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Fall 1995, Volume 12.3



Dell Hymes

Coyote: Polymorphous but Not Always Perverse

Dell Hymes is Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia. His recent publications include essays in
Studies in Historical Change, ed. Ralph Cohen (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), and On the Translation of Native American Literatures, ed. Brian Swann (Washington, D.C. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993).



Coyote is the best known Native American trickster, but hard to pin down. Stories vary so much. He, and the figure of the trickster generally, often are celebrated for just that quality of being now this, now that.

The trouble with such celebration is that it diverts attention from those who tell the stories. It is not Coyote, but the narrators who are diverse, as are the issues they use Coyote to think about. On a given issue, two men, speaking the same language and telling the same story, may come to different conclusions. Louis Simpson and Hiram Smith did. Their Indian language was the same (called 'Wishram' on the Washington side when Mr. Simpson worked with Edward Sapir in 1905, 'Wasco' then and now at Warm Springs Reservation where Hiram Smith worked with David French and myself from 1950 on). Mr. Simpson generally condemned Coyote, Mr. Smith sympathized with him.

When Mr. Simpson told a story of Coyote as bungling host, trying to imitate another in providing food, and failing, Coyote is despicable. He visits Deer and Deer feeds him with his own flesh and blood. Having invited Deer to visit him in return, Coyote attempts to cut flesh off his wife. Deer stops him, reiterates that they should come to him, and provides again.

Throughout the story Deer and the wife use verbs that mark what they say as addressed to another. When Coyote speaks, the verbs are intransitive or reflexive, that is, not addressed to another. And when he starts to cut his wife, the word for wife is ungrammatical. It lacks the prefix of relationship (in this case, 'his') that kin terms require. The very language of the story isolates Coyote. And the story's last lines are a long speech by his wife, reproaching him to the point of his very Coyote nature (no one would want to eat your flesh).

When Mr. Smith told the popular story of Coyote and Fish-Hawk, Coyote of course also bungles as a host. He fails in his attempt to reciprocate, but the only harm is to himself. Fish-Hawk again provides food for him and his wife, while Coyote worries about the danger to his friend in doing so (diving through ice). He is not an isolate, only incapable.

In Mr. Simpson's version, Deer is almost Christ-like in providing flesh and blood ('come to me'). In another context Coyote may prove a savior of deer, as will appear below, in two myths from the Nez Perce of Idaho, myths that can be used to show that such narratives have not only imaginative power, but also poetic form—form that is part of what they say. But let me first sketch the place of deer in the myths of the region.


Different characterizations of a trickster or a figure such as Deer may reflect different attitudes or the handling of different problems. Two great spheres of narrative reflection can be distinguished. One has to do with setting the world right, the other with keeping the world right. In the world of the North Pacific Coast and Plateau, Deer, the most important animal food on land, is pervasive in both.

Some languages have specific devices for marking a statement as contrary to fact. People whose languages do not are sometimes suspected of being unable to reason in such terms. Native American myth is a refutation of such notions. It predicates conditions contrary to fact, exploring them with zest, humor, and sometimes a tragic sense. The present world (as Indians lived before others came) was not fallen from a Golden Age, but set right. The first stage, before the Indian people came, had much ignorance, many dangerous beings. Often, to be sure, the figures in myth were ways of exploring relationships and problems still real. But the fundamental premise was that of transformation between then and now.

Something in the myth world may need to be transformed for two reasons: a trait it should not have, or a trait it should have.

As to traits it should not have: The Thompson of British Columbia told of a time when deer were the only animals on earth, and plentiful, but people could not kill them because they were so fast and jumped so far, from one mountain top to another in a single bound. At last a woman changed them to ordinary deer by throwing her breech clout on their hind quarters (Teit 51).

Various Salish groups of Puget Sound and southern Washington said that deer heard that the Transformer was coming along, changing things. Not wanting to be changed, Deer sharpened a point with which to kill him. After a bit of conversation, the Transformer (perhaps Moon) nonetheless changed him into what he would be for the people to come (Ballard 75, 81; Adamson 336). Pike Ben of the Upper Chehalis gave the part of Transformer to Jesus (Adamson 139).

