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Nez Perce
Expedition Culture Geography People Maps Nature
  Self Determination and Sovereignty
Sovereignty: Underlying Legal Principles
Fisheries Resources Management
Natural Resources Management
Cultural Resource Program
Contemporary Artists: Continuities
Contemporary Artists: Fusions
Language Program and Some Lessons
Horse Program
Acknowledgements and Cultural Property
Cultural Property Rights Agreement

  Native American
  Oral Traditions along the Clearwater and Snake Rivers
Coyote and the Swallowing Monster
Territory of the Nimíipuu
Seasonal Round: Winter into Summer
Seasonal Round: Summer into Winter
Horse in Nimíipuu Culture
Growing Up Nimíipuu: Family and Community Life
Growing Up Nimíipuu: Headmen and Leadership
To Sing and Dance: In the Past
To Sing and Dance: In the Present
Spiritual Life
Traditional Clothing Styles and Appearance
Céexstem: Dice Game

  Smallpox and Disease
Missionaries and Christianity
Fur Trade
Treaties and the Dawes Act
Treaty of 1855
Treaty of 1863
Conflict of 1877

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Listen as Beatrice Miles tells of the importance of this story. (Interviewed by Josiah Pinkham in December 2001)

Oral Literature
  1. Horace Axtell tells another account of the Coyote and the Monster oral tradition, in which the origin of the Snake River and the Seven Devils Mountains are related.

This Mari Waters's account of Coyote and the Monster is based on an audio-taped recording (collected by Jane Fritz as part of a Idaho Mythweaver project) and Rodney Frey's hearing of the "Coyote and the Monster" story as told by Mari Watters, a Nez Perce elder, in August of 1991. Mari was born in 1934, the daughter of Samuel Watters, a well-known Nez Perce storyteller. She passed on in May of 1992.

We have been able to convey some of the oral nuances of Mari's storytelling. To better emphasize the dramatic rhythm and pacing in the storytelling, we have formatted the text in a poetic style, with verse demarcations. With the oscillating of her voice, Mari's patterns, intonation, and stress (voiced inflection of morphemes) are marked by bolding the appropriate words. Pauses are marked by commas and periods, and, within verses, by a series of dot ellipses. Commas indicate brief pauses, while periods mark longer pauses, and dot ellipses note pauses from a half second to up to two seconds. Mari used these patterns of intonation and pauses very deliberately to add dramatic effect.

told by Mari Watters, Nimíipuu, 1991

Coyote . . . was going upstream.

Coyote is a-a-lways going upstream.

And . . he's going upstream,

and he's going along the Clearwater

and he noticed . . . that Salmon . . . were having some difficultly there,

so, "I'll build a fish ladder so that the Salmon can go upriver

and feed my people."

And so he's busy working along there,

and . . a Magpie flew over

and says

"Wha-a-t's you doin, Coyote?"

And Coyote looked up and says

"I-'m-m building a fish ladder for the fish to go up,

you know,

to feed my people."

And . . . Magpie looked at him

"Ah-h-h-h, there's no reason for the fish to go up there.

The Monster, Its-welks, ate them all up."

He's up in the valley,

near Kamiah."

And Coyote says,

"Oh-h-h-h, that's what happened to them.

Oh, no wonder nobody's been around to help me."

So . . he starts up that way

and he stops along the way

and he takes a sweat bath.

He cleans himself up re-e-al nice, you know,

and he says,

"Well, I'd better sweat real good to get my power,

and also to clean myself in case the Monster . . . ,

if he should eat me he won't find me repulsive!"

And so he takes a sweat bath.

And along the way he's going up over . . the Camas Prairie,

and he stops and he gets some flint

and makes some knives,

flint knives,

and makes something to start fire

and he grabs some . . dry moss and things.

As he goes along,

he gets some . . camas

and some . . elderberries

and other . . serviceberries

and things like this

and he puts them . . all in his . . . pack

And . . . he gets himself and he's on his way,

and he's making these ropes out of hemp.

And he goes along,

ah-h he's thinking of a plan.

He said,

"Oh-h-h, I miss all my friends.

