IN the beginning, when the Cahrocs lived on the shores of the Klamath River, beyond the desert of the sage-brush and far from the Rocky mountains, on towards the falling place of the sun, they had many good gifts. Their forests were noble and their deer were stately and fat. The bear was fierce, but his flesh was sweet and life-giving, and the Cahrocs grew strong by feeding upon it. But they longed for the gift of fire. In the evening when the beautiful red appeared in the sky they looked and looked upon it and wished that they might catch just one spark from the fagots in the heavens.
All the fire in the world at that time was held by two old hags who lived at the mouth of the river and watched it with jealous care. They also held the key of the dam that kept back the shining salmon.
The Cahrocs hated the old women and sought for some way to deceive them, so that they might loose the salmon, but most of all they wanted the precious fire. They lay and shivered under the thick bear-skin robes, for the nights were long and cold in their country, and the north wind blew in their faces and cut them sharply with his spears of ice and his arrows of snow.
They tried many times to steal the fire. Those rich in wampum offered to buy it, while some who were cunning attempted to wheedle the old hags into giving it to them, but all to no purpose. At last they thought of asking the animals to help them. But who so cunning and so brave as to undertake the task? The bear was too clumsy and growled too much, the elk was too tall and his antlers would strike against the lodge pole of the wigwam; the dog was not wise, and the serpent was never known to do good to the Cahrocs or to any man.
The council sat and smoked and thought about the matter and at last decided to ask the Coyote, for he was lean and hungry and might be glad to earn some food. Moreover, he would feel proud to have the Cahrocs ask a favor of him, for even the meanest beast despised him because he had such hard work to get a living.
So they went to see the Coyote. His home was in the deserts half way to the mountains, where he cowered behind the sage-brush, from whence he kept a sharp lookout for blood spilled by the hunter, the flesh that he threw away, or animals small and weak enough for him to be able to capture. The Coyote must forever go hungry, for when the animals were let loose upon the earth and each sprang upon its prey, the mountain sheep which was given to the Coyote dodged him, and ever since all coyotes blunder in the chase.
The Cahrocs found him sniffing at the ground for the hunter's trail. He felt flattered when he knew that they had come to see him, but he was far too cunning to show it. They explained their errand, but he would not promise to do anything. He took the food that they offered him, some dog's meat, buffalo steaks, and bear's kidney, dainties that the Cahrocs gave to an honored guest. Then he could no longer conceal his pleasure, nor refuse to do what they asked of him.
He did not need to hunt that night, so he curled himself up snugly, put his nose under his paws, whisked his tail about to keep his feet warm, and for the first time in his life was really comfortable. He soon fell asleep, but not before he had made up his mind that it would be well to do his best for the Cahrocs; it was much better than hunting in the desert.
The next morning he set out early to secure help from other animals, for he could not do the thing alone. The smaller ones did not dare to refuse him, and the larger ones felt sorry for the poor creature, and were willing to be of use to him.
The Coyote placed a frog nearest to the camp of the Cahrocs, then a squirrel, a bat, a bear, and a cougar at certain measured distances, arranged in proportion to their strength and to the roughness of the road. Last of all a Cahroc was told to hide in the bushes near the hut where the old hags lived.
Then the Coyote walked slowly up to the door and scratched for admittance. One of the sisters went to see what was wanted and she let him in; they were surely not afraid of a miserable coyote. He walked wearily to the center of the lodge, where he dropped down as if tired out, and shivered so that he shook the very lodge pole.
The two old hags who sat by the fire, cooking salmon turned to look at him, and one of them said: "Come up near the fire if you are cold," and she made room for him directly in front of the blaze.
He dragged himself to it and lay with his head upon his paws. When he grew uncomfortably warm he gave two short barks as a signal to the man outside.
The old hags thought he barked because he enjoyed the fire. "Ha! ha!" they said, "wouldn't the Cahrocs like this?"
Just then there was a fearful noise of hammering and of stones striking the lodge. The old women rushed out to drive the enemy away.
Instantly the Coyote seized a half-burnt stick of wood and fled like a comet down the trail in the forest. The hags pursued him; but when he heard their shrieks he ran all the faster.
Nearer and nearer they came, now they were almost upon him and his strength was fast giving out. By a great effort he flung the brand from him, just as they put out their hands to catch him.
