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Coyote Steals Fire: A Shoshone Tale

Coyote Steals Fire: A Shoshone Tale

by Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation

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"Coyote was tired of being cold," begins this traditional Shoshone tale about the arrival of fire in the northern Wasatch region. Members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation developed the concept for this retelling, in collaboration with book arts teacher, Tamara Zollinger. Together, they wrote and illustrated the book.

Bright watercolor-and-salt


"Coyote was tired of being cold," begins this traditional Shoshone tale about the arrival of fire in the northern Wasatch region. Members of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation developed the concept for this retelling, in collaboration with book arts teacher, Tamara Zollinger. Together, they wrote and illustrated the book.

Bright watercolor-and-salt techniques provide a winning background to the hand-cut silhouettes of the characters. The lively, humorous story about Coyote and his friends is complemented perfectly by later pages written by Northwestern Shoshone elders on the historical background and cultural heritage of the Shoshone nation. An audio CD with the voice of Helen Timbimboo telling the story in Shoshone and singing two traditional songs makes this book not only good entertainment but an important historical document, too.

Sure to delight readers of all ages, Coyote Steals Fire will be a valuable addition to the family bookshelf, the elementary classroom, the school or public library.

Product Details

Utah State University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
4 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Coyote Steals Fire

A Shoshone Tale

By Utah State University Press, The Northwestern Band of the S Nation

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 2005 The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-87421-618-9


Every winter, Grandmother came to the Moson Kahni valley to gather with her people. There were hot springs here, and fish, game, and plenty of shelter. It was the old ones' time.

Grandmother was a storyteller.

"Grandmother, tell us how Itsappe — Old Coyote — stole fire!"

"Oh, that's a good story. But remember, if you fall asleep during the story, we all go to bed."

"Haa" and "hoo," agreed the children.

Coyote was walking along and was tired of being cold. He called the animals together.

"Let's go to the desert lands in the south," he said, "and steal the people's fire."

"Haa" and "hoo" said the animals.

Coyote chose Packrat, Stinkbug, and Porcupine to go with him.

The friends walked a long time. They watched the landscape change from pine to piñon, mountain to desert.

Nearing the camp of the people in the south, Coyote searched for a disguise.

"Those people don't need to know who I am," he said.

He tore off long shreds of juniper bark to make a wig. Packrat said he looked good.

They found the people dancing the round dance, so Coyote and his partners happily joined in. The girls thought Coyote was handsome in his wig, and that Porcupine's quill dress was very pretty. Stinkbug jumped up and down to impress them, but they didn't think he was good looking. They danced all night.

At dawn Coyote danced closer and closer to the flames, till suddenly ... he set his wig on fire! Then the people said "It's Itsappe! He's stealing our fire!" The animals ran for the hills, with the people right behind them.

First they caught the slow ones — Stinkbug and Porcupine. Packrat and Coyote ran and ran, but the people followed fast.

When he couldn't run one more step, Coyote tossed the burning wig to Packrat. Then the people caught Coyote.

Packrat kept running with the fire under his belly. He watched the landscape change from piñon to pine, desert to mountain.

Finally, Packrat reached his nest, and by then the fire was a little red coal. He blew on it gently, added twigs, and soon he had a fire to share with all the animals.

They divided the fire in the four directions.

"Is everyone still awake?"

"Haa" and "hoo."

"Kaan kwaisi yukwamitto'i," Grandmother said. "That's the end of the story."


History, Culture, and Traditions of the Northwestern Shoshone

Coyote Steals Fire is a traditional story that has been handed down for many generations among the So-so-goi people. You may have heard other stories about Coyote tricking someone, or getting tricked himself. Many Native American nations have a story like this one about Coyote bringing fire. One thing it shows us is that animals and humans have common needs, and that we can benefit each other — even though we also compete sometimes.

