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Native American Stories : The Bungling Host

Black Bear and Coyote

Tales of the North American Indians

The Bungling Host

The Black Bear invited the Coyote to her underground lodge. He went the next morning, and on arriving was kindly treated by the Bear. She gave him berries and other food to eat, which was very acceptable to him, as he was almost famishing. Before long the Black Bear put more wood on the fire, and placed a dish down by the side of the fire. Then she held her hands, fingers turned downward, in front of the blaze. Before long melted fat commenced to drip from her finger-tips into the dish below, which in a short time became quite full. She took the dish and placed it in front of the Coyote, asking him to partake of the fat, which he did, eating as much as he was able. After finishing his repast, the Coyote said that he would now go home. At the same time he invited the Black Bear to his house on the morrow, when he said he would return her dish, which in the mean time he would borrow so as to take home the rest of the fat for his wife.
In due course the Black Bear arrived at the Coyote’s house, where she was treated to some offal which the Coyote had found, but which he told her was fresh, as he had been out hunting and had just brought it in. After a while the Coyote told his wife to stir the fire, because he wanted to get some fat to give to his guest. He then set the dish down close to the fire, and holding up his paws in front of the blaze, exactly as the Black Bear had done, he awaited results. As there was no sign of any fat coming, he placed his paws still nearer to the flame, and held them there until they commenced to shrivel and curl up with the heat, and still there were no signs of any grease dripping down. His paws had now almost shrunk up into a ball. He was unable to endure the pain any longer, withdrew his hands from the fire, and ran around the house, howling with pain. The Black bear then said to him, “What a fool you are! Poor fellow! Watch me how I do it.” She then held up her paws in front of the fire, as she had done on the previous day, and before long the dish was full of grease. She then made the Coyote a present of the grease, and told him never to try and do what was beyond his power.
Sometime afterwards the Coyote felt hungry and thought he would pay a visit to Tsalas, who lived in an underground lodge some little distance away. Upon entering, Tsalas treated him kindly, telling him that he would go and get some fresh fish for him to eat. He went outside, took a withe from some neighboring bushes, and went down to the river, where he made a small hole in the ice, and commenced to dive for fish. The Coyote, meanwhile, watched all his movements from the top of the ladder. Before long, Tsalas had caught a goodly number of fish, which he strung on the withe, and returning home, cooked some of them for the Coyote, who soon ate his fill.
On leaving, the Coyote invited Tsalas to visit him at his house on the morrow. Accordingly, the next day, Tsalas repaired to the Coyote’s house, where he was offered old meat; but, unlike the Black Bear, he was not fond of such food. Therefore the Coyote proposed to go and get some fresh fish for him. The Coyote left the house, took a withe, and after making a hole in the ice put his head down the hole in order to look for the fish before diving. But in trying to get his head out again he found that he could not. Wondering at this long absence, Tsalas went to look for his friend, and found him with his head stuck down in the ice-hole. He pulled him out, more dead than alive, and addressing him, said, “Poor fellow! Why should you make yourself worse off than you already are? You are very foolish to try to do things that are beyond your powers. Now look at me!” Tsalas then put his head down in the hole and soon commenced to toss plenty of fish out on the ice. He made a present of them to the Coyote, and went home, leaving the Coyote in anything but a pleasant mood.
Some time afterwards the Coyote went to the mountains to watch the Magpie and learn his methods of hunting. The latter had set a net-snare close by his underground lodge. He went up the mountains, singled out a large buck deer, which he teased, and called names, such as “big posterior,” “hairy posterior,” “short-tail.” The buck at last grew angry and charged the Magpie, who ran away. He just kept a little ahead of the buck, so as to encourage him, and led him right into the snare, in which his antlers stuck fast, whilst the Magpie jumped over it, and turning round, stabbed the entangled buck to death. The Coyote made up his mind that he would do as the Magpie had done. So he placed a net-snare close by his house, and, going up the mountains, soon fell in with a buck deer, whom he commenced to belittle and slander, calling him all kinds of nasty names, just as the Magpie had done. The buck grew angry, charged the Coyote, who made for home, where his snare was, with the buck close after him. On reaching the net, the Coyote tried to jump over it, but failed to do so. He fell into the net and became entangled in it. Then the buck began to prod him with his antlers, and would have killed him if the people had not run out and prevented it by killing the buck.

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