Átsé Hashké dóó Gólízhii (Coyote and the Skunk)

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 "Skunk" is Gólízhii.

One day a coyote was trotting along in the hot sun. It was near a place called Crystal Mountain [Dzil nilts' ili], which is not far from Cuba, New Mexico. The coyote was suffering from the heat. He looked up at the sky and there was not a speck of cloud in it.

"I'm being suffocated." the coyote complained. "I wish a little cloud would appear to shade me as I trot along." Instantly, a little cloud appeared. However, it was not large enough to do much good.

"I wish a much larger cloud would appear." the coyote said, "I wish there would be a little breeze to cool me." The larger cloud appeared, and a breeze cooled the coyote; but he still was too warm.

"I wish it would cloud up everywhere," he said, "so there'd be no sunshine at all. And I wish a cool breeze would sweep across the whole earth." When that wish was granted, the coyote was pleased.

He decided to try another wish. This time he wished for a few drops of rain, and these fell immediately. He asked for more, enough to moisten his hair, and this also came to pass.

"Now, I wish a gentle shower would come and wet the earth," the coyote said, "so that the soles of my feet would be cooled." Again his wish was granted. His feet felt better, but he wanted the wet sand to ooze up between his toes; so this desire was granted also.

His next wish was that the rain would cause water to come up to his ankles, and this happened quickly.

"Now," he said, "let the water rise up to my knees." The rain came down even harder and soon water was up to his knees as he trotted along.

Then the coyote decided he wanted even more water. "I wish it would rain so hard that the water would come up to my belly." he said. And after that happened, he wished for the water to rise until only his backbone was visible. By that time, it had become a real flood. Water was running very rapidly down all the washes.

The coyote said, "I wish to float down the stream in the flood waters to a place near some animal homes, like prairie dog towns, or to some other place where there are many small animals I can catch for food." Then the water rose beneath him and he was carried very swiftly downstream. Suddenly the water swirled him, with some sticks and brush, onto a sandbar and left him there.

He lay there resting, while the storm passed over, and suddenly he heard a strange noise. He thought it sounded like a ladle [dipper] rattling in a water jug. Looking around, he saw a skunk coming down to the water carrying a jug and a ladle with which to fill the jug.

"Hey, cousin," he called. The skunk looked all around but did not see the coyote. Four times the coyote called before the skunk saw him drying his hair among the sticks and brush on the sandbar.

"Cousin," said the coyote, "will you get four clubs? Cut some sticks from the brush, then bury them beneath me. There are plenty of small animals around here. We can have a fine feast if you do as I tell you. After you get the clubs, go shake the grasses and get some seeds. Bring them here and sprinkle them around my mouth and nose, and other body openings, to make it seem that I am dead. Then call the animals to come and celebrate my death, and we'll kill a lot of them and roast them."

The skunk went to work and did as the coyote had told him.

"Now go home and spread the news," said the coyote. "Tell all your friends and neighbors that the hated one is dead. Tell them you have seen him, then get them to dance around me. When they begin dancing we'll take advantage of them."

The skunk hurried home and began telling everyone the coyote was dead. Some of the rabbits, prairie dogs, rats and mice would not believe it. "It's a trick," They said. "Coyote can't be killed."

"Come, I'll show you. I have seen him," the skunk said. "He's lying in the arroyo. See for yourselves." Jackrabbit was the first to investigate. But he was afraid, and he ran past the spot so swiftly that he didn't see coyote at all. Cottontail went next, but he saw some weeds to nibble and forgot what he started out to do. He returned, saying that there was no dead coyote around. The other animals told the prairie dog to go next. When he got to the edge of the wash he saw the water and wouldn't try to cross it; so he reported there was no dead coyote around there.

"Well, let's all go together," the skunk said. "I know where he is. We'll put on a big dance around him and rejoice that he is dead." So they all started out. The skunk led the way. The jackrabbits and the cottontails, the prairie dogs and the rats and the little mice followed."

