diction and spirit of the original, in part
because it offered an opportunity to obtain an uninterrupted body of useful texts.
The time at which the incidents pictured in this cycle are supposed to have occurred is
placed back "at the beginning" when animals and birds spoke and acted as men do now. First
there was total darkness upon the earth, and the birds, who wanted light, opposed the
four-footed creatures and monsters in a moccasin game to determine whether there should be
day. In this game Coyote displays his characteristics of slyness and vacillation; he finds reason
to change to the side which has a decided advantage in score. The birds finally vanquish and
pursue their larger foes, the four-footed creatures and monsters scatter over the earth. Coyote
leaves the scene of the game, and the tale of his wanderings, the coyote cycle, begins.
Few things occur in Mescalero myth or ceremony which are not connected somehow with the
Oak leaves are probably meant.
In many episodes of the cycle Coyote makes himself ridiculous by imitating others without
having the requisite power to accomplish what they have done.
The embrace took the place in Apache culture that the handclasp or kiss does in ours.