Myths may include human beings who are predecessors of Indians. Joe Hunt, a Klikitat of south central Washington, told of five brothers, four of whom went in turn to hunt a certain deer, which put them under a spell and took them to its place within a lake, where indeed there was much food. The youngest brother had the power to kill the dangerous deer and restored his brothers. He pronounced that henceforth it would not be like that, the people who are coming are nearby, and deer will be food for people (Jacobs, Sahaptin I 14).

Myths of transformed uncatchable or dangerous deer speak to the main concern as to traits Deer should have: Deer should be food. A favorite kind of story has Deer gullible enough to be tricked. In one type Coyote tells Deer to watch out for a (fictitious) enemy, then pretends to be that very thing, shoots Deer, and having pretended to care for Deer, eats him when he dies (Jacobs, Sahaptin I 54). In a story told by Philip Kahclamat, a Wishram Chinook, Coyote pretends to try to cure Deer, calling Owl to lead the singing to cure him, although Deer is already dead (Kahclamat ms.).

Another favorite story has Coyote and Skunk pretend that Skunk is desperately sick and needs the help of other animals to be carried out of his underground house. As they lift him up from within, Skunk discharges his muscle, they die, and both Coyote (who has been outside in the lead) and Skunk have food for some time. Eventually the Deer, Elk and other animals get wise (Adamson 134; Boas, Kathlamet 79; Jacobs, Sahaptin I 98, 177).

If the main concern about Deer in stories is for it as food, there is yet a polarity, perhaps ambivalence. There are stories whose point is that Deer gets away—from Cougar (Adamson 191), from wolves (Reagan and Walters 322). If Raven tricks and kills Deer, pushing him over a cliff (Boas, Mythology 704, Reagan and Walters 299), a version may have Deer get up and escape (Reagan and Walters 318).

Perhaps the escaping implies that deer should continue to be available, but when that is the point of what happens, myths normally specify that one out of a set escapes, that is why there are still such beings. I think that here one sees sympathetic imagination for the figure of Deer. In one case a Quileute myth about the trickster and wolves even has the trickster replaced by Deer! (Reagan and Walters 322; cf. 307, where it is the trickster K'wáiti). Deer is killed at the end but in the meantime has been given a dynamic place at the center of the mythology of the people. And there is a Klikitat myth about helping deer, not to be food or to escape, but just to be deer. Deer goes to the Mountain Goats and marries their sister. Warned not to follow them onto rocks, he nevertheless does, and cannot get back. The Goats then give him a moccasin so that he (and all subsequent deer) can travel on rocks and bad places without falling (Jacobs, Sahaptin I 19).

Myths of course have lessons about keeping the world right in the future. With Deer they concern the ways in which Deer can and cannot be successfully hunted. Coyote has to learn this lesson (Jacobs Sahaptin I 57, 59, 199). In the transformed world hunters must as well (Jacobs, Sahaptin I 5, Ramsey 60, Hymes, Bungling Host 195).

Among all these myths the one that seems to me most remarkable for sympathy with Deer is one in which this lesson is made necessary for the sake of Deer as well. Before the changes, Deer was too innocent, too unsuspecting. He would not have survived being hunted. He must change, so that people will have him to hunt for food, but also, I think, so that they will have him as Deer. The story begins with Deer, not dangerous, but at peace. Coyote speaks with wonder at it. In this myth, at least, Coyote is a cause of conservation and of ritual purification for men who hunt. (The one parallel known to me, also remarkable, is in Kroeber's Ute Tales.)

III. A Nez Perce Myth: Coyote and White-Tailed Buck

Let me compare a respectably presented translation of this myth with a translation in what can be called 'ethnopoetic' terms, a translation that takes the myth to have implicit poetic form. Let me present the two translations, then discuss the basis for difference, and present details, as evidence of the way of working and also of the character of the myth itself. Here is the published running translation (Aoki and Walker 100):

When the different kinds of deer were created, there was White-Tailed Buck. Coyote used to see him sitting there. Nothing disturbed him, even when Coyote came over and tried to scare him by shouting in various ways. He was just peaceful and chewing his cud. For a long time Coyote studied the matter, wondering, "How can he become more alert? He is too indifferent. Anyone, even a woman, could club him to death." In this way Coyote contemplated now.

