Here is a retelling of a traditional Ute Legend


The Buffalo Hunting Porcupine

Many Native American legends feature animals animals who embody a certain spirit or are known for a particular skill or "virtue" as the central characters; whether it's part of a creation myth, or legends and fables, they manage to hold our attention, and teach us in the process.

One story tells of a time when animals ruled the earth, and a buffalo tracking porcupine...

The porcupine had been following the buffalo from their chips, asking each and everyone in which direction the buffalo were headed. One answered it was "fresh", and the porcupine followed its directions to an river which the buffalo had just crossed. 

The porcupine called out for a buffalo to carry him across the river, but as each one replied "Do you mean me?", he said "No, I want a different buffalo...", and moved on to the next one until he finally found the strongest buffalo in the herd who said "I shall carry you across the river!", and proceeded to cross the river to fetch the porcupine.

The porcupine, unsure for his safety, was apprