HOW COYOTE GOT HIS VOICE
Stories the California Indians Told
Anne B. Fisher
Long ago when the moon came up over Mt. Diablo, and all was quiet except for
Coyote "yeowing" from the very top of the mountain, the Medicine Man called the
Yokuts Indians together. This is the story he told them about how Coyote got his
Once all the world was flooded except the place where Great Eagle Chief
lived. Mt. Diablo and one other tall peak were all that stuck up out of the
water. Coyote lived on top of Mt. Diablo. He was the only living thing in the
world except the fleas that lived on his back.
Coyote was very lonely. He wanted company, so he sat on his haunches and
tried to call out for someone else to come and stay with him on the mountain.
But Coyote had no voice. All the sounds he could make was a soft whisper like
"S-s-wish." He "S-s-wished" and "S-s-wished" the whole day-except when he
scratched the fleas on his back. No one came, so he went to sleep.
The second day his strained throat was sore. But loneliness in his heart
ached more than his throat.
Once more he called with all his might.
That day, when the muscles in his throat stretched a little and the pain
went, Coyote managed to make the whisper just a little bit louder.
But only the swishing water heard him as it slapped against the top of Mt.
Diablo. Water mimicked Coyote by saying, "We-osh, we-osh."
Coyote grew very tired. His throat was dry from we-oshing all day. He took a
drink of water, then scratched the fleas down near his tail and went to sleep
The third day, loneliness was still in his heart like a heavy stone. Once
more he started we-oshing over and over and over in the hope that someone would
Suddenly that very low whispered we-osh sound got a tiny bit louder way down
in his throat. It went "Wow-osh." No one heard Coyote but Water and Wind.
Together they worked to imitate him. Wind blew harder and Water "we-oshed" a
little more until it sounded exactly like Coyote's loud "Wow-osh."
There was nothing for Coyote to do but take a drink of water, scratch a few
fleas, then go to sleep, and wait for another day.
On the fourth day, Coyote wow-oshed again and again. He was so lonely that
his heart swelled with loneliness and he could hardly wow-osh at all.
Water and Wind kept making fun of him by wow-oshing just the way he did!
Just before night came over the mountain, that wow-osh of Coyote's grew a
little louder. It gave poor Coyote courage to keep on trying. He scratched his
fleas and settled down to sleep once more.
On the fifth day, early in the morning, when dawn was very pink, Coyote woke
up. He shook himself and made the fleas scurry around his tail. He combed his
whiskers with his paws, took a drink of water and went to work.
"Surely," he thought, "if I keep trying someone will hear me and come."
"Wow-osh," he started with his tight throat-"Wow-osh-come and see me." All
morning he did this, panting when he paused to catch his breath.
About noon, when the sun was directly over his head, that "Wow-osh" grew
quite loud. It was loud enough to go a long way across the water. Coyote danced
for joy all alone on the mountain top and called in his new, loud voice until he
His call was even louder than all the noise Wind and Water tried to make.
That made Coyote feel pretty fine, even though his throat was sore and nobody
He was so tired that night when he lay down to sleep that he didn't even
bother to scratch at his fleas.
"Let those fleas chase," he thought. "I don't careľ-the silly things."
On the sixth day, Coyote was late starting with his woo-oshing. The sun was
high in the sky and the water was washing hard around the base of Mt. Diablo.
Coyote took his time getting ready that morning, because he felt that this
would be a special day. First, he scratched at his fleas until they ran from the
back of his ears to his shoulders. Then he made them scamper across his stomach
and race down his tail.
"That will tire them out and make them be quiet for a while," he told
After the flea chase, he washed his face with his paws, combed his whiskers
carefully and took time to shake out his bushy yellow tail. He settled down on
his haunches, ready to start wailing with the hope that someone, somewhere,
would come. He opened his jaws wide and let the sound come. The howl that rushed
past his long white teeth was the loudest he had ever made. It was so loud and
long that for a moment Coyote just sat there blinking in surprise and joy. Then
he opened his mouth and let the call pour out again and again.
"Ye-owe! Ye-owe!" went across the water. He thought that even Mt. Diablo
shook a little when he called!
"That should bring company to me," he thought.
When he was quiet for a time to catch his breath, he suddenly heard the great
Eagle God whisper in his big yellow ear.
"Well done, Coyote. I wondered if you would keep at it until you got your
voice. Today your 'ye-owe' was loud enough for me to hear way up here. Keep on
calling for company, and watch. I have a surprise for you--a reward for your
patience and courage."
Coyote kept on "Ye-owing." He watched the water and the peak of the other
mountain far away.
Then when the day grew hot and he was tired and nothing has happened, Coyote
wondered if the whisper from eagle could have been just his own thoughts. But he
kept on watching.
