Coyote Fights a Lump of Pitch
White Mountain Apache
Every night Coyote would sneak into a farmer’s field and steal the heads off of his wheat. It was a white man’s field. All the white men got together and decided to do something about Coyote’s thievery. They figured a little personage out of a lump of pitch.
Coyote came along, as always, on his path, and saw the lump of pitch. Thinking it was really a person, Coyote told it to get out-of-the-way but it didn’t. Coyote said if it didn’t move he was going to punch it and people who got punched by Coyote died. The pitchman said nothing so Coyote punched him, but his arm went in all the way up to the elbow and he couldn’t get it out. Coyote told the pitchman if he didn’t let go of his arm he was going to punch him with the other arm. So he did. That arm also got stuck.
Then Coyote was going to kick the pitch man, which resulted in the same thing. Then Coyote was going to kick the pitchman with his other leg, likewise with the same result. Coyote said he was going to whip the pitchman with his tail, which he did, and that also got stuck. Finally, Coyote was just going to bite the pitchman, but that didn’t work either. Coyote also got stuck there.
The farmers came and got Coyote and chained him up. They were going to scald him in a big pot of hot water to get all of his fur off. Grey Fox came along and Coyote told him that they were making all sorts of good things for him in the big pot and that Grey Fox could have some, all he needed to do was get in the chains for just a minute. The two switched places and Coyote ran off. The farmers saw Grey Fox and thought that Coyote must have shrunk. They put Grey Fox in the scalding water and took all of his fur off.
Grey Fox was let go, but set out to get Coyote. He met Coyote near a pond and told him that if they drank all the water in it they could eat ash bread. The two started drinking, but Grey Fox drank a lot more. Coyote started to pretend after a while. Grey Fox drank so much that he got cold. Coyote said he was going to go and find some blankets to cover up Grey Fox with, but he just left.
This is a story that is told a lot. Some of you might know this story, or something like it, as the story of the Tarbaby. In fact, this story is very similar to the Brer stories, Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and so on.
Yes, tar and pitch are both sticky and there are plenty of stories of people being tricked into getting stuck to both. Tar is not easy to remove from skin. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced myself, but I imagine, back in the day, if you got tar all over, it would be difficult to remove and that hot water may have been one way to remove it.
You shouldn’t really be so quick to anger. If Coyote had taken a minute and looked at the situation and sniffed it out, he probably could have figured out that pitchman wasn’t a real and alive being. There’s probably something wrong with a man of pitch in the middle of a wheat field, right? Coyote could have just walked around it and gotten all the wheat he wanted. Sometimes it pays to just take a step back and take in the situation before you start expressing all sorts of emotion.
If you see a tarman in the woods, don’t touch it.
Would you try to hit some strange person who was standing in the middle of your path if they didn’t move?
Do you think Coyote was tricking Grey Fox because he had been tricked?