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Coyote character central to Southern Paiute folklore

Editors Note: This is the last article of a four-part series on the first inhabitants of the Pahrump Valley. The first articles ran July 22, Aug. 5, and Aug. 19.

The Southern Paiute have a rich tradition of storytelling.

One character that appears in a large number of their stories is Coyote, who also shows up in stories from most other native North American tribes.

Coyote is portrayed in these stories as a trickster. Far from always being tricky and clever, he often blunders into all sorts of problems. He can also be sneaky. Sometimes he possesses godlike characteristics, and at other times he appears a total fool. He has a persistent ribald and nasty streak.

Trickster in his many forms shows up in stories and jokes told around the world and can be seen in American culture in the always-dirty traveling salesman jokes that used to be widely told.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to interview a man named Larry Eddy, who had deep roots in Southern Paiute/Chemehuevi culture. (The Chemehuevis are a branch of the Southern Paiute.) Eddy was 76 years old at the time and was widely known as an outstanding storyteller with a huge repertoire of trickster stories. He told me he was sometimes given only a half hour or less to tell stories. On occasion, however, he holds forth from evening until morning, telling trickster stories for the entire night. He told a couple of short trickster stories during our interview, which I will relate here.

Regarding Pine Nuts

Coyote and his older, more responsible brother, Wolf, had been down south and were heading back north toward Mount Charleston. The Great Spirit asked them, “Where are you going?”

They replied, “We’re going home. We’re going back up north.”

She said, “Okay. Do me a favor. I’m going to give you each a sack of piñons, the seeds. I want you to go back that way and plant piñons for the people.”

They said, “Okay, we can do that; no problem.” They started off. All of a sudden, Coyote, being as how he was a naughty guy anyway, said, “Hey Wolf, I’ll meet you when we get home. I’m going to see if there’s any water out here.”

Wolf said, “Okay, but don’t forget to plant those seeds.”

Coyote replied, “Yes, I’ll meet you at home.”

Wolf kept going and Coyote went on his way. He got out there and found himself a girlfriend and was playing around with her and having a great time. Finally he realized, “Wait a minute—how many days has it been? I was supposed to take the seeds up there and plant them.” He said, “I’m going to plant them right here.” So he threw them all out.

By this time Wolf was home, doing his thing. Coyote finally got home and Wolf said, “Where have you been?”

Coyote said, “Oh, down there; I was messing around there, looking around.”

And Wolf said, “Did you plant those seeds? We were supposed to plant seeds, remember?”

Coyote answered, “Oh yes, I planted them on the way up.” He was, of course, lying.

Wolf said, “That’s good. Now people will have good pine nuts all over.”

Coyote said, “All right, that’s it. We’re done. We’re growing pine nuts.”

That’s why up north at Mount Charleston and in Utah, they have big pine nuts, as opposed to the south of Las Vegas, where they are small.

Hey, It’s Coyote

Coyote was sitting on a hill one day when a young coyote walked up behind him, looked at him, and asked, “Who are you?”

The old coyote looked back at the young guy and said, “I’m Coyote.”

The young guy sat there and looked at him and said, “How could you be Coyote? I’m Coyote.”

They looked at one another for a while and old Coyote said, “See those people down there?” People down below were having a round dance. “Let’s let those people tell us who’s Coyote.”

The young guy said, “Okay, let them tell us. And whoever’s Coyote is Coyote.”

Old Coyote said, “I’m going to run down and go through them and come up on that hill over there and sit. And when I get over there, I want you to do it, too. You run down and go through there.”

So the young guy said, “Okay, let’s do it.”

So the old guy took off. He came around and these people looked over and noticed a coyote coming. “Oh,” they said, “Hey, coyote coming, coyote.” And they made room for him and he went through and up the hill. He sat there and looked over and it was the young guy’s turn.

So the young guy took off towards those people when they started dancing again. When they saw him they said, “Oh, another one, another one.” He ran through there and got up on top of the hill. The old coyote looked at him and said, “They called me Coyote—what did they call you?”

Bob McCracken has a doctorate in cultural anthropology and is the author of numerous books in the Nye County Town History Project.

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