Suddenly, right before his eyes there was a single feather bobbing around in
the water. As Coyote watched, flesh and bones came--more feathers. They joined
themselves to the first little feather and turned into a beautiful eagle!
There was a stir on the water, a rush of broad wings and before the widening
ripples reached the mountain top, a beautiful bird with tawny gold breast
feathers and lovely brown back feathers and sharp brown eyes stood beside
Coyote nearly shook out of his yellow skin with joy at having such a
beautiful bird beside him for company on Mt. Diablo.
"Your feathers are so shiny," he said, and rubbed Eagle's back with his long
yellow nose in a caress. "You are so beautiful I just want to look and look and
look at you."
"And I like to look at you," Eagle said. "Your own fur is a beautiful yellow,
Coyote. It is the golden yellow of the sun. And your tail! Well that tail is the
most beautiful thing I have ever seen." Then Eagle stroked Coyote's back with
his great beak.
Coyote, being cunning to get his own way, said: "Would you mind looking for
the flea up by my ear where I can't reach? That flea is the cleverest of the
lot. I never can catch him."
Eagle caught Coyote's flea and dropped it into the water below.
That made Coyote happy. He thanked Eagle.
Eagle liked Coyote's voice and told him so. "All I can do is screech--a very
harsh loud screech. But I do like to hear you sing."
Coyote sang and sang for Eagle. When he had finished, he and Eagle settled
down for a long talk. They talked for hours and hours. They talked for days.
Coyote told how hard it had been for him to learn to sing, and of how long he
had worked in order to call loudly enough for anyone to hear him. Near the end
of the story,
Coyote saw Eagle look off toward the other peak that stuck up out of the
Coyote's heart began to beat very fast. He was afraid Eagle would fly away
and leave him.
Coyote kept his fears to himself and began "Ye-ow-owing" as sweetly as he
Finally, one day, Eagle grew restless. He stretched his wings. He stood on
his tip-claws and looked hard over at the mountain peak beyond.
Then he said: "Coyote, I'm tired of catching your fleas and listening to your
songs. Let's go over to that other peak and see what is there."
"No, I can't," Coyote sighed. His heart turned over so hard in sadness that
he hoped Eagle didn't see it bumping under his yellow fir. "You can fly there,
Eagle, but I'm only a coyote with four legs. I can't fly."
"Nonsense, where's your courage?" Eagle asked. "Once you couldn't
sing--remember? Now look how beautifully you can 'Ye-owe-owe.' Just try to swim.
I'll fly slowly and hover over the water above you. I'll pull you out with my
great claws if you start to sink."
Still Coyote held back, afraid. He looked at the water so deep and blue
around the peak and shivered.
"Surely you have as much courage as an eagle who cannot sing!" Eagle prodded.
Coyote still hung back. There was nothing for his feet to stand on once he
got into that cold water. "No, no, I can't."
"Very well," said Eagle, "I'm going. Either try to swim and I'll help you, or
stay here alone."
That was enough for Coyote. He had known great loneliness and he loved Eagle.
He couldn't bear to be parted from his beautiful friend.
Without a backward look he plunged into the water and worked his legs as fast
as he could. He didn't sink. He found he could swim very fast without getting
out of breath.
"What did I tell you?" Eagle "shrooked" from above him. "All you needed was
They went across the water fast. Eagle kept sharp watch over Coyote, to be
sure he was safe.
The fleas on Coyote hated the water. They ran from his legs. They ran from
his sides. They ran from the thin fur on his stomach up to the middle of his
back and the fleas were all washed away!
Finally, Eagle and Coyote reached the distant peak.
When Eagle had smoothed down his wind-blown feathers, and Coyote had shaken
all the water off his fur, Eagle patted Coyote with his great beak.
"I wasn't going to leave you back on that mountain at all," he said. "I just
wanted you to try something new, and get rid of those fleas."
Then they both laughed.
Eagle and Coyote stayed many days on the new peak. Then they began to be
lonely for other creatures. There were no other creatures. There were no more
peaks to swim or fly to.
"Let's do something about being lonely," Coyote said to Eagle. "Surely, you
with your fine courage and feathers and sharp eyes, and I with yellow coat and
strong legs and good voice, can think up something very good."
They thought hard. Coyote was willing to share his voice and his ability to
run fast and swim. Eagle was willing to share his sharp eyes, his great courage
and his ability to fly.
So they created the Yokuts Indian men and the Yokuts Indian women of Mt.
Diablo. These Indians multiplied and brought Indian girls and Indian boys into
The peak grew very crowed. Great Eagle saw that more room was needed. He told
Water to go down from Water's high place near the top of the mountain. Water
slid back and back until where it had been there were only trees and grass and
dry land, just as it is around Mt. Diablo today.
The Medicine Man told his people this story over and over for they never grew
tired of hearing how they got their courage and sharp eyes from Eagle, and their
fine voices, swift feet, and swimming ability from Coyote.