I was wondering where Fox went, you know,


So he . . gets up to the top of the prairie,

"Well . . . , I'd better tie this rope around Mason Butte . . "

And he goes and ties it around there

And he goes up and ties one rope around Seven Devil Mountains,

and the other around . . . Cottonwood Butte . .

And he ties them around his waist

And Coyote gets up to the Breaks and looking into Kamiah,

and, "Ah-h-h, I don't want him to see me right away."

So he covers himself . . with clay

and he's sort of . . . hard to see

And he pe-e-e-ks over the side there, you know,

and spreads the weeds . . . and grass and what not

and lo-o-o-ks over

and sees the Monster.

Monster has just eaten a whole bunch,

and he's sort of laying there . . . sleeping,

with his head on his hands, you know,

sleeping away,

"ah-ah-ah-ah." (whispering voice)

Coyote yells out, (whispering voice)

"Its-we-e-lks, Its-we-e-lks . . !" (loud voice)

The Monster looks around,

"Who's that? you know,

who's that calling me?"

He looks around . . over . . the Breaks,

and he can't see anybody.

Coyote is well-camouflaged . . .

And . . he says,

"Who is that?"

And Coyote says,

"It's me . . !" (louder)

Monster looks,

"'It's me'?

Who's 'It's me'?

I don't know anybody named, 'It's me' . . !"

And Coyote stood up

and he said

"It's me, Coyote." (loud voice)

"Oh-h-h, there you are.

What are you doing up there . . ?"

"Well, I come down

and we're . . going to test our powers out.

We're going to . . . see who's going to draw each other in . . "

And the Monster,

"Haugh, haugh,

okay, alright, you go first.

We'll do it three times . . "

So Coyote gets up there

and he checks his ropes, you know,

and he's all tied up nice.

And he goes


And the only thing that happens is that maybe a hair on Monster's ear . . . wiggles around.

"Haugh, haugh, haugh."

Coyote yells down at him

"It's your turn, Its-welks,

you try to suck me in."

So Its-welks opens his mouth and,


And the Coyote starts going down

but the ropes hold him back . . . .

And Its-welks looks


He's got a lot more power than I thought, you know!"

"Okay, it's your turn."

And Coyote gets up there,


A-a-a-nd nothing happens, you know

Monster goes

"Hey-hey-hey-hey, haugh haugh haugh.

I knew he couldn't do anything, you know.

He thinks he's got power.

I-'ve got more power."

And Coyote says

"Ok-a-ay, it's your turn."

So . . Its-welks, he opens his mouth

and drives in the biggest air.


And with that Coyote cuts some of the ropes

and starts sli-i-ding down the hill, you know.

And the Monster's just about got him,

maybe the next time...

"Your turn Coyote."

And Coyote,


And no-o-thing happened

and Monster's sitting there,

"Hey-hey-hey, haugh-haugh-haugh."

"Ok-a-ay get ready now!"

And he opens his mouth,


And Coyote goes flying through the air,

he reaches into his backpack,

and throws out the roots and berries he brought with him.

And he says,

"Soon, the human beings will be coming,

and they will find these

and be happy!"

And Coyote went scootching into his mouth, you know


Its-welks lies down . . . ,

and he's content there

And Coyote is inside,

he gets his flint

and makes a little torch

And he goes along,

and . . sees all these animals,

all these friends . . . and what not

and, "Hello hello."

And they're glad to see him,

some of them are jumping up and down.

And Old Grizzly Bear comes up,

Bear comes up,

"Gra-ah, r-a-a-ah!"

"What are you doing here?

I was going to save the people.

You didn't have to come down."

And Coyote looks at him,

"What are you getting so worked up for?

You are so ferocious to m-e-e,

why are you doing that?"

And pushed him in the nose, you know,

pushed him back out of the way.

And that's why the Grizzly Bear has a different kind of nose than the Black Bear . . !

And . . . he's going along with his light, you know,

and Fox ran up to him.

"Fox, how are you?"

"I'm doing just fine!

I was wondering when you were going to come and save us."

"Well . , I need some help.

You go and get all the boys together,

and you have them gather all the bones of all the dead people,

and put them by all the openings,

and then have them gather a-a-ll the wood

and bring it to the heart.

But you have to show me where the heart is, you know."