Early History


The Shoshone, Paiute, Bannock, and Ute people are related, and call themselves Newe or Neme (the People). Prior to contact with Europeans, the Newe groups formed small extended-family groupings that traveled extensively as seminomadic hunter-gatherers to survive in the harsh environment of the Great Basin desert. Horses, guns, white contact, and disease destroyed this social organization, resulting in more formal tribal identities and band loyalties. Pre-contact identities did exist to some extent according to the influence of horse ownership and resource use. What became the Northwestern Shoshone band was a part of those groups who had traveled largely on foot in a delicate balance of living off the land. The expression So-so-goi means "those who travel on foot." The old ones called the Shoshone by that name. When horses became available, the So-so-goi joined the mounted hunting groups in annual harvests.

The Northwestern Shoshone traveled with the changing season. They looked upon the earth not just as a place to live; in fact, they called the earth their mother — she was the provider of all they needed for their livelihood. The mountains, streams, and plains stood forever, they said, and the seasons walked around annually. The So-so-goi believed all things came from Mother Earth.

In the early autumn, the Northwestern Shoshone moved into the region near what is now Salmon, Idaho, to fish. They caught salmon and dried them for winter use. After fishing was over, they moved into western Wyoming to hunt for buffalo, elk, deer, moose, and antelope. It was very important to get the big game, for it meant feast or famine. It also meant clothing and shelter for them.

In the spring and summer, the Northwestern band traveled around southern Idaho and throughout Utah. During these months, they spent their time gathering seeds, roots, and berries and socializing with each other. This was the time when women talked about the latest happenings of the tribe. Late summer was root digging time and smaller-game hunting time. Around late October, the band moved into western Utah and parts of Nevada for the annual gathering of pine nuts. The nutrient-rich nuts were an important part of the Shoshone diet. They could be ground up into meal for mush (cereal) or roasted and eaten as a dessert or snack.

The area around what is now called Franklin and Preston, Idaho, was a permanent wintering home of the Northwestern Shoshone. It was known as Moson Kahni, which means Home of the Lungs. The rocks in the area looked sponge-like and made the Shoshone think of lungs. In this area and the rest of Cache Valley were natural places for the Indians to make their homes. The land along the Bear River was in a natural depression with lots of willows and brush, which they could use. Hot springs were plentiful as were fish and wild game. Willows and brush served as wind and snow breaks during the winter months.

Significant Events in Modern Northwestern Shoshone History

Fur Trappers Arrival: As early as 1810, the fur trade between the American states and Europe brought trappers to Northwestern Shoshone territory. This began the So-so-goi's first extended exposure to non-native culture.

Pioneer Movement: The presence of non-native culture in Shoshone territory increased significantly as settlers started moving west along the Oregon Trail in the 1840s. These settlers were primarily Americans, moving from the States in the East to claim the land and gold in Oregon, California, and other parts of the West. Some of them migrated to escape religious or political persecution, and some came to find work in new timber, mining, and railroad industries as they were established.

Bear River Massacre: On January 29, 1863, U.S. Army Colonel Patrick E. Connor and a group of California volunteers, with Utah Mormon guides, attacked the Northwestern Shoshone at their winter campsite along the Bear River, killing up to 300 people, including Chief Bear Hunter and Chief Lehi, and many women and children. The army said this attack was necessary because of Shoshone raids against prospectors and immigrants traveling through the area. These raids, however, had been conducted by a different band of Shoshone.

Conversion to Mormonism: The Northwestern Shoshone appealed to Mormon leader Brigham Young after years of struggle to recover from the massacre. Brigham Young sent George W. Hill, in the capacity of missionary, to aid them. The band, under their leaders Sagwitch and Sanpitch, decided that joining the Mormon church might be the only way to keep from being driven out of their homelands and onto a reservation. By August 1875, over 600 Northwestern Shoshones had been baptized.

Corinne Settlement: A site near Corinne, Utah, was in 1875 the first permanent home for the Northwestern Shoshone. Forced to give up their nomadic lifestyle, they started learning how to farm, under the guidance of George W. Hill. Many white citizens of Corinne, however, were fearful of a Mormon-Indian alliance, and after wild rumors were started, they called for army protection. The army forced the Shoshones to leave the area, abandoning their new farms and crops.

