Coyote Places the Stars
One time there were five wolves, all brothers, who travelled together. Whatever meat they got when they were hunting they would share with Coyote. One evening Coyote saw the wolves looking up at the sky.
"What are you looking at up there, my brothers?" asked Coyote.
"Oh, nothing," said the oldest wolf.
Next evening Coyote saw they were all looking up in the sky at something. He asked the next oldest wolf what they were looking at, but he wouldn't say. It went on like this for three or four nights. No one wanted to tell Coyote what they were looking at because they thought he would want to interfere. One night Coyote asked the youngest wolf brother to tell him, and the youngest wolf said to the other wolves, "Let's tell Coyote what we see up there. He won't do anything."
So they told him. "We see two animals up there. Way up there, where we cannot get to them."
"Let's go up and see them," said Coyote.
"Well, how can we do that?"
"Oh, I can do that easy," said Coyote. "I can show you how to get up there without any trouble at all."
Coyote gathered a great number of arrows and then began shooting them into the sky. The first arrow stuck in the sky and the second arrow stuck in the first. Each arrow stuck in the end of the one before it like that until there was a ladder reaching down to the earth.
"We can climb up now," said Coyote. The oldest wolf took his dog with him, and then the other four wolf brothers came, and then Coyote. They climbed all day and into the night. All the next day they climbed. For many days and nights they climbed, until finally they reached the sky. They stood in the sky and looked over at the two animals the wolves had seen from below. They were two grizzly bears.
"Don't go near them," said Coyote. "They will tear you apart." But the two youngest wolves were already headed over. And the next two youngest wolves followed them. Only the oldest wolf held back. The wolves sat down and looked at the bears, and the bears sat there looking at the wolves. The oldest wolf, when he saw it was safe, came over to his dog and sat down with them.
Coyote wouldn't come over. He didn't trust the bears. "That makes a nice picture, though," thought Coyote. "They all look pretty good sitting there like that. I think I'll leave it that way for everyone to see. Then when people look at them in the sky they will say, 'There's a story about that picture,' and they will tell a story about me."
So Coyote left it that way. He took out the arrows as he descended so there was no way for anyone to get back. From down on the earth Coyote admired the arrangement he had left up there. Today they still look the same. They call those stars Big Dipper now. If you look up there you'll see that three wolves make up the handle and the oldest wolf, the one in the middle, still has his dog with him. The two youngest wolves make up the part of the bowl under the handle, and the two grizzlies make up the other side, the one that points toward the North Star.
When Coyote saw how they looked, he wanted to put up a lot of stars. He arranged stars all over the sky in pictures and then made the Big Road across the sky with the stars he had left over.
When Coyote was finished he called Meadowlark over. "My brother," he said, "When I am gone, tell everyone that when they look up into the sky and see the stars arranged this way, I was the one who did that. That is my work."
Now Meadowlark tells that story about Coyote.
* Told by Barry Lopez in 1977