Coyote Culture

Coyote CultureFrom childhood, we are taught to not have a lot of love for the coyote. I mean, look at the ways Wyle E. Coyote tried to torture the poor Roadrunner. Personally, I always felt great satisfaction when an Acme anvil fell on his head. Call it cartoon karma, because the guy had it coming! Yet the coyote is an important part of many Native American tales, so I figure Mr. Coyote merits his own blog post. I’ve been doing some research on the subject, and do you want to know something funny? I haven’t even come across a single mention of an anvil.

Wyle E. Coyote

Wyle E. CoyoteLooney Tunes and Native American stories generally agree on one thing—the wiliness of the coyote. In Native American tales, the coyote is almost always portrayed as cunning, selfish and opportunistic. That sounds about right. The coyote’s reputation is grounded in reality. As the Navajo proverb says, “Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry.”

Most people living in the West have a healthy respect for, if not an abiding affection toward, coyotes. They are adaptable creatures that will do whatever it takes to survive. They will eat pretty much whatever is available—rabbits, rodents, frogs, fish, deer, insects, fruit, and the list continues (although there is no indication that they actually eat roadrunners). Seriously, coyotes will dine on just about anything—including the family dog, cat or livestock. Uh, yeah, that last part has done nothing to improve the coyote’s reputation among the masses. Maybe that’s why cartoons and Native American legends have incorporated so much truth about the character of the coyote.

He isn’t always portrayed as the bad guy, but there is, for lack of a different term, always a sense that the coyote has “street smarts”. Perhaps the reason the coyote is so often portrayed as anamorphic is because, for better or worse, we humans see our own strengths and foibles in him.

Coyote Creator

Native American CoyoteCoyote often plays a role in Native American creation tales. In Nez Perce creation tales, Coyote plays the lead. Yes, he plays the Creator. If you think that is going against type, just wait until you hear the details. In a time before mankind, it took Coyote’s wiliness and keen powers of observation to outwit a monster that had consumed the animals.

Coyote disguised himself so that the monster would eat him, as well. Once consumed, Coyote searched for the monster’s heart. While performing this task, he encountered his animal friends who were inside of the monster. Coyote started a fire near the monsters heart. He told the animals to prepare for escape. (Trust me; you do not want a more detailed version of this story!) Meanwhile, Coyote managed to cut out the monster’s heart. When the monster died, the animals escaped, followed by Coyote.

Coyote declared that he was going to create a new animal, in honor of the whole monstrous ordeal! Yep. He was going to make people. He flung pieces of the monster to the four winds. Wherever a monster piece landed, a new tribe was born.

Realizing that he had failed to populate the area where he stood, Coyote washed the blood from his hands and shook the drops on the ground. Clever Coyote declared,

“They will be few in number, but they will be strong and pure.” And that was how the Nez Perce tribe came into being. Talk about a good day’s work!

Coyote Criminal

Coyote CriminalMany tales of Coyote serve to teach us that our actions have consequences to others. Such is the case in the Zuni tale of how Coyote stole the sun and the moon. Wow! Is there anything that guy won’t take? In that story, Coyote was a bad hunter who wanted to team up with Eagle to ensure that he would have enough meat. At that time, the sky was still dark and Coyote was at a distinct disadvantage. Eagle was feasting on meat, while Coyote caught insects. When Coyote complained about the darkness, Eagle took him to find light.

Eagle took Coyote to a tribe who had two boxes, which contained light. The larger box contained the sun and the smaller box contained the moon. Coyote convinced Eagle that they should steal the large box. Eagle flew off carrying the box, while Coyote chased after him. Four times Coyote asked to carry the box. Finally, Eagle relented, even though Coyote had a reputation for not doing anything right. Eagle told Coyote not the open the box. Yeah. Guess what he did?

Coyote took a peek in the box and discovered that Eagle had placed the moon inside the box, as well as the sun. The sun and the moon escaped and rose high into the sky. Oh, sure, there was light, but the earth became very cold. The plants shriveled and Coyote shivered as snow began to fall. If not for Coyote’s problems with impulse control, the world would not have winter. Yes, Coyote, your actions have consequences. And now I will know who to blame for my icy feet this winter!

Howling at the Moon

Coyote HowlingThere are many lessons to learn from the coyote. The traditional symbolism portrays him as intelligent, playful, conniving and resourceful. The Navajo refuse to kill the coyote because they believe he accompanied the first man and woman into the world. The Shoshone consider Coyote to be the bringer of death—of natural disasters, illness and times of hunger.

So, you see, the coyote has much more to teach us than to beware of falling anvils. He is the best and the worst this world has to offer. What a great reminder that life isn’t always black and white.

Once I got the “meep meep” sound of an animated roadrunner out of my head, I’ve had the haunting sound of Don Edwards singing “Coyotes” running over and over in my mind. I hope you’ll join me in a Stargazer Mercantile sing-a-long!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

8 Replies to “Coyote Culture”

  1. Very interesting and informative! I love reading about Coyote. He’s long been one of my favorite characters in Native American folklore. I’ve hunted, and trapped coyotes, and I can assure you they are quite the canny critter. Although, carnivore have “hides” and herbivores have “pelts” or “furs”. lol

    1. Hi Burl, so nice of you to stop by for a visit! I love the Native American stories too, and I’m so happy that you enjoyed the blog! Coyotes are one of my favorite critters, mostly because I love the sound of their “yip yip yowl”!

  2. What a beautiful song! I’ve never heard this. I have such a different opinion of the coyotes after reading this blog post and hearing this song. On the Missouri farm of my family the coyotes howl at night and I always considered them to be more of a nuisance that anything.

  3. Hi Anita,

    Great article! Just curious, through your research did you find anything about why a pack of coyotes will yip. I’ve always wondered about that but never took the time to look into it. I figured it was because they found something to eat.

    I’ve heard that every howl or yip means something, which is incredible. Of course, only the coyote truly knows the meaning of her howls. 🙂 There are a lot of coyotes out where I live, so I often hear packs yip at night or in the early morning. They’re fascinating creatures.

    1. Hi Stephanie, thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kind compliments! I love coyotes too, they are true survivors and among the most adaptable creatures on the planet. Yes, I did learn a thing or two about coyote communication in the process of researching this story. You are right, their every yip and yowl has a particular meaning! When a coyote calls its pack together, it howls at one high note. When the pack is together, it howls higher and higher, and then it will yip and yelp and also do a yi-yi sound, very shrill, with the howl, to pull the group together and generate excitement relative to their most passionate pastime, FOOD! One of the most interesting moments in my life – – relative to coyotes, I mean 🙂 – – was on our ranch, when a siren from a fire engine could be heard in the distance, the coyotes recognized this as a call from some long-lost coyote, and it sent them all into a frenzy of yips and yowls! As long as the siren could be heard, the coyotes responded! Remarkable. They are seemingly rather “excitable!”

  4. Love coyotes. Having a home in Tucson, AZ I have many times heard the coyote hunting and howling at night. My husband even jogged down the street with a coyote one time. Something has to “clean up” the desert, so it’s a good thing they will eat almost anything. l totally enjoyed the “Coyote” song. Thanks, this is a fun and informative site!

    1. Howdy Denise! I love them too, and often hear local packs yipping with joy when food is found. Sounds just like Don Edwards in his song! 🙂 So happy that you enjoyed this story, and thanks for stopping by for a chat!

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