Homesteading: Beginning in the spring of 1876 and continuing into the 1880s some Northwestern Shoshones applied for land in Box Elder County, Utah, under the Homestead Act. Most of these lots were later sold by the applicants or their heirs.

Washakie: Desperately in search of a place to settle, the Northwestern Shoshone did not want to move very far from their beloved Bear River. With the help of George W. Hill, they moved onto a farm paid for by the LDS Church, near modern-day Plymouth, Utah. It became a vital and thriving community and lasted until 1960. This place was named in honor of Chief Washakie.

Washakie Day School: The Washakie Day School was established in 1882. The Northwestern Shoshone had learned early on that formal education was important for their children if they were to succeed in the new world that white settlement had brought to the area.

World War II: Many members of the Washakie community left during World War II. Some members went to work in the defense industries, and others went to war. For some, it was a chance to see the world; for others, a chance to improve their lives with a steady income. Native Americans from all over the U.S. fought bravely for the country.

Washakie Farm Sold: On November 24, 1960, the LDS Church sold the Washakie Farm. The Northwestern Shoshone had believed that the farm belonged to them, but they were told, to their surprise, that the church had never formally transferred ownership to them. Today, the Northwestern Shoshone own 180 acres of the land close to the original Washakie settlement. They have a sacred burial site there, but no tribal members currently live there.

Federal Recognition: On April 29, 1987 the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation became a federally recognized tribe, separate from other bands of Shoshones.

Massacre Site Saved: On March 24, 2003, with the help of the Trust for Public Land Tribal Lands Program, and the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville, Utah, twenty-six acres of the Bear River Massacre site were donated back to the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation.

Culture, Tradition and Education

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation honor and preserve their traditional cultural heritage. They also place importance on education as a tool for success in the modern world. These values are reflected in four projects the Northwestern Band is currently working on at their tribal center in Brigham City, Utah.

Singing Project: The Northwestern Shoshone are learning traditional Great Basin poetry songs called Shoshone Huvia, which are the songs their grandmothers and grandfathers sang long ago. To better understand the songs, tribal members participate in field trips to ancestral places. They observe and learn about the native plants, animals, mountains, rivers, and sky, which inspired their ancestors to sing. Northwestern Shoshone elders help guide and inform this activity.

Library Project: The library of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation serves two purposes: to encourage literacy among tribal members of all ages and to be a repository of Native American cultural knowledge. The library's collection focuses on Native American contemporary literature, poetry, art, traditional stories and song, history, cultural traditions and arts, and modern social issues.

Shoshone Language Revitalization and Maintenance Project: The primary objective of this project is to generate previously unavailable documentation of the Shoshone language by describing and analyzing the dialect of Shoshone most closely associated with the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. The language is considered endangered, because the younger generations are no longer acquiring the language. The project is thus urgently needed before the last fluent speakers are no longer available to pass on their knowledge. Dr. Mauricio J. Mixco (Project Director) and Marianna Di Paolo are the principal investigators on this project.

Beading Project: By meeting once a week for beading class, the Northwestern Shoshone want to preserve the aesthetic heritage of their tribe. During class, they enjoy associating with each other and teaching the younger members how to make beautiful traditional adornments.

Listener's Guide to the Coyote Steals Fire CD

Itsappe Kuna Tetekkappeha — How Coyote Stole Fire

As told by Helen Timbimboo, Northwestern Shoshone Elder

Listen for these Shoshone words in the story:

Kakuttsi ...... Grandmother storyteller

Itsappe ....... Coyote

Pisuppeha ...... Stinkbug

Pia Po'naiha .... Packrat

Yehnettsi ....... Porcupine

Waseppitte ...... Four-legged game animals

Painkwaih ........ Fish

Kuna waihyatteki ... Fire started burning

Kaan kwaisi yukwamitto'i .......That's the end of the story. (The rat's tail broke off!)

Translated into English by Leland Pubigee and Helen Timbimboo, transcribed and analyzed by Mauricio J. Mixco.