Then he thought, "Maybe this will do it," and pointed his genitals at White-Tailed Buck's nose, almost touching it. Buck got the scent and gave a warning snort. After that, whenever Coyote showed up, Buck snorted. "There, you reacted in the right way," Coyote said. "That's what will make you wary. Only a man who prepared himself, taking a sweat-bath and cleansing himself, will be able to kill you. But not those who do not bathe. You were just too complacent, so much so that even women could kill you. That's the way you were. But this is the way you will be from now on."

From that time on, white-tailed bucks became difficult to approach. Only those who are prepared properly have a chance to kill them.

Here is an analyzed and revised version:


As told by Samuel M. Watters

When all the different kinds of deer were created,
Then there was White-tailed Buck.
Then Coyote used to see him simply sitting there.

Just so, not alarmed by anything.
Just so, even though he came over,                                                                        5           
         tried to scare it (by shouting) one way after another.
Then it simply sat peacefully,
         chomp, chomp,
                       chewing its cud.

Then for a long time he thought about it—                                                             10
         "How in the world can it have become that extreme?
         Simply so it is,
         Just so,
         Simply anyone, even some woman,
         Simply could knock it down."                                                                       15
Then he thought about it exactly this way.
                       "Maybe this will do it!"

Then he took out his genitals.
Then he pointed them at its nose.                                                                           20
When they just touched,
         just almost smack there against the nose ,
                       then White-Tailed Buck got the scent of them.
That's it: it snorted.
The moment he (Coyote) shows up,                                                                      25
                                     then it snorts.

From that time on that (has been) just exactly this way.
"Yes, you are finally right.
                      That's the way you will be.                                                      }
Only a man who will prepare himself completely,                                                   30
                                   will train himself,
                                   will take a sweat bath,
                                                 then will finally cleanse himself,
                                                              then these will kill you." 
                        And not those who do not bathe.                                            }     35
You were extreme
                         Simply so much so that even women could kill you.                }
         That is the way you were.
                         And you will be right this way,                                               }
          from now on,                                                                                               40
                          from this time forward.                                                         }
From that time on White-tailed Buck deer became hard to catch.
In no way (are they) easy to approach.
Only the man who prepares completely, for that reason, can kill them.

Putting a story on the page implies decisions about its organization. The running translation reads well, but the interlinear translation and Nez Perce text, which precede it, suggest a different organization, when considered in terms of what has been learned recently about oral narratives in the same region and elsewhere. The text appears to have, not three parts, as published, but five. These five parts begin and end at points that do not coincide with the paragraphs of the running translation. The paragraphs of the running translation are reasonable, but ad hoc. The alternative parts are inferred from the language of the original in terms of a general assumption about the shaping of oral narratives.

The assumption is that narrators organize what they say by weaving together two threads. One has to do with what. The other has to do with how. The shape of the told story has to do with both. In effect, a competent narrator knows two kinds of sequencing. One sequence consists of what happens, indeed, what must happen if the telling is to count as an instance of the story. The other sequence consists of relationships among lines and groups of lines, relationships that must pattern in certain ways if the story is to count as well told.

Until recently, study of oral narratives, such as those of Native Americans, focused mostly on the what. That was what could be studied by those unacquainted with the languages, or working with materials for which the original languages were not available. Observations as to characteristic ways of telling stories might be made, but did not much affect how stories were presented. Now it is possible to discern the how in a thoroughgoing way, a way that requires presenting stories in its terms. Such a way makes explicit recurrences and relations among elements. In effect, it makes it possible to see what someone versed in the original tradition could have heard. With a certain effort, we can learn something that narrators and audiences tacitly knew.2

Such analysis of the how depends upon three principles.

