How the Rattlesnake
Learned to Bite
by Katharine Berry Judson
Myths and Legends of California and the Old
After people and the animals were created, they all lived together.
Rattlesnake was there, and was called Soft Child because he was so soft in
his motions. The people liked to hear him rattle and little rest did he
get because they continually poked and scratched him so that he would
shake the rattles in his tail. At last Rattlesnake went to Elder Brother
to ask help. Elder Brother pulled a hair from his own lip, cut it in short
pieces, and made it into teeth for Soft Child.
"If any one bothers you," he said, "bite him."
That very evening Ta-api, Rabbit, came to Soft Child as he had done before
and scratched him. Soft Child raised his head and bit Rabbit. Rabbit was
angry and scratched again. Soft Child bit him again. Then Rabbit ran about
saying that Soft Child was angry and had bitten him. Then he went to
Rattlesnake again, and twice more he was bitten.
The bites made Rabbit very sick. He asked for a bed of cool sea sand.
Coyote was sent to the sea for the cool, damp sand. Then Rabbit asked for
the shade of bushes that he might feel the cool breeze. But at last Rabbit
died. He was the first creature which had died in this new world.
Then the people were troubled because they did not know what to do with
the body of Rabbit. One said, "If we bury him, Coyote will surely dig him
Another said, "If we hide him, Coyote will surely find him."
And another said, "If we put him in a tree, Coyote will surely climb up."
So they decided to burn the body of Rabbit, and yet there was no fire on
Blue Fly said, "Go to Sun and get some of the fire which he keeps in his
house," So Coyote scampered away, but he was sure the people were trying
to get rid of him so he kept looking back.
Then Blue Fly made the first fire drill. Taking a stick like an arrow he
twirled it in his hands, letting the lower end rest on a flat stick that
lay on the ground. Soon smoke began to arise, and then fire came. The
people gathered fuel and began their duty.
But Coyote, looking back, saw fire ascending. He turned and ran back as
fast as he could go. When the people saw him coming, they formed a ring,
but he raced around the circle until he saw two short men standing
together. He jumped over them, and seized the heart of Rabbit. But he
burned his mouth doing it, and it is black to this day.