Coyote, Porcupine and the Elk

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A fat porcupine was sitting on the bank of the river one morning, wondering how he could get across to the other side. He was hungry. On the other side of the stream were many pinon trees. The porcupine wanted to eat the bark from the trees, but the river was too wide, and the water was high and swift.

Elk were grazing on the flats behind him. Suddenly one elk came toward the river and stopped on the bank near the porcupine.

"Are you going to cross the river?" the porcupine said.

The elk looked down at him.

"Yes, I'm going to cross the river," the elk said.

"Well, Sister," said the porcupine, "will you carry me across? My legs are very short and yours are very long."

"Yes," said the elk. "You can ride on my back."

"Oh, no," the porcupine cried. "I'd slip off into the water and drown."

"Then you can ride on my horns," the elk told him.

"Oh, no. You'd be sure to shake me off into the water and it would carry me downstream. I'd probably drown," the porcupine objected. "I know a better way. I'll crawl into you from the rear, then I'll crawl out your mouth on the other side."

The elk thought about that.

"No. I don't like that idea," she said. "Your sharp spines might kill me."

"Don't worry about that. Sister," said the porcupine. "Let me show you how easy it will be."

The elk was suspicious at first, then she decided to let the porcupine show how he could do it without hurting her.

The porcupine smoothed his quills down and went in one way and crawled out the other.

"Wasn't that easy?" he asked. "I didn't hurt you at all, did I, Sister?"

"No," she agreed, "but I still don't like the idea. You must be very careful not to extend your sharp spines. But go ahead."

When they got to the middle of the stream the elk became frightened.

"Get out of me," she told the porcupine.

"Stamp your foot," said the porcupine.

The elk stamped her foot.

"I hear water splashing," said the porcupine. "If I came out now, I'd drown!"

The elk went on a little farther, and again said the porcupine must leave her body.

"Stamp your foot," the porcupine told her, as before.

Again he heard water splash, and he refused to leave her. The elk was close to the river's edge when she again told the porcupine to get out. This time,: when the elk stamped her foot, he heard mud splash.

"When you reach dry land, I'll get out," the porcupine promised. But when she stamped her foot on dry land he spread his spines and punctured her insides, and she fell dead. Then he crawled out and began looking for a skinning knife.

Coyote happened along as the porcupine was searching for something with which to skin the elk.

"What was that. Cousin?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm just looking for an arrowhead," said the porcupine, not wanting the coyote to know he had some good meat waiting to be eaten.

"No, Cousin. Didn't I hear you mumbling about a knife? Have you got something to skin? What is it?"

The porcupine saw there was no way to hide the elk from the curious coyote; so he told the coyote the truth.

"I killed an elk," he said. "Now I have to find a way to skin it."

"I'll help you. Cousin," said the coyote.

In a short time they had the elk skinned, and Coyote thought of a way to trick the porcupine out of the meat.

"Let's make a game of this," said coyote. "Let's play jump-over-the-elk, and the one who jumps over four times without touching the meat gets all of it."

The porcupine didn't want to play that game, but coyote made it seem so easy that he agreed. He tried and tried until he was exhausted, but he never could jump over the elk's carcass without touching the meat.

Coyote jumped over easily. He cleared the meat four times; then he said, "Well, Cousin, I'm the winner. But I don't want to be greedy. I'll be good and share with you. Here, I'll rip the elk's stomach out and you can wash it in the river; then we'll share."

By that time the porcupine was very hungry. He took the elk's stomach to the river, washed it and then ate it. When he returned to the coyote he said, "I was washing the elk's stomach in the water when the Water People, came up and grabbed it right out of my hands. The Water People swam away, and I suppose they've eaten it by now. But you have meat enough to share, don't you. Cousin?"

The Coyote was very angry. He had intended to eat the stomach himself. He ran down to the river's edge and began cursing the Water People. He used such bad language that they came swimming out to defend themselves.

"We didn't steal your meat," they said. "That porcupine ate it. We saw him."