"Now form four circles around him," the skunk told them, when they had looked at the seemingly dead coyote. "The little animals will be on the inside, then the next biggest and the next, with the jackrabbits in the outer circle."

The skunk was following the coyote's instructions. When all the animals began dancing and celebrating excitedly, the skunk was to spray his smell into the air. When it fell, the spray would blind the little animals and he and the coyote would kill them with the four hidden clubs. The small animals began dancing with joy around the coyote, and when they were all excited, skunk shouted, "Oh, look up into the sky. What a beautiful bird is flying above us." They all looked up. Then the falling spray dropped into their eyes and blinded them.

While they were crying in pain, Coyote jumped up. He quickly took a hidden club and handed another to the skunk. Between them, they soon killed most of the little animals. When that was finished the coyote said, "Now Cousin, you go build a fire over there near the shade, and I'll bring the animals. We'll roast them in a pit."

The skunk went out to gather wood for a fire, and soon he had a good blaze going. Then he dug a pit, and he and the Coyote put the animals into it and covered them with the hot coals.

With that finished, Coyote began to figure a way to trick the skunk out of his portion of the meat. "While we're waiting for the meat to roast, why don't we have a foot race?" he asked. "Oh, no," the skunk objected. "I can't run fast. I have short legs."

"Yes, that's true," said the coyote. "So I'll make you a proposition. I'll stay and watch the fire while you get a good head start. We'll run a long race around Crystal Mountain. The skunk knew the coyote was trying to trick him. He never could run around that big mountain. But he pretended to believe the coyote, and meanwhile he was thinking up a good scheme.

"I'll do it," he said, and he started out. He decided to take his time, go over the nearest ridge, out of sight of the coyote, and then find a hiding place.

"When coyote comes along," he told himself, "Ill just let him go by. Then I'll come back, and I'll dig up the meat and eat my share and his too."

When he got on the other side of the ridge he found an abandoned badger hole. Crawling into it, he hid the entrance with a tumbleweed. Then he waited for Coyote.

In a little while along came Coyote. He had tied a cedarbark torch to his tail and was setting everything on fire as he ran. The flame touched the tumbleweed over the badger hole and burned it in a flash, but Coyote did not see Skunk peering out at him.

As soon as Coyote ran by, the skunk climbed out and trotted back to the roasting pit. Quickly, he dug up the nicely roasted meat and carried it up among the rocks. Then he took the tails from four of the prairie dogs and buried them in the ashes, so that Coyote would see them and think the meat was still in the pit. After that, he returned to the rocks and began feasting.

Coyote came dashing back, ran around the fire four times, then lay down in the moist earth in the shade and began rubbing wet sand on his chest. And all the while he was mumbling to himself. "I wonder where that silly skunk is. I wonder if he really tried to run around the mountain. I wonder if he got lost and never will find his way back."

All this amused him. He was still a little out of breath from his run, and he was overheated because of the torch, but he smelled roasted meat; so he got up and began digging in the ashes. He pulled out one prairie dog tail and threw it away, saying, "This is no good." Then, one after the other, he pulled the other three tails out of the ashes. Then he began to suspect something, and he made the ashes fly right and left as he dug for the meat.

When he discovered there was no meat left in the pit, he began looking for skunk tracks. They led him to the rocks. He looked up and saw the skunk sitting there, gorging on roasted meat. "Cousin," he begged, "please throw me some meat. I'm starving and very tired."

At first the skunk paid no attention to him, but after Coyote asked four times for meat, the skunk threw him a bone. This happened four times before Coyote finally gave up and went slinking away.

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Creator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Dated Created: 12/04/2011
Version: 2.0
Updated: 05/17/2014
Curator(s): Harrison Lapahie Jr.
Resource(s): Coyote Stories of the Navajo People, Navajo Curriculum Center Press, 1974 School Board, Inc. Rough Rock Arizona
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