The Theft of Fire
by Katharine Berry Judson
Myths and Legends of California and the Old
Karok (near Klamath River, Cal.)
There was no fire on earth and the Karoks were cold and miserable. Far
away to the east, hidden in a treasure box, was fire which Kareya had made
and given to two old hags, lest the Karoks should steal it. So Coyote
decided to steal fire for the Indians.
Coyote called a great council of the animals. After the council he
stationed a line from the land of the Karoks to the distant land where the
fire was kept. Lion was nearest the Fire Land, and Frog was nearest the
Karok land. Lion was strongest and Frog was weakest, and the other animals
took their places, according to the power given them by Man.
Then Coyote took an Indian with him and went to the hill top, but he hid
the Indian under the hill. Coyote went to the tepee of the hags. He said,
"Good-evening." They replied, "Good-evening."
Coyote said, "It is cold out here. Can you let me sit by the fire?" So
they let him sit by the fire. He was only a coyote. He stretched his nose
out along his forepaws and pretended to go to sleep, but he kept the
corner of one eye open watching. So he spent all night watching and
thinking, but he had no chance to get a piece of the fire.
The next morning Coyote held a council with the Indian. He told him when
he, Coyote, was within the tepee, to attack it. Then Coyote went back to
the fire. The hags let him in again. He was only a Coyote. But Coyote
stood close by the casket of fire. The Indian made a dash at the tepee.
The hags rushed out after him, and Coyote seized a fire brand in his teeth
and flew over the ground. The hags saw the sparks flying and gave chase.
But Coyote reached Lion, who ran with it to Grizzly Bear. Grizzly Bear ran
with it to Cinnamon Bear; he ran with it to Wolf, and at last the fire
came to Ground-Squirrel. Squirrel took the brand and ran so fast that his
tail caught fire. He curled it up over his back, and burned the black spot
in his shoulders. You can see it even to-day. Squirrel came to Frog, but
Frog couldn't run. He opened his mouth wide and swallowed the fire. Then
he jumped but the hags caught his tail. Frog jumped again, but the hags
kept his tail. That is why Frogs have no tail, even to this day. Frog swam
under water, and came up on a pile of driftwood. He spat out the fire into
the dry wood, and that is why there is fire in dry wood even to-day. When
an Indian rubs two pieces together, the fire comes out.