[1] Oyon tommo, uten kakuttsi, nemema'i pite'i'yu sukkuh Moson Kahni(ka); mai tan tepinihakkankka(n). [2] Saikka neme ukkuh soon noopitehkanku. [3] Okkuh utii pitei'hkwa(n), sute(n) wihnu, tukkumpai(n)te(n). [4] Saite(n) eteihpaa okkuhte to'ihkante(n). [5] Aiten wihnu teasen uten waseppe teasen uten tekkata'i tan tukkumpaikante(n), ukkuh hinni nuun painkwa'ihten, nanah semme, nanah semme uten tekaita'i uten tekkata'i. [6] Himpeh teasen, penka uteen nahata'i'yu. [7] Hinna saite(n) sehepi ukkuh tukkumpaikante(n), usen wihnu. [8] Neme sukka wettenkahninai'yu. [9] Suten wihnu, saiten tsuttsukkuttsiaenee, oyonse(n) ukkuh pitekkan. [10] Suten wihnu, uten kakuttsi uten ta huttuttsi, semmai utii niikwi: "ekittsi sikkih yeikkate(n), tammen natekwihkanta'i" mai. [11] "Haa!" mai. [12] Suten wihnu, ute(n) huttuttsi, "Itsappe katehi natekwinankenta'i," mai utii niikwi. [13] "Sukka, Itsappe pe wa'ihku un kuna un tetekkappeha," mai. [14] Suten wihnu, "Haa! teteippetee(n) niweneh! Utentsa nemme nanankasuankanna!" mai. [15] Suten wihnu, semmai utii niikwi: "Maikku pemme u nasentamahkante(n)! Hakka nuu(n) emmemantihkante(n) eppeihkwakka(n), suten tamme(n) natekwinappe sukkuse(n) wennekunta'i!" mai, utii niikwi. [16] Tamme supai oyonse(n) kwapikunta'i; tammen natekwinappemaahkanta'i," mai, utii kakuttsi, utii niikwinnu, [17] "Haa tuku! Hoo tuku!" mai; sute(n) teteippetee(n) niweneh, "Usen peaisen!" pemme ukkuh niweneh; "tsaan" u nimmeennu.

[1] Every winter, mother's mother would come with the people there to Moso's House; that's what they called it. (name for some hot springs in S. Idaho, near the Bear River Massacre Site). [2] A lot of these people would move to camp there. [3] When they came to visit, there were many people there. [4] There were a hot springs gushing forth there. [5] There was a lot of game of all kinds, such as fish, to hunt and eat them all, all of them (were eaten). [6] It was also where they would usually (set up their shelters.) [7] There were lots of willows there; that's what they were. [8] So, people would build (willow branch) shelters. [9] So then, those elders, all of them would come there. [10] Then, their beloved Maternal and Paternal Grandmothers, said: "This evening we'll tell stories!" [11] "Yes!" said the kids. [12] So, their Paternal Grandmother then told them, "We'll tell a story about Coyote!" [13] "About how Coyote stole fire," she said. [14] So the kids said, "Yes! That's what we'd really love to hear!" they said. [15] "So, from now on, remember this! Whoever among you goes to sleep, our story will stop right then!" she said to them. [16] "We'll all go to bed then! We will end the storytelling," their revered Maternal Grandmother told them. [17] "Yes, Fine! Alright! It's got to be (that way)," the kids replied; "that's how it is!" They answered, "Good!"

