the Buffalo Were Released on Earth
Native American Lore
In the first days a powerful being named Humpback owned all the
buffalo. He kept them in a corral in the mountains north of San Juan, where he lived with
his young son. Not one buffalo would Humpback release for the people on earth, nor
would he share any meat with those who lived near him.
Coyote decided that something should be done to release the
buffalo from Humpback's corral. He called the people to a council.
"Humpback will not give us any buffalo,"
Coyote said. "Let us all go over to his corral and make a plan to release them."
They camped in the mountains near Humpback's place, and after
dark they made a careful inspection of his buffalo enclosure. The stone walls were too
high to climb, and the only entrance was through the back door of Humpback's house.
After four days Coyote summoned the people to another council,
and asked them to offer suggestions for releasing the buffalo.
"There is no way," said one man. "To release the
buffalo we must go into Humpback's house, and he is too powerful a being for us to do
"I have a plan," Coyote said. "For four days we
have secretly watched Humpback and his young son go about their daily activities. Have you
not observed that the boy does not own a pet of any kind?"
The people did not understand what this had to do with releasing
the buffalo, but they knew that Coyote was a great schemer and they waited for him to
explain. "I shall change myself into a killdeer," Coyote said. "In the
morning when Humpback's son goes down to the spring to get water, he will find a
killdeer with a broken wing. He will want this bird for a pet and will take it back into
the house. Once I am in the house I can fly into the corral, and the cries of a killdeer
will frighten the buffalo into a stampede.
They will come charging out through Humpback's house
and be released upon the earth."
The people thought this was a good plan, and the next Morning
when Humpback's son came down the path to the spring he found a killdeer with a crippled
wing. As Coyote had foreseen, the boy picked up the bird and carried it into the house.
"Look here," the boy cried. "This is a very good
"It is good for nothing!" Humpback shouted. "All
the birds and animals and people are rascals and schemers." Above his fierce nose
Humpback wore a blue mask, and through its slits his eyes glittered. His basket headdress
was shaped like a cloud and was painted black with a zig-zag streak of yellow to represent
Buffalo horns protruded from the sides.
"It is a very good bird," the boy repeated.
"Take it back where you found it!" roared Humpback, and
his frightened son did as he was told.
As soon as the killdeer was released it returned to where the
people were camped and changed back to Coyote. "I have failed," he said,
"but that makes no difference. I will try again in the morning. Perhaps a small
animal will be better than a bird."
The next morning when Humpback's son went to the spring, he found
a small dog there, lapping at the water. The boy picked up the dog at once and hurried
back into the house. "Look here!" he cried. "What a nice pet I have."
"How foolish you are, boy!" Humpback growled. "A
dog is good for nothing. I'll kill it with my club."
The boy held tight to the dog, and started to run away crying.
"Oh, very well," Humpback said. "But first let me
test that animal to make certain it is a dog. All animals in the world are schemers."
He took a coal of fire from the hearth and brought it closer and
closer to the dog's eyes until it gave three rapid barks. "It is a real dog,"
Humpback declared. "You may keep it in the buffalo corral, but not in the
This of course was exactly what Coyote wanted. As soon as
darkness fell and Humpback and his son went to sleep, Coyote opened the back door of the
house. Then he ran among the buffalo, barking as loud as he could. The buffalo were badly
frightened because they had never before heard a dog bark. When Coyote ran nipping at
their heels, they stampeded toward Humpback's house and entered the rear door. The
pounding of their hooves awakened Humpback, and although he jumped out of bed and tried to
stop them, the buffalo smashed down his front door and escaped.
After the last of the shaggy animals had galloped away,
Humpback's son could not find his small dog. "Where is my pet?" he cried.
"Where is my little dog?"
"That was no dog," Humpback said sadly. "That was
Coyote the Trickster. He has turned loose all our buffalo."
Thus it was that the buffalo were released to scatter over all
Page created by;Cherokee Wolf
May 14. 1999