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The Theft Of Fire






Source: Myths And Legends Of California And The Old Southwest

Karok (near Klamath River, Cal.)

There was no fire on earth and the Karoks were cold and miserable. Far
away to the east, hidden in a treasure box, was fire which Kareya had
made and given to two old hags, lest the Karoks should steal it. So
Coyote decided to steal fire for the Indians.

Coyote called a great council of the animals. After the council he
stationed a line from the land of the Karoks to the distant land where
the fire was kept. Lion was nearest the Fire Land, and Frog was nearest
the Karok land. Lion was strongest and Frog was weakest, and the other
animals took their places, according to the power given them by Man.

Then Coyote took an Indian with him and went to the hill top, but he hid
the Indian under the hill. Coyote went to the tepee of the hags. He
said, "Good-evening." They replied, "Good-evening."

Coyote said, "It is cold out here. Can you let me sit by the fire?" So
they let him sit by the fire. He was only a coyote. He stretched his
nose out along his forepaws and pretended to go to sleep, but he kept
the corner of one eye open watching. So he spent all night watching and
thinking, but he had no chance to get a piece of the fire.

The next morning Coyote held a council with the Indian. He told him when
he, Coyote, was within the tepee, to attack it. Then Coyote went back to
the fire. The hags let him in again. He was only a Coyote. But Coyote
stood close by the casket of fire. The Indian made a dash at the tepee.
The hags rushed out after him, and Coyote seized a fire brand in his
teeth and flew over the ground. The hags saw the sparks flying and gave
chase. But Coyote reached Lion, who ran with it to Grizzly Bear. Grizzly
Bear ran with it to Cinnamon Bear; he ran with it to Wolf, and at last
the fire came to Ground- Squirrel. Squirrel took the brand and ran so
fast that his tail caught fire. He curled it up over his back, and
burned the black spot in his shoulders. You can see it even to-day.
Squirrel came to Frog, but Frog couldn't run. He opened his mouth wide
and swallowed the fire. Then he jumped but the hags caught his tail.
Frog jumped again, but the hags kept his tail. That is why Frogs have no
tail, even to this day. Frog swam under water, and came up on a pile of
driftwood. He spat out the fire into the dry wood, and that is why there
is fire in dry wood even to-day. When an Indian rubs two pieces
together, the fire comes out.





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Previous: The Foxes And The Sun



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