Myths and Tales from the San Carlos Apache
Securing Fire (First Version)
There were people living here on the earth. Coyote, birds, or hawks were all people. There was no fire. The only ones who had fire would not give it away. The others, many people, were without fire. Martens, living in the tops of tall pine trees, were the only ones who had fire but they would not give any of it away. Those who were living below them consulted as to how they should get fire. They decided to play hide the ball and sent out invitations for everybody to come to the game. They gathered under the trees and shouted to the martens to come down and bring some fire. They said they were going to play hide the ball. They came down bringing the fire with them. They put wood on the fire at the camping place and stood around it in four lines so that there was no way anyone could run off with the fire. None of the people who didn’t have fire were in the center of the circle.
Coyote, who was lying down some way off, said he would get the fire and run off with it. They were playing and having a good time. Those who owned the fire were winning. They began to dance. Coyote had a torch prepared by tying bark under his tail. He got up and came to those who were dancing. “Have a good time, my cousins,” he said. “My foot pains me. Dance for me. Separate and let me through to the fire.” They were dancing and having a good time. When it was nearly daylight, Coyote said, he was going to dance. He told the others to dance vigorously, bending their knees. He urged them to do this repeatedly. Finally, he danced and switched his tail into the fire. They called to him that his tail was likely to catch on fire. He assured them that it would not burn.
Then day broke. He stuck his tail in the fire again and it took fire. “Your tail is burning, cousin,” they called to him. He jumped over the four lines of dancers who were in circles around the fire, and ran off. The people, who were stingy of their fire, ran after him. Coyote became winded and could hardly run. The people who were chasing him caught him. Coyote passed the fire to Night Hawk who jumped on it and went with it. Those who were stingy of their fire tore Coyote’s mouth. Night Hawk kept flying and jumping. Those who had the fire nearly caught him for he was exhausted. When those who were running after him caught him, he gave the fire to Road-runner who ran away with it. They tore Night Hawk’s mouth open.
Road-runner ran on carrying the fire. Those who were pursuing him nearly overtook him. He was exhausted. When they caught him, he gave the fire to Buzzard who flew away with it. Those who were trying to recover their fire chased him until he was worn out. He gave the fire to Humming Bird. When they caught Buzzard they pulled the hair on his head out.
They saw the smoke of a fire arising in the distance from the top of a mountain. It was Humming Bird who had set the fire. There was a fire too on the top of another mountain which stood far away on the opposite side. A little way from that there was fire on another mountain. Everywhere, fires were burning. It was Humming Bird who had accomplished all this. Those who had owned the fire turned back saying it was now impossible to recover their fire.
The people who had been without fire were now all supplied with it. They were happy about it and expressed their thanks to Coyote.