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The Release of the Wild Animals
This version of the legend comes from Stith Thompson's 1929 collection Tales of the North American Indian.
Long ago two people owned all the buffalo. They were an old woman and her young cousin. They kept them penned up in the mountains, so that they could not get out. Coyote came to these people.
He summoned the Indians to a council. "That old woman will not give us anything. When we come over there, we will plan how to release the buffalo."
They all moved near the buffalo-enclosure. "After four nights," said Coyote, "we will again hold a council as to how we can release the buffalo. A very small animal shall go where the old woman draws her water. When the child gets water, it will take it home for a pet. The old woman will object; but the child will think so much of the animal, that it will begin to cry and will be allowed to keep it. The animal will run off at daybreak, and the buffalo will burst out of their pen and run away."
The first animal they sent failed. Then they sent the Kill-dee.
When the boy went for water, he found the Kill-dee and took it home. "Look here!" he said to his cousin, "this animal of mine is very good."
The old woman replied, "Oh, it is good for nothing! There is nothing living on the earth that is not a rascal or schemer."
The child paid no attention to her.
"Take it back where you got it," said the woman. He obeyed. The Kill-dee returned.
The people had another council. "Well, she has got the better of these two. They have failed," said Coyote; "but that makes no difference. Perhaps we may release them, perhaps we shall fail. This is the third time now. We will send a small animal over there. If the old woman agrees to take it, it will liberate those buffalo; it is a great schemer."
So they sent the third animal. Coyote said, "If she rejects this one, we shall surely be unable to liberate the game."
The animal went to the spring and was picked up by the boy, who took a great liking to it. "Look here! What a nice pet I have!"
The old woman replied, "Oh, how foolish you are! It is a good for nothing. All the animals in the world are schemers. I'll kill it with a club."
The boy took it in his arms and ran away crying. He thought too much of his pet. "No! this animal is too small," he cried.
When the animal had not returned by nightfall, Coyote went among the people, saying, "Well, this animal has not returned yet; I dare say the old woman has consented to keep it. Don't be uneasy, our buffalo will be freed." Then he bade all the people get ready just at daybreak. "Our buffalo will be released. Do all of you mount your horses."
In the mean time the animal, following its instructions, slipped over to the pen, and began to howl. The buffalo heard it, and were terrified. They ran towards the gate, broke it down, and escaped. The old woman, hearing the noise, woke up.
The child asked, "Where is my pet?" He did not find it.
The old woman said, "I told you so. Now you see the animal is bad, it has deprived us of our game." She vainly tried to hold the buffalo back.
At daybreak all the Indians got on their horses, for they had confidence in Coyote. Thus the buffalo came to live on this earth. Coyote was a great schemer.
More stories to read:
Native American nature myths
Native American Coyote tales
Legends about the buffalo
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