(1) The first is that oral narratives consist of spoken lines, which need not be equivalent to written sentences. Often a line is marked by a final intonation contour. (In English there are three: falling contour, rising contour [question intonation], and a sustained level contour). Sometimes such a contour contains more than a single line. In either case the unit so marked enters into patterned relations with other such units. A name for such a unit is needed ('line' will not do, since it may be more than one line), and 'verse' has been adopted.

Verse of course is a term for poetry. It fits, because one trait that the many different kinds of oral poetry in the world appear to have in common is that they consist of lines, of ways of organizing lines. Oral narratives, then, are not prose, but poetry. Often enough they are not poetry in the familiar sense of having lines with internal measurement, meter, as do the sung epic traditions of India, classical Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Slavic peoples, Anglo-Saxons, etc. They are lines that are regular, not internally, but externally, in the ways in which they go together. These regular ways are patterned by a kind of external measurement. One can speak of 'measured verse,' as distinct from metrical verse.

(2) That is the second general principle. It is an instance of what the great linguist and student of poetry, Roman Jakobson, considered basic to all poetry, namely, 'equivalence.' With metrical verse, equivalence may be in terms of syllables alone, syllables and stresses, alliteration, rhymes, sequences of types of feet, etc. In sequences of intonation contours in oral narrative, each contour is equivalent as an element of larger organization.

Often enough verses are marked by words as well. They often begin with time expressions ('one day,' 'that night,' 'for a long time,' 'the moment,' etc.), or with markers of succession of time ('then,' 'now,' 'again,' 'From that time on,' 'pretty soon'). In some traditions quotatives ('they say,' 'it is said') are such markers. A turn at talk seems always to count as a unit in relation to other verses, as part of a stanza or scene, though it may itself contain what amounts to several verses, especially in Native American narratives when it is a pronouncement. Relations among verses are often indicated by parallelism and repetition.

(3) The third principle is one discovered in recent years. The lines and verse of a narrative succeed each other at more than one level. There is an architecture, whose levels can be distinguished as verses, stanzas, scenes, and, sometimes, acts. The elements of one level make up another in terms of conventions as to their number. In much of the region of which the Nez Perce tradition is a part, the basic convention is that elements will occur in sequences of three or five. A further possibility is sequences of three or five pairs of verses. In other communities not far away, the basic convention is that elements will occur in sequences of two and four. Narrative communities everywhere seem to choose among these alternatives. (Sometimes both may be known and used, as among the Tillamook of the Oregon coast and the Karok of northern California.)3

Speakers of a language are unaware of many of the relationships that enter into what they say. Often they can tell if something is or is not done in an acceptable way, but not analyze why. So it is with these narrative relationships. If not part of language proper, they appear to be part of a level of use interdependent with it. The elements themselves, after all, are elements of a language. What distinguishes them is a mode of relationship.


We can go beyond the prose paragraphs of the running translation of Mr. Watters's story, because of the tradition in which Aoki works, and his great contribution to it. He has provided not only a running translation, but also an interlinear translation, showing the connection between each Nez Perce word and a translation meaning (Aoki 1988). He has provided as well a substantial dictionary of the language, so that one can discover the range of meanings for a word and contexts and patterns of its use (Aoki 1994). And he has provided a grammar for the analysis of the words into their elements (Aoki 1980).

When the English words that follow differ from those in the running translation above, it is the result of examining the range of meanings of the Nez Perce words in the dictionary.

One concern is to carry over the repetitions and constants of the Nez Perce, for they are part of the sense of form it conveys. Thus, the initial particle ka.. can be either 'and' or 'then,' and I have consistently adopted 'then'. Again, I have settled on 'thought about it' in both lines 10 and 17, since the Nez Perce word is the same. (The interlinear translation has 'thought' and 'contemplated,' while the running translation has first, 'studied the matter, wondering,' then 'contemplated…thought.)

Again, in lines 17 and 36 the word tamawin' is translated 'too' in the interlinear text, while explicated differently in the running translation, as 'too indifferent' and 'too complacent'. The Dictionary shows that tamawin' has the meaning 'extreme, excessive,' and I have adopted 'too extreme' in both contexts.