Then the coyote became very angry at the porcupine. He ran back, crying out, "So you lied to me! You ate the elk's stomach. The Water People saw you."

"Oh, Cousin," the porcupine said. "You don't think I'd lie to you, do you?"

"We'll see whether you lied," Coyote said. "Open your mouth."

When the porcupine opened his mouth. Coyote took a sharp splinter and dug between the porcupine's teeth. Sure enough, he found bits of fresh meat.

"There!" he cried, very angry with the porcupine. "You lied to me."

He picked up a heavy stone and hit the porcupine on the head. When the porcupine seemed dead, Coyote went a little way from the elk and left his waste. Then he started home to get his children and bring them to the elk feast. Then a voice stopped him. It was saying, "Back to life."

He looked all around but could not see anything. He thought it must be a voice coming from the pile of waste he had left; so he went back and kicked it over. He started out again, and the voice spoke again, "Back to life. Back to life."

This happened four times and did not stop until Coyote had scattered his waste in all directions. Then he went home.

He got his puppies and brought them to the feast. On the way they kept running off into the grass, catching and eating grasshoppers and other bugs.

"Don't eat those bugs," Coyote scolded them. "They are no good. Come on. I have meat waiting for you."

So they all followed him to the place where he had left the elk and the dead porcupine.

When they reached the river's edge Coyote looked all around and could not see either the porcupine or the elk meat.

Then he looked up, and there was the porcupine, in the top branches of a tree, with all the elk meat beside him. He had been revived by supernatural forces while Coyote was away.

Now it was Coyote's turn to begin begging for meat.

"Cousin, please give me one little piece of meat," he called to the porcupine.

"I'll give you something," porcupine said, and threw down a bone from which he had eaten all the meat.

Coyote chewed it and swallowed it, saying, "This is my chewing bone."

Four times he begged, and each time the porcupine threw down a bone or other waste part of the elk. And still Coyote had nothing with which to feed his hungry children.

"Please, Cousin," he begged, "give me a good piece of meat. Can't you see my puppies are very hungry?"

"I'll give you a piece, if you will do one thing for me," answered Porcupine.

"What is that?" Coyote asked.

"That you spread your elk hide under the tree and all of you roll up in it," the porcupine said.

Coyote agreed to that. He dragged his elk hide over to the tree, spread it exactly where he was told to spread it, then he and his puppies rolled up in it.

"Now I'll toss down a really good bone, with meat on it," the porcupine said.

One of the puppies clawed a little peep hole in the elk hide and was looking through it. He saw exactly what the porcupine was about to do. As Porcupine pushed a full quarter of the elk out on the edge of the limb, placing it so that it would fall on the elk hide and its contents, the puppy crawled out and ran away.

The Coyote and all the other puppies were crushed.

"Now," said the porcupine to the puppy who had escaped, "I'll bring you up here and feed you."

He crawled down the tree and carried the puppy up by the back of the neck.

"Eat all you want," he said.

The puppy ate and ate until he was so full he was uncomfortable.

"Take me down to the ground so that I can relieve myself," he said to the porcupine.

"Just crawl out on that branch," the porcupine answered. "That's where you can relieve yourself."

The puppy crawled a little way, but the porcupine kept saying, "Farther! Farther!" until the puppy was on the very end of the branch. Then Porcupine shook it and the puppy fell to the ground and was split open. The Water People had been watching all this.

When the puppy fell, they all Shouted, "There goes the clay pot! It's busted!"

Then the porcupine began fussing with the Water People.

"Maybe it's your clay pot that's busted," he said. The Water People decided to teach Porcupine a lesson; so they sent the beavers to chop down the tree he was sitting in. But each time they chopped down one tree the porcupine went up into another. After they had chopped down four trees, the Water People decided to let the porcupine have his meat in peace.

Taken from Coyote Stories of the Navajo People, Navajo Curriculum Center Press, 1974 School Board, Inc. Rough Rock Arizona.

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This site was last updated on October 23, 2020.

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