The Cougar seized it and ran with long bounds down the winding road. The hags followed, but were no match for him and he had no trouble in handing it over to the Bear.
The Bear was very awkward and dropped it several times from his clumsy paws, so that the old women gained upon him rapidly; and had it not been that the Bat seized it and flew high in the air quite unexpectedly, the Cahrocs would never have got the fire. As for the old Bear, he rolled over against the tree exhausted.
The Bat led the hags a roundabout chase over trees, now flying high, now close to their very heads, until he nearly tired them out.
They took courage when they saw the Squirrel spring forward to catch the stick that the Bat let fall from a great height. "Surely we can catch him," they said; and they gathered their skirts about them and pursued him with furious haste.
All this time the brand was burning and it grew so hot that the Squirrel could hardly hold it. But he was a brave, little fellow and hopped and jumped steadily on through the woods, though his tail was burnt so badly that it curled up over his back and shoulders. He bears the marks of the singeing to this day.
Just as he thought he would have to drop it, he caught sight of the Frog. It was such a little piece by this time that the Frog could hardly take it from him, but he caught hold of it and ran on. The smoke blinded him and made his eyes smart, besides choking him so that he lost ground, and soon heard the hags close to him. He was the last, and only a pond lay between him and the village of the Cahrocs. His heart thumped against his sides and he dropped the fire in order to take breath before jumping into the water, when the old women pounced upon him.
But he was too quick for them. He dodged them, swallowed the brand and jumped into the lake. They leaped after him, but it was of no use, for they could not swim. So he got away, and they had to turn back and go to their hut at the mouth of the river.
The Cahrocs were waiting on the edge of the pond, and when the Frog crossed they welcomed him with shouts of joy. But where was the fire? He lost no time in showing them, for he spat out the sparks upon some fagots and they quickly caught alight. But the Frog lost his tail and it never grew again. Tadpoles still wear tails, but when they become full-grown frogs they cast them off, out of respect to their brave ancestor, who is king of all the animals that inhabit the bogs and marshes of the Klamath country.
After his success in getting the fire, the Coyote was a great favorite with the Cahrocs and dined off the choicest bits that were brought into the camp.
They were not satisfied even now that they had roasted meat and corn, but must needs coax the Coyote to go and get the salmon. They explained to him that the big, shining fish were all in a great dam at the mouth of the river and that the old hags from whom he had stolen the fire kept the key.
The Coyote was willing, but he said: "Wait a little till my coat changes so that the hags will not know me."
So they waited till his coat grew thin and light in color, and then when he was ready, accompanied him, with song and shouting, to the edge of the village.
He went down the Klamath many days’ journey, until he reached the mouth of the river, where he saw the old hags' lodge. He rapped at the door. They were asleep by the fire, but one of them being roused by the noise, growled, "Come in."
Instead of hanging his head, drooping his tail, and looking weary, as he had done when he went to steal the fire, the Coyote held up his head, frisked his tail and grinned at them. He was of much greater importance now, and he was sleek and round from being well fed, so the hags did not know him.
They cooked salmon, but offered him none. He said nothing, for he was not hungry, having dined off food that the Cahrocs had prepared for him. "Ha!" he thought, "I shall soon have all the salmon I want from the Cahrocs."
The next morning he pretended to be asleep when the elder sister arose and went to the cupboard to get the key of the dam. She was going for salmon for breakfast. When she had left the lodge he stretched himself lazily and walked slowly towards the door. Once outside he ran after the old woman and flung himself between her feet, so that she fell down and in doing so dropped the key. He seized it, went to the dam and unlocked it.
The green water shining with silvery salmon rushed through it so fast that it broke not only the lock, but the dam itself, and thereafter the Cahrocs had all the salmon that they wanted.
The Coyote grew proud over his success and was not satisfied with the kindness and honor shown to him by the Cahrocs. He wanted to dance through heaven. He chose a bright blue Star for a partner and called out to her night after night to dance with him. At last she grew tired of his howling; so one night she told him to go to the highest point of the cliff and she would reach down far enough for him to dance with her.
He had fine sport for a while; but as she lifted him higher and higher he began to feel cold, until his paws became numb and slipped from his partner's wrist, and he fell into the great chasm that is between the sky and the earth at the edge of the world. He went down, down, until every bit of him was lost; for Coyotes could not be permitted to dance with Stars.