In one case I could not think of a constant English equivalent. The root of the verb in lines 4 and 6 has a sense of 'be alarmed, surprised' in the Dictionary. The interlinear and running translations have it as 'disturb' in the one case, 'scare' in the other. I have substituted 'alarmed' in line 4.

The Dictionary also implies that 'by shouting' is not part of the Nez Perce verb, but a concomitant in this story, and so I have put it in parentheses.

Sometimes one needs to work the other way, making sure that distinct Nez Perce expressions are present and distinct in the English. Two recurrent forms in this text, kál'a and q'ó', are both translated 'just' at the start of the interlinear translation (lines 2 and 3). The first continues to be translated 'just' in the interlinear translation, while the second is usually 'quite' and once 'still.' In the running translation both are often unrepresented. Indeed it is awkward to carry them over into the English, but it is part of the purpose of an analysis such as this to be as literal as possible, and in effect, teach, if necessary, something of an unfamiliar style. Without these two forms, indeed, the force of the stanzas about the initial peacefulness of the deer would be almost lost (together, they occur seven times). Consideration of all contexts of both forms suggests that 'simply' can serve for kál'a, 'just (so)' for q'o'.

Another point at which it is important to render expressive force is line 24. The interlinear translation has just 'that' for ke yóq'o'; the running translation has nothing. The Dictionary (under yoq) shows that the second form has a sense of 'that's it, correct' (Aoki Dictionary 954). Just such a sense fits this climactic moment!

In the final speech lines 30 and 44 both state in general terms what the successful hunter must do: prepare. These lines bracket the rest, as a sort of inclusio. The word translated 'prepare' in both lines in the interlinear translation is distinguished as 'prepare' and 'prepare properly' in the running translation. According to the Dictionary, it has a sense also of 'completely,' and 'completely' fits Coyote's insistent, bracketing instruction. (Similarly, I have made explicit the sense of 'exactly' which the word translated 'in this way' [16, 27] may have).

In a tradition such as that of the Nez Perce, a sequence of three steps with a sense of outcome in the third is common. The specific steps of preparation are such a sequence: train, sweat, cleanse himself. The running translation, perhaps inadvertently, omits the first of the three.

The interlinear translation has the first as 'cleanse,' but the verb is not the same as that rendered 'cleanse' at the third step. It has in fact a sense of 'exercise, get in shape, train,' and that meaning makes the sequence both culturally and rhetorically cogent.

In this concluding stanza kawánnax, 'finally,' occurs twice in Nez Perce. It is missing in the running translation, yet it doubly underscores the getting of things right: the deer (28) and the hunter of the deer (33). In line 33 moreover it emphasizes the status of the third step of preparation as an outcome. One temporal expression poses a problem, not of translation, but of placement. Koni.x ,'from that time on,' occurs twice, once after the second time the deer is said to snort (line 26 here), once in the third line from the end (42). The difficulty is with the first occurrence. Evidently Aoki was unsure how to construe it in context. He did not include the next three words in the running translation. By themselves they can be glossed 'just exactly-this-way that.' They do not seem to be part of what follows, Coyote's speech of pronouncement. Most likely they complete a sentence introduced by koní.x. Koní.x indeed introduces the antepenultimate line of the story (42), and its relative, kínix 'from now on,' occurs twice in the preceding lines at the end of Coyote's speech. It makes sense to see here a concluding stanza which emphasizes three times (a pattern number) what will be 'from now/then on.'

In the running translation, however, such a relation for the first occurrence is abandoned. Koní.x is translated 'after that,' and put at the beginning of the preceding sentence: 'After that, whenever Coyote showed up, Buck snorted.' This position seems very unlikely. While koní.x need not be the first word in a sentence, the other examples in this text, and those in the Dictionary, all show it preceding a verb, not following (as it would in a Nez Perce equivalent of the English sentence). Nor does the preceding Nez Perce sentence need it. It already has an introductory word with temporal reference, rendered 'still' in the interlinear translation, but glossed 'first' in all the examples in the Dictionary (Aoki 614), and followed by a change of tense to the present to indicate a recurrent state. (I use 'the moment' to convey 'the first time,' 'as soon as.')

