Paiute legend: Coyote and the Escape of Mouse
The following is an excerpt from the 2017 book, “Legends of the Northern Paiute: as told by Wilson Wewa,” which was compiled and edited and with an introduction by James A. Gardner.
According to the book’s publisher, Oregon State University Press, “Legends of the Northern Paiute shares and preserves 21 original and previously unpublished Northern Paiute legends, as told by Wilson Wewa, a spiritual leader and oral historian of the Warm Springs Paiute.”
The description continues: “These legends were first told around the fires of Paiute camps and villages during the storytelling season of winter in the Great Basin of the American West. They were shared with Paiute communities as a way to pass on tribal visions of the animal people and the human people, their origins and values, their spiritual and natural environment, and their culture and daily lives.”
The following excerpt features Legend 16 in the book — “Coyote and the Escape of Mouse.”
LEGEND 16: Coyote and the Escape of Mouse
A looong time ago, Coyote was walking across the desert. He was walking along through the sagebrush and rabbit brushes and junipers. And every now and then he would start trotting. So as he was going along he got kind of hungry and decided to look for something to eat.
So then he went this way. And then he’d turn around and come back the other way, kind of zigzagging through the sagebrush. Then when he came to a grassy area and he heard some singing. He stopped so his ears could hear it. And when he stopped, his ears would kind of move around, and he could figure out where the singing was coming from.
Then he kind of crouched down and snuck up on the sound— and there was a Mouse! It was gathering seeds, so its cheeks were all full of seeds. And it was running here and there to pick up seeds. Coyote thought, “Well there’s my meal right there! I’m going to catch that little Mouse and eat it up.”
So he snuck up real close. The Mouse didn’t hear him coming because the Mouse was singing its song and gathering seeds, and it wasn’t paying attention. So Coyote jumped and caught the little Mouse between his paws.
The Mouse was terrified, because he knew the only reason Coyote would be catching him was because he was hungry. So the Mouse was really scared and asked Coyote, “What are you going to do to me?”
Coyote told him, “I’ve been walking around all day long and now I’m hungry. So I’m going to eat you.” Mouse told him “No, you don’t want to eat me! Please don’t eat me! I don’t want you to eat me, because I’m just a liiittle bitty mouse. I wouldn’t even be able to fill you up if you eat me.”
But Coyote said again, “I’m really hungry. So I’m going to eat you.”
The Mouse kept pleading with him, saying, “No, you can’t eat me. I’m too little.”
Then the Mouse told him, “I’ll tell you what. If you dig a hole and put me in that hole and cover me up, while I’m in the ground I’ll start to grow. Then I won’t be a little, bitty, tiny, scrawny little Mouse any more, but I’ll get bigger. Maybe I’ll become the size of a Jackrabbit. Or I might get big like a Groundhog!”
Coyote thought about it, and said, “No, I think you’re trying to fool me. I think you’re lying to me.”
“No, really. You bury me, and I’ll grow.”
Then Coyote thought, “Well, he is kind of small.” So he held the Mouse’s tail with one paw and with his other one he dug a hole real fast. Then he picked the Mouse up and put him in the hole. And he covered the Mouse up, and laid down right there. He laid down right next to where he buried that little Mouse.
Coyote waited and waited. And he saw the dirt over the hole starting to push up in a little mound. “He’s growing,” Coyote thought to himself. “He must be getting bigger.” So the Coyote waited and waited some more.
But while Coyote was waiting, the Mouse wasn’t growing under the ground! The Mouse was digging a hole to get away! He was digging a little tunnel, and he came out some place else — and took off and escaped! Meanwhile, the Coyote was still waiting for the Mouse to grow big.
That’s the legend my people tell of Coyote and the Mouse, when the Mouse was clever enough to fool Coyote and get away.
The above excerpt from the book was submitted to First Nation’s Focus by Oregon State University Press, and is printed with permission. Visit osupress.oregonstate.edu/book/legends-of-northern-paiute to learn more.