Átsé Hashké dóó Gałbáhí (Coyote and the Cottontail)

Note: The Navajo (Diné) word for "Coyote" is Mąii, but the Diné word for the "Coyote" (of Navajo mythology) is Átsé Hashké. The Diné word for "Cottontail Rabbit" is Gałbáhí.

Coyote was trotting along a little wash one bright sunny afternoon, feeling sorry for himself because he hadn't been able to catch so much as a field mouse or a kangaroo rat all day. Suddenly, a cottontail jumped up from the shade of a clump of sagebrush and dashed away in a great hurry, throwing sand in Coyote's face as he picked up speed. Coyote was very hungry. Here was a foolish cottontail he surely could outrun. He almost could taste the tender meat he'd soon be having for his dinner. Sure enough, he soon outran the dodging, terrified rabbit.

"I caught you, Cousin." Coyote said, just ready to sink his teeth into the rabbit. "What a silly rabbit you are. Do you know, I didn't even see you. I'd have gone on past if you hadn't jumped out in front of me."

Now he was ready for his feast, but as he opened his mouth wide to take the first bite, the cottontail began talking. That surprised Coyote so much that he closed his mouth and listened. "Wait a minute, Cousin." the cottontail said. "As you say, you caught me. So I'm your prisoner. Isn't that true? So, why all the rush to eat me? Let me tell you one thing. You'll be sorry you caught me." "Why?" Coyote asked. "Because I'm old and tough. I haven't enough meat on me to make a good meal for a big, strong coyote like you. But, since you have me, and I can't possibly escape, why don't you stop squeezing my neck so hard and take your claws out of my hide. Then we can talk a little while."

"Talk? What have we to talk about?" Coyote asked, loosening his grip a trifle. The cottontail was panting, but he didn't want to be eaten. Not if he could help it. "We can talk about men," he said. "That's it. Men. About the way those creatures live." "Men? I know more about men than you do," Coyote said, tightening his grip so much that the rabbit kicked and squirmed.

"Well, Cousin, tell me something," the cottontail said. "Loosen up on me a little, and tell me how they carry and use their weapons." "That's easy. They carry them on their backs," Coyote said. "That's wrong!" the cottontail said. "You see! I know men better than you do. You don't get close enough to see how they handle their weapons." Coyote knew this was true. He kept as far away from men as he could.

"Now I," chattered the cottontail, wondering how he could keep the Coyote talking until he found a way to escape, "have been very close to men. I have hidden in the brush and watched them pass by me. And I know they carry their bows and arrows in their hands .... You're still holding me too tightly. Cousin. Relax a bit, can't you? Just for a few minutes. You know my life is in your hands. There's no need to be so tense. You'll be eating me soon enough."

Coyote was getting impatient. He wanted his dinner right away. Why should he wait? However, he said crossly, "All right, go ahead and tell me how they carry and use their weapons, if you're so smart. But make the story short."

The cottontail shivered, but he knew he had to be brave if he were to outwit the hungry coyote. "I'll tell you. Cousin. They carry the bow in one hand and pull the bowstring and arrow with the other. Then they let the arrow fly. Z-I-N-G!"

Coyote argued with him. He was sure it was not that way. "The bow and arrow come from over the man's shoulder," he said. "You'd have to prove it to me, if I were to believe it's not that way."

"Fine! I will," the cottontail said. "For example, do loosen up a little Cousin, for example, I'd be sitting here, as I am right now, and a man would be watching me. I'd be watching him, too. He would be circling me, getting closer and closer ... Release me just a bit more Cousin, while I finish this story ... Thank you! Now, as I was saying, the man would be circling me. He'd have his bow and arrow in his hand. He'd be all ready to shoot me. I'd be sitting low to the ground, like this. As he slowly brought the bow and arrow up to shoot me, here's what I'd do!"

He jumped out of Coyote's grasp, leaped over the coyote's shoulder and was off in a flash. Coyote whirled and ran after him. Time and again he was ready to snap the cottontail up in his jaws, but always the wily rabbit dodged or jumped over a bush.

Finally, the cottontail led Coyote to a place where many small, needle-pointed yucca plants grew. Coyote was close behind him. The cottontail had to think of something in a hurry. Ahead of him was a small yucca plant, loosened by the wind. He jumped over it and kicked the yucca into Coyote's open mouth.

Coyote thought for a second that he had caught the cottontail. His teeth snapped down on the yucca and he got a mouthful of sharp yucca needles. Before he could spit them out, the cottontail had run into a crack between two rocks.

Coyote was too large to get into the crack. He could not dig in solid rock. He sat down and began trying to coax the cottontail to come out. "Hey, Cousin. Let's finish our nice, friendly talk. I don't know when I've enjoyed a talk so much," he said. "Oh, no! I'm not going out there," the cottontail said. "I'm not that stupid. I know all you want to do is catch me and eat me, even though I am an old bag of bones." "You look plenty fat to me," Coyote said.

"Well, I'm not. I'm not fat at all. I just look fat because of my thick fur. My fur is much thicker than the fur of other rabbits."

"I'm getting angry with you," Coyote said. "I don't care how thick your fur is. Come out before I smoke you out." "Oh? Are you going to smoke me out Cousin?" the cottontail teased. "And exactly what do you intend to use for firewood? I don't see a tree closer than a mile away."

Coyote looked around. Cottontail laughed. Coyote said, "I will use cedar bark." Rabbit replied, "That is my food." "Then I'll use sagebrush," said coyote. "That's my food, too," said cottontail.

"I'll go get some pinon pitch," Coyote said, "and that surely will do the job." "So it will," Cottontail wailed, pretending to be terribly frightened. "Unless I get out and run away while you're after the pitch."

"I'll fix that," Coyote said, and he began piling rocks in the crack so that Cottontail was walled into the hole between the rocks. Then he dashed off to the pinon tree in the distance to get some of its sticky pitch.

Coyote, panting, came back with the pitch. Then he used his magic powers to light a fire of twigs and weeds, and he placed the pitch on the fire.

"Oh, I'm as good as dead," the cottontail wailed. "I suppose you intend to blow that thick, black smoke in on me so I can't breathe." Coyote hadn't thought of that, but it was a good idea. He got close to the fire and began to blow. The smoke came into the crack, where Cottontail got none of it.

"Blow harder," the cottontail urged Coyote. "I can't take much more, so you may as well get it over. Come on Harder. Blow harder. Oh, I'm probably about dead now. This smoke!" He coughed very hard pretending to be strangling. "Get close to the fire and blow. Blow hard."

Coyote crouched beside the fire, blowing with all his might. Another minute, and he will have that smart cottontail.

But when he could hear Coyote blowing as hard as he possibly could, the cottontail gave the rocks a big push, throwing fire and hot rocks into Coyote's face Then he bounded over his enemy and raced away to safety.

Coyote was busy for some time, cleaning the ashes from his face. He was so angry because he had lost the cottontail that he didn't do a good job of the cleaning. For that reason, even today, Coyote has black streaks down his face.

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URL: http://www.lapahie.com /Coyote_Cottontail.cfm
Creator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Dated Created: 12/03/2011
Version: 2.0
Updated: 05/16/2014
Curator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Resource(s): Coyote Stories of the Navajo People, Navajo Curriculum Center Press, 1974 School Board, Inc. Rough Rock Arizona
Questions/Comments: Harrison Lapahie Jr.

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