How Coyote Got His Yellow Eyes

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After his disappointing experience with the rabbit, the coyote was more discouraged than ever.  He walked along with dropping head, wishing for some stroke of luck to cheer him up.

Just then he noticed some birds playing a very unusual game.  He became extremely interested and stopped to watch them.  In this game the birds took their own eyes out, threw them into a tree, and then caught them in their sockets again as they came down.  They would do this first with the right eye, then with the left eye, and finally with both eyes at the same time.

The coyote thought it was a wonderful game and asked the birds if he might play, too.  But none of them liked the coyote and they didn’t want him to join in their sport.  They told him he didn’t know how to play that game and that he had better move on.

However, the coyote did not go.  He thought the game was great fun and was very eager to take part in it.  He begged so long that the birds finally permitted him to join their party and try his skill.

The coyote took out his right eye, threw it up into a tree, and sure enough, was able to catch it right back in its socket.  Then he did the same with the left eye, and when he had caught it again, he danced with glee, and cried out to the birds, “See! I told you I would be able to play it all right!”

But the birds retorted that he had played only the easiest half of the game. “Now take out both eyes at the same time”, the said, “and see if you can make them drop back into their own sockets again.”

The coyote thought that would be easy, too.  He took out both his eyes and threw them real high.  Then he held himself in position to catch them as they came down.  But alas, they did not come down.  They had caught on one of the branches and remained in the tree.

Now the coyote was in a sorry plight, and he therefore asked the birds to help him by restoring his eyes to him.  They were not at all eager to do this, as the coyote had been guilty of very mean tricks, and some of the birds thought it would be fine if he could never see again.  But there were some others who said that the coyote had been known to do good occasionally, and that therefore they ought to help him.

Finally they compromised.  They agreed that they would not restore his own eyes to him, as those eyes were not only exceedingly beautiful but also so keen of sight that the coyote had a big advantage over his opponents.  They decided to make him a pair of new eyes from the gum of pinon nut trees.  This they did, and that is the reason the coyote has yellow eyes to this day.

When they had placed the new eyes in the sockets of the coyote, they warned him not to go near a fire, for they said if he did the eyes would melt, and then he would be in trouble again.

However, the coyote paid no attention to this.  He trotted along for some distance and then noticed a campfire with a group of animals round about it.  By this time evening had set in, and as the coyote was cold and tired, he ran over to the campfire to warm himself and rest.  As he drew near to the fire his eyes began to smart and tear.  This became so severe that he had to admit the birds were right, and he walked off regretfully.  Nevertheless, he had been near the fire long enough for two streaks of melted gum to run down alongside his nose, and since then every coyote born into this world has these black streaks on its face.

He-Who-Always-Wins and other Navajo Campfire Stories
, Dr. Richard H. Pousma, Pages 135-137.

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This site was last updated on September 28, 2020.

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