And so Coyote goes on.

Fox runs on,

and tells all the boys,

and they gather the bones of the dead people

and they put them by a-a-ll the openings, you know.

They gather wood,

and they show him where the heart is . .

But on the way there . . . they run into Rattlesnake,

and Rattlesnake is just mad . . and rattling,

"Chish, chish, chish, . . . wish, chish, chish . . . . .

What are you doing here?

I was going to save the people.

I'm the one who has the power." you know

And Coyote says,

"Oh, you are so ferocious to everybody else,

and to me! you know.

Ah, you are nothing but a pest!"

And stepped on his . . . head,

and that's why a Rattlesnake has a flat head.

And he says,

"From now on,

you're just going to be a pest.

And you'll really be . . scared of people

and you'll run away when they come by.

But . . . sometimes you'll be brave

and they'll kill you."

And that's what happens to rattlesnakes today . . !

But he found the heart.

Coyote takes pitch from his backpack,

and starts a fire with the gathered wood under the Monster's heart.

He jumped on the heart.

Took one of his five knives out

and he starts cutting away at the heart.

Smoke begins to come out the Monster's eyes,



and back end.

And as he cuts into the heart

Its-welks, Monster,

"O-o-oh, I'm getting heart burn.

O-o-oh, I knew I shouldn't have eaten that Coyote,


And he opens his mouth and some of his openings

and . . . a-a-ll the boys throw out the bones,

as many as possible.

And he keeps cutting,

and every time he'd do that

the Monster, Its-welks,

"O-o-o-oh, o-o-oh."

And Coyote keeps cutting,

and everything he does,

that Monster,


and everything opens up

and the boys throw out more bones.

Coyote breaks one knife,

and then another,

and finally he is down to his last knife, and what not.

Coyote keeps cutting away at the heart.

And he says to the people,

"As soon . . as he opens up again,

you all run out

and I'll run out too . . ,

and he'll be dead."

So he cuts it and cuts it and cuts it,

and finally the last knife breaks

and the heart falls off.

And the Monster goes,


And with that . . everybody runs out . . . ,

out of his nose,

out of his eyes,

out of his ears,

out his mouth,

out of the back end . .

And . . Muskrat . . was the last one to run out of the back end.

But he was slo-o-ow . .

And as the Monster died he closed his back end . . . . over the Muskrat's furry tail,

beautiful furry tail.

And Muskrat,

"Oh, no!"

And he's sitting there, pulling his tail,

and he's pulled all his hair off.

And Coyote looked at him,

"And now what will you do?

You're always being the last one out.

You'll be just a scavenger the rest of your life!"

That's why Muskrat doesn't have any hair on his tail . . !

And at this point . . the . . . animals all are standing around

and . . . he starts . . . cutting the Monster up.

And gets some blood,

and . . . sprinkles it on the bones . . . ,

and a-a-ll those . . dead people come to life.

And everybody's going,

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," you know.

Monster's all dead,

and . . . with the help of his friends,

they cut up the Monster,

and they throw different parts into different areas.

The feet landed over toward Montana

and that's where the Blackfeet came from.

Part of the head he threw over to another part of Montana,

and the Flatheads, you know, came over from there.

And . . . part of the tail,

they threw over to . . . the Umatillas.

And they threw some south,

the Navajos . . ,

and the Shoshone,

and every place . . else.

They threw part of the belly over into Montana

and that's the Assiniboine . . the "big bellies!"

And . . . ah, he was busy just throwing meat every which way,

parts of the Monster

And Fox comes up to him and says . . . ,

"What about the people here? . . .

You forgot all about them."

The only thing left was the heart,

the kidney,

and a breast.

I guess the Monster was a woman.


and he says,

"Oh, I forgot a-a-ll about that . . . .

Go get some water from this clear . . . river,

the Clearwater [River]."

And he got him water.

"Now pour it over my hands."

And Coyote washed his blood off, you know,

and it dripped down.

He said,

"Where this blood . . . lands

and with this heart will grow a people . . .

They'll be strong.

They'll be brave.

They'll have good hearts.

They will lead good lives.

And these will be the Nez Perce . . . "

And that's where the Nez Perce came from . . .

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