The kind of patterning one finds in such narratives reinforces the conclusion that koní.x is the first word of what follows. There are five verses in the concluding stanza. The first three, as mentioned, express the notion 'from this time on,' two as they begin, the intervening speech twice as it ends (27, 40-41, 42). There is a second triplet as well. The last three lines (42, 43, 44) all express the notion that the deer became and remained hard to catch. The two triplets intersect in the middle verse, which ends one series and starts the other. I call this 'interlocking.' It turns up in a number of traditions, including English.

The other stanza with five elements, the preceding stanza (D), has two interlocking series as well. The first series has to do with three steps taken by Coyote: take out genitals, point them at the nose of Deer, touch the nose (19, 20, 21-2). The second series has to with Deer's response: get the scent, snort, snort whenever Coyote shows up (23, 24, 25-6).

Finally, an oral narrative ought not to lose its oral effects. In line 8 the Nez Perce has a reduplicated element for the sound of chewing cud, followed by verb and noun for doing so. The interlinear translation merely identifies the element: ['sound of chewing']; the running translation has nothing to represent it. English 'chomp chomp' seems close as actual sound.

These examples first of all explain and justify departures from the published translation. They show as well that the questions of translation interact with questions of the shape, the patterned form, of a story. Close translation can be more than a linguistic exercise. It can be an exploration and explication of expressive and rhetorical force.

V. A Comparison

Of course it is possible to tell a story in a different form, and to use form to a somewhat different point. Thanks to Dell Skeels, we have a version from Owen Gould (Skeels 148). Mr. Gould spoke in English, but with kinds of narrative pattern one finds in Nez Perce. Here is the story in terms of relations of lines and verses. As before, space separates stanzas.

Coyote and White-Tail Deer

As told by Owen Gould

Coyote was worried                                                                                                 (A)
         because White-Tail Deer was so tame
                       and was so easy to kill,                                                            5
and he wanted to make the White-Tail wild
         so he would be hard to kill
                       or get in sight.
He had thought of many ways
        that he might make him wild,
but none of his plans seemed to work out
       that he had tried.                                                                                     10
And he thought of one particular scheme,
       thought it might work
                   so that the White-Tail would be wild.

And he went around to the White-Tail,                                                                      (B)
        and he walked up to him,                                                                       15
                     and he said,
                     "Here's my chance
                     and I'm going to try
                     if this will work."
He walked up to him                                                                                      20
        and he pulled back his foreskin
                     and hit him over the nose with his penis.
The White-Tail snorted,
        and away he packed his tail on his back,
                     and he flagged it                                                                        25
                     and wiggled his tail,
                                  and away he went snorting into the timber.
Coyote said,                                                                                                             (C)
         "Now I have in mind what I wanted White-Tail to be,
                      wild instead of tame as he has been before.                               30
          Now I'll go and look for him again
                       to see what he'll do this time.
          Maybe I can walk up to him again."
He went about looking for White-Tail Deer again.
He never even got in sight of him,
        and White-Tail got the scent of him,                                                        35
                     and White-Tail began to snort at him from away                                   (D)
                                   off in the timber,
and he said to himself,
         'That's what I want him to be, a wild deer."
He said, 40 
         "The human people are coming after me.
         From now on, you White-Tail Deer,
                       you'll always be that way.
         When you get scent of a human being
                       you'll always snort                                                                   45 
                                    and be a wild animal hereafter."

Mr. Gould emphasizes Coyote's effort, from initial worry to testing to make sure of the result. Much of this emphasis comes at the end, in the testing.

Mr. Watters focuses on change in the nature of the Deer in a different way, mostly at the beginning. There he dwells on the deer's initial pastoral peace, describing it with 'just so, just so, simply' (in his second stanza), and having Coyote repeat 'simply so, just so, simply, simply' to himself (in the third). Mr. Gould pictures the deer once, but afterwards, flaunting its tail as it snorts and disappears into the timber.

The two versions suggest elements essential to any Nez Perce version—what one would know who could be said to know the story. They also suggest what is optional, what is open to a narrator for personal emphasis. Here is a comparison. Parenthetic letters identify stanzas in each. When a narrator dramatizes a point, has an actor speak significantly about it, or only names it, I use the terms 'shown,' 'spoken,' and 'named'.

  Watters Gould
(1) Introduction (who, where)  named (A)
(2) How White-Tail is  shown (B
spoken (C)
(3) Attempts to change named (B) named (A)
(4) Scheme conceived end of (C) end of (A)
(5) Scheme carried out (D) (snort) (B) (snort, tail)
(6) Test of success shown briefly end of (D) shown at length (C)
(7) What hunters must do spoken, named again
at end of (E)
(8) Pronouncement spoken at length mid (E) spoken end of (C)

Both narrators have essentially six elements in three parts: an opening in which the mildness of White-Tail Deer (Buck) is identified, attempts to change him are noted, and a scheme conceived; a middle in which the scheme is carried out; and end in which Coyote pronounces what will be. Both have testing before pronouncement, but Mr. Watters at the end of the middle part, Mr. Gould at the beginning of the third. Presumably any competent version would have these elements in this order.

Both narrators organize their stories within a culturally appropriate number of stanzas, three for Mr. Gould, five for Mr. Watters.

Only Mr. Watters has an introduction, identifying the characters separately. Many narratives have such, but Mr. Gould merges identification with motive. His opening begins immediately with that.

Mr. Gould names White-Tail Deer's state ('tame and so easy to kill'). Mr. Watters elaborates it in depiction (B) and report (C). These elaborations of Deer's initial state (plus an introduction) account for the difference between the two tellings in formal length. In effect, Mr. Watters extends part one, so as to bring him at the end of a third stanza to the point (scheme conceived) at which Mr. Gould arrives at the end of a first.

Both detail Coyote's act in the center of the story. Mr. Watters's Deer snorts (twice); Mr. Gould's Deer snorts, then packs, flags, and wiggles his tail.

Both test. In the last verse of Mr. Watters's fourth stanza ('The moment Coyote shows up/then it makes its snort') the words and change to present tense imply at least one later test. (The deer did not snort the moment Coyote first showed up, but let him reach it.) Mr. Gould elaborates most of his last stanza around testing (four verses out of five).

Both have Coyote pronounce how things will be. Only Mr. Watters describes the former state of Deer as so easy a woman could kill it, twice indeed, before and after the change, implying that only men can do so now. Only Mr. Watters speaks of the consequences for hunters, how they must train and purify themselves. He spells it out, and ends with it as well.

Neither Mr. Watters nor Mr. Gould mentions that most of the work of preparing deer, once killed, is done by women.

We cannot now hear Mr. Watters or Mr. Gould, but analysis of their stories into lines and verses, and relations among them, makes it possible to perceive much of what they intended and did in the telling of them.


It is helpful to summarize the relationships involved in a story in such a way that one can see that nothing has been missed, gain an overview, and perhaps see inconsistencies of patterns not otherwise noticed. Here are profiles for the two stories. "" represents quoted speech. Notice that both Mr. Watters and Mr. Gould sometimes use runs of what appear to be themselves verses within a unit equivalent to other verses within a stanza (Watters[D(c), (E(b); Gould (B) (abc)].

This apparently is available in Nez Perce as a resource, as it is in Kathlamet Chinook (Hymes Lergerase) and some other traditions.

Coyote and White-Tailed Buck
Samuel M. Watters

Stanzas Verses Lines Features
A abc 1,2,3 When…, then…, then…
B abc 4,5-6,7-9 Just so, just so, then
C abc 10-15, 16, 17-18 Then, then, Now"—"
D abcde 19, 10, 21-3, 24, 25-6

Then, then, When…then,
That's it, The 

E a[b]cde 17
[28-41]: [ab cd ef gh ij]
[28, 29; 30-34, 35; 36, 37; 38, 39; 31-32] 37, 38, 39, 40-41]
From that time on


Coyote and White-Tail Deer
Owen Gould

Stanzas Verses Lines Features
A abcde 1-3, 4-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-13  
B abc [14, 15, 16-19] [20, 21, 22] [23, 24, 25, 26, 27]  
C abcde 28-33, 34, 35-37, 38-39, 40-46  



1 This paper is possible because of the years of dedication to the Nez Perce language of Haruo Aoki. I dedicate it to him, remembering as well the pleasure of having once been one of his teachers.

2 My early efforts are represented in Hymes 1981. More recent understanding is represented in Hymes 1992a, 1992b, and 1994.

3 These relations often constitute what Kenneth Burke called the essence of style, the arousing and satisfying of expectation.

4 It was Mr. Gould's elaboration of testing that made me realize that testing was present in Mr. Watters's text as well.



Adamson, Thelma. Folk Tales of the Coast Salish. Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society 27. New York: G.E. Stechert, 1934.

Aoki, Haruo. Nez Perce Grammar. Berkeley: U of California P, Publications in Linguistics, 62, 1970.

____. Nez Perce Dictionary. Berkeley: U of California P, Publications in Linguistics, 122, 1994.

____. and Deward E. Walker, Jr. Nez Perce Oral Narratives. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989.

Ballard, Arthur C. Mythology of Southern Puget Sound. University of Washington Publications in Anthropology 3, 2. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1929.

Boas, Franz. Kathlamet Texts. Washington D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 26, 1901.

____. 'Tsimshian Mythology.' Washington, D.C.: Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report 17, 1916.

Hunt, Joe "The Deer are Made to be Dangerous Beings No Longer." In Jacobs, 1934, 124-16, and Jacobs, 1937, 11-13.

____."Mountain Goats give Mountain Footwear to Deer." In Jacobs, 1934, 19-20, and Jacobs, 1937, 15-17.

____."Coyote Tricks and Eats His Brother, Deer." In Jacobs, 1934, 54-55, and Jacobs, 1937, 50-52.

____."Coyote Kills His Deer Power, Tick, and His Own Wife." In Jacobs, 1934, 57-59 and Jacobs, 1937, 50-52.

____."Coyote Kills His Deer Power, Tick, and His Own Wife" (second version); "Cloud Tells News About Him; He Tries to Shoot the Moon." In Jacobs, 1934, 59-62 and Jacobs, 1937, 52-55.

Hymes, Dell. "Bungling Host, Benevolent Host: Louis Simpson's 'Deer and Coyote.'" American Indian Quarterly 8.3 (Summer 1984): 171-98.

____."Language, Memory, and Selective Performance: Cultee's 'Salmon's myth' as Twice Told to Boas." Journal of American Folklore 98 (1985): 391-434.

____."Notes Toward an (Understanding of) Supreme Fictions." In Studies in Historical Change. Ed. Ralph Cohen. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1992a. 128-78.

____."Use All There Is to Use." In On the Translation of Native American Literatures. Ed. Brian Swann. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution P, 1992b. 83-124.

____."Ethnopoetics, Oral Formulaic Theory, and Editing Texts." Oral Tradition 9.2 (Fall 1994): 330-370.

Jacobs, Melville. Northwest Sahaptin Texts, Part I. New York: Columbia University P, 1934 [English].

____.Northwest Sahaptin Texts, Part II. New York: Columbia University P, 1937 [Sahaptin].

Kahclamat, Philip. Texts dictated to Walter Dyk at Yale University. 1933.

Kroeber, A.L. "Ute Tales." Journal of American Folklore 14 (1901): 252-85.

Ramsey, Jarold. Reading the Fire: Essays in the Traditional Indian Literatures of the Far West. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1983.

Reagan, Albert B. & L.V.W. Watters. "Tales from the Hoh and Quileute." Journal of American Folklore 46 (October 1933): 297-346.

Skeels, Dell. Style in the Unwritten Literature of the Nez Perce Indians. Seattle: U of Washington dissertation, 1949.

Teit, James. Traditions of the Thompson River Indians of British Columbia. Memoirs of the American Folk-Lore Society, 6. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1898.


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