[18] "Nuun nemme maikku, pemme natekwinappe sukka oyokuse (sikka yeikka, nemme u nanankahkanna!" [19] Pemme "haa!" mai; niwenekkita'i, mai ... [20] Suten wihnu, Itsappe, sottun, tan mi'ate(n), mi'ate(n), wihnu ... [21] Uteekate mi'ate(n) ... tsai natakkwayapitekwa(n); wihnu, kwayapitekwa(n). [22] Suten wihnu, semme tapai suten sukka oyokus waseppitta pemme wetteno'okkinnu. [23] Utii nitto'okkittse wihnu, semmai utii niikwi: "Tamme saipu sokoyu'aih sokopai mi'ata'i," mai utii niweneh. [24] "Saipun tamme mi'ase tamme wihnu, suten nemenee sokkuhte kunai kottohka(n); nemme sukkatsa suankante(n)." [25] "Tammen sukka, uten kunai tetekkata'i" mai suten, Itsappe yekkwi. [26] "Haa!" mai niikwi, suten pemme waseppenee, u nankahkanten!" u niikwinnu. "Haa! Tuku ma'i!" [27] Suten wihnu, Itsappe sukka himpeha nimmapitsi'aka(n); oyokus wasepitta nitto'opitten, [28] Suten wihnu, u sukka himpeha wihnu nimmapitsi'annu, himpeha, Pia Po'naiha, teasen wihnu Pisuppeha, teasen Yehnettsiha; sukka oyokuse suten nimmapitsi'annu. [29] Usen wihnu, uma'i mi'ata'ikante(n) saipunten, yu'aihsokkokate(n). [30] Suten wihnu, uten haintseh utema'i mi'ate(n). [31] Utema'i mananku mi'annu. [32] Saikka wihnu soko puimi'a. [33] Saiten pettun mi'annu nanah antappe nahapitekwan. [34] Nanah antappe nahapitekwa(n)! [35] Suten wihnu, aikka toyakapa pemmen pe pitehkwenku. [36] Toyakapa pemme pitekwenku, suten teasen aikka, kai hinni ukkuh wihnu hannika(n). [37] Aiten nanah semme taka ... kai hinna penka namaseankeppekwai napuinten. [38] Suittinka wihnu pemme mi'anoo [39] Sukkuh wihnu utii kattaihkanku, utii kottohkanku, nemeneeka pitehkwenku. [40] Saiten wihnu yu'aihsokohka suten neme naakka(n) [41] Suten wihnu, Itsappe, tunnaan isasuase(n) sukka himpeha semmai sua [42] "Netsa ekittsi napampinaita'i, mai nasuakka(n)!" [43] "Ne antapusen nappunnikkunta'i, supai ne wihnu tokwainku nekkata'i!" mai sua. [44] "Siten nemenee supai kai ne sumpana'ainta'i!" [45] "Usen antapuse ne namapaikwakka(n)," mai suten; Itsappe sua!" [46] Itsappe suten oyosen taka hinna isahannite(n), mai yekwikkante(n) [47] Suten supai sukkuh himpeha pitempite aikka waahuuppitta sukka u ta'utanna. [48] Akka waampo'ampa tsakkwainna atekka, wihnu [49] Penni ta hanniku kepataanti. [50] Kepataan sute(n) u tsatsiyuwenna sukka waattsippeha. [51] Sunni yekwippuite(n), suten wihnu soonti hannise wihnu tokwainku uma napampinainnu. [52] Saikka antapus nappunninnu, pem pampipa u hannise. [53] Suten wihnu, Pia Po'naih semmai u niikwi: "Ennentsa napunni sakwa'ihku napunni kepateente(n) pampipainte(n), hoo!" mai u niikwi. [54] Suten wihnu, suten nemehka pitehkwenku, sunni napaiyahkante(n) kepataanten pampipainte(n). [55] Suten wihnu, suttun nemema'i nekkakkinna. [56] Attun nemema'i koonika(n) nekkate(n) sukka nemi aikka hinna natsa'ainken nuun teasen nuahteten. [57] Nanah antappunku nemenee nekka'yu. [58] Suten wihnu, Itsappe sokka pemma pe nekkata'iha u tu'ata [59] Nemema'i wihnu sunniku nekka'yu [60] Tsaan neesunka! Aiten nai'yanneen u puikkante(n), semmai u suankennu u pampipaihki kepataan. [61] "Hakai tuipittsi!" mai u suankennu. [62] "Aisen tuku anta tepitsi tuipittsittsi hakanai pitepite?" mai u niikwi. [63] "Suttukkuh napampinaikante(n), wihnu antapuse(n) nappunninnu!"


Excerpted from Coyote Steals Fire by Utah State University Press, The Northwestern Band of the S Nation. Copyright © 2005 The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation. Excerpted by permission of University Press of Colorado.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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