This tale is taken from The Wonder Garden – Nature Myths and Tales – Illustrated by Milo Winter. Written by Frances Jenkins Olcott, it’s a collection of over 150 nature myths and tales from all parts of the world. It’s 500 pages provide a vast array of tales, including tales of flowers, fairies, dragons, talking birds, magic waters and enchanted forests.
The story of a promise made, the Woman who keeps Summer and Winter tied up in bags, and how Old Man Coyote brought home Summer
Old Man Coyote and Summer in a Bag
A Summer Story
A LONG time ago, it was always Winter in the Northland. There was nothing but Ice and Snow. But in the Southland it was always Summer, and the beautiful birds were there.
Now one time Old Man Coyote stepped out of his lodge in the cold Northland, and saw a youth blowing on his hands to warm them.
“Why are you doing that, my Son? ” he asked. “In the South is Summer, and young boys like you are chasing the Buffalo calves and running after birds. Why do you stay here where it is so cold?”
The youth did not answer. He was thinking of what Old Man Coyote had said, and it made him feel badly. He longed to see Summer, and to chase the calves and birds.
“I see you feel badly,” said Old Man Coyote. “I can help you. I am going after Summer. Down in the Southland lives Woman-with-the-Strong-Heart, who keeps Summer and Winter tied up in bags. I am going to bring home Summer.”
Then Old Man Coyote called his four servants, Wild Coyote, Deer, Wolf, and Jack Rabbit, and together they set out for the warm Southland.
Soon they reached the country of the Summer People, and Old Man Coyote said:—
“I will change myself into an Elk, and go into the wood. When the Summer People see me, they will come running to kill me. Then do you, Wild Coyote, who are so wise, go to the tepee of Woman-with-the-Strong-Heart, and, when she comes rushing out to see what the matter is, rub this magic medicine plant on her face. Then slip into her tepee, and you will see two bags—Summer in a dark bag, and Winter in a white one. Take the dark bag, but do not touch the white one.”
So Old Man Coyote changed himself into an Elk, and went into the wood. Soon the Summer People saw him, and came shouting, and running to kill him; while Woman-with-the-Strong-Heart rushed from her tepee to see what was the matter.
Wild Coyote rubbed the magic medicine paint on her face, and it took her voice away so she could not call out. Then he slipped into the tepee, snatched the dark bag from its place, and ran away to the wood, where the Summer People were hunting for the Elk. But the Elk had run swiftly toward the Northland, and the Summer People were following after.
Wild Coyote ran with the bag, and when he grew tired he gave it to Deer.
Deer ran with the bag, and when he grew tired he gave it to Wolf.
Wolf ran with the bag, and when he grew tired he gave it to Jack Rabbit.
Jack Rabbit ran with the bag. And so they all came again safely to the cold Northland, and gave the bag to the youth.
And just as the youth was about to untie it, the Summer People came rushing up, and demanded the bag. But he would not give it to them, until they promised that the Northland should have it for half of each year.
That is the reason why the Southland and the Northland have each six months of Summer and six months of Winter, and why the birds fly Northward in the hot time, and Southward when the cold sets in.
As for Old Man Coyote, he kept his promise. He made a bird called Prairie Chicken. And a very wonderful bird is Prairie Chicken. His neck is a Buffalo’s muscle. He has a Snake’s head. In his tail is a Snake’s rattle. His wings are the claws of a Black Bear. His legs are from Caterpillars.
And Old Man Coyote said to Prairie Chicken:—
“You are a bird. Go, now, and scare the people by the whirring noise you make when you fly up from the prairie grass.”
So Old Man Coyote kept his word; and the Northland got Summer, and the youth had a bird to chase.