A stone-eating contest

This folktale is popular among the Native American Indians of Molalla, which tells how they came to be on this earth.

Long, long before man walked on earth, the grizzly bear and the coyote ruled the land of North American Continent. The land they lived and hunted was so vast that their paths did not often cross. However, one wintry morning, on the slopes of Mount Hood, on the north western edge of the continent they had an unfortunate encounter.

One day a dark, mean, wolf-like coyote was slowly making his way up the slopes of Mount Hood towards icy glacier at its peak. Once at the top, he had great plans to populate the world with many species of animals and humans, using his magical powers. Life around the vast wilderness where he lived wasn’t really exciting and temperamental grizzly bear was no fun have around.

“Hey you wily coyote, where do you think you are going?” growled one such bear from behind a bush nearby.

“To the top of Mount Hood, if you really have to know,” replied the coyote as he continued on walking up.

“Stop, you can’t go up there! You have to kill me in a duel… yeah, that’s the only way you could go up,” shouted the bear, as he bounded up to stand across the coyote’s path.

“Fighting a duel is so old fashioned, you grumpy bear. Why don’t we have a red-hot stone-eating contest instead?” suggested the coyote.

“Duel or contest, I will be the winner. If you want a contest, so be it. Go fetch your red hot stones, you loser!” bragged the ferocious grizzly.

The coyote set to work to start a fire. He placed four large stones in a circle and logs in between them and lit a fire. He now threw about twenty round pebbles the size of umm…large strawberries. Both watched the fire turned the stones into a bright red, strawberry-like glowing balls.

The coyote a picked a glowing pebble with a pair of tongs. “You start the contest, as you are going to be a winner,” he whined, pretending to be sad. With a big grin the bear popped a hot stone and swallowed it quickly. It burned his tongue and his mouth that tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Hey, it’s now your turn. I bet you can’t eat even one.”

The coyote ran behind a bush nearby where he had hidden a big basket of fresh, juicy red strawberries.

“My red-hot stones are here. Let me bring one and swallow it in front of you,” he called out from behind the bush. With a pair of tongs he picked one large fruit and went across to the bear. He popped it into his mouth and gulped it down. He yelped and howled and then gave a big grin.

“That was easy, wasn’t it? Now let’s raise the stakes. You eat five and so will I,” challenged the cunning coyote.

Reluctantly, the bear picked up the tongs and picked up five hot stones and popped them into his big mouth. He swallowed them quickly and then dashed to a nearby stream to gulp down some water. His roars and growls in pain shook Mount Hood and made the glacier move faster. The coyote watched him in mischievous delight.

The angry bear returned from the stream and asked the coyote to eat his red-hot stones. The wily animal ran behind the bush, picked five strawberries and popped them into his mouth. “That didn’t hurt a bit. I am surprised that you could not do it with ease. Now, let us eat ten
stones each.”

The grizzly was now really scared. “Okay, you will start first. You eat ten stones and if you are alive, I will eat ten,” the bear hoping that the coyote will drop dead eating hot stones. The coyote thought for a while and agreed with the new plan.

“Okay, I will go first,” he said cheerfully, as he ran to the bush. The grizzly could not believe eyes. The coyote was really eating red-hot stones without difficulty. When the coyote swallowed the tenth strawberry, he came to the bear and said, “It’s your turn now.”

The poor bear had to swallow all of the ten glowing stones that the coyote gave him. After he gulped down the last stone he dropped down dead. Satisfied, the coyote the coyote dragged the bear’s body to the top of the mountain where he skinned it and threw the bear’s heart
down its slopes. He threw various other parts of the body into other regions of the world, from which new species of animals and people were created. From the heart, they say, came the Molalla people who were brave, strong and virtuous.

Published as part of a series titled ‘Folktales of the World (Retold) ’ in Deccan Herald, Student Edition, dt. July 27, 2012

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