American Indian Myths: Coyote and the Origin of DeathBy Sarah La Pearl and Bryan LubinNarrative First Retold By Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz

Original Version

Erdoes, Richard, and Alfonso Ortiz. Coyote and the Origin of Death. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 23-24. Print.

The spirit of the whirlwind being trapped by the Coyote
The spirit of the whirlwind being trapped by the Coyote



In the earliest times, death was not real. Every person could live infinitely. Time passed and there was less room for people to live. The chiefs had to come up with a plan quickly. The head chief believed that a person should die for a short period of time, and then they could come back. He believed that his idea could resolve the whole issue. The chief’s plan was to make death temporary. When a person would die they could leave for a short time, and then come back after nine days. The people loved this idea. They thought the plan would make them appreciate their loved ones, and it could allow them to gather recourses and space. The coyote was against this plan. He knew it would not be a permanent resolution.

The coyote thought that if a person died, they should be gone forever. He knew the world was not large enough for all of the people to live and eat. The chiefs were outraged. This idea seemed absurd. They thought the grief of friends and relatives would be unbearable. The happiness in the world would diminish if people died and never came back.A house made of grass was built. The medicine men could bring back the dead in this house by singing a spirit of the dead song. A life could be restored if the spirit came. The people could not wait to see the dead again. They valued their presence. After the first person died the medicine men sang the song.

A strong whirlwind came and blew
Coyote walks alone
Coyote walks alone
the house all around.The coyote rushed to shut the door. His plan was sneaky and undermining. He did not want the wind to blow in the grass house. With all of his strength he held the door closed. The coyote knew that the whirlwind was a spirit and if he shut the door, the spirit would not bring the dead back to life. The wind blew by. It never came back to rebirth another life. The coyote was the cause of all eternal death. Since the day the coyote shut the door, spirits blow around having no place to go.


To this day the spirits will never return. The spirits finally found a road to the land of spirit. This is where they will stay for the rest of eternity. People were disgraced by the coyote’s actions. They mourn and grieve over deaths. The people did not speak of him for years. The coyote decided to run away and he has never returned. Since he made death permanent he has had a burden on his shoulder. There is a constant fear that he is being followed. Coyote is afraid of what the people will do if they find him.

Interpretation By Sarah La Pearl and Bryan Lubin
“Coyote and the Origin of Death” is a Native American myth that explores the cause of eternal and permanent death that plagues mankind even today. When the Coyote shuts the door of the grass spirit house the coyote makes enemies with mankind, and the myth establishes why the coyote acts so cautiously. The value of this trickster myth explains why good people must stay dead, and the coyote’s practical plan backfired and prevented human beings from being reunited with their loved ones. The “Coyote and the Origin of Death” embraces why human life is precious in which a person never knows when the door of life will be closed.

In the myth Coyote and the Origin of Death, the coyote represents death. The coyote had thought that there would not be enough room for everybody to live in the world. The coyote believed that there would be a lack of space, and he knew that there would not be enough food to supply everyone.

The Coyote became the representation of death after he shut the door of the grass spirit house. “The medicine men assembled in the grass house and sang for the spirit of the dead to come to them. In about ten days a whirlwind blew from the west, circled the grass house, and finally entered through the entrance in the east. From the whirlwind appeared a andsome young man who had been murdered by another tribe. All of the people saw him and rejoiced except Coyote, who was displeased because his rules were not carried out. In a short time the feather became bloody and fell again. Coyote saw it and at once went to the grass house. He took his seat near the door and sat with the singers for many days. When at last he heard the whirlwind coming he closed the door before the whirlwind could enter. The spirit in the whirlwind passed on by. Coyote thus introduced the idea of permanent death and people from that time on grieved about the dead and were unhappy” ("Story 4: Coyote and the Origin of Death" par. 2-3").

The value of this myth is significant in a variety of ways. This myth explains the origin of death, and before the Coyote had come up with his deceitful plan there was not eternal rest. “In the beginning of this world there was no such thing as death. Everyone continued to live until there were so many people that there was not room for any more on the earth” (Boas par. 2). This quote from Boas explains that before the Coyote had shut the door on the whirlwind, everybody would live forever. The people would not have to experience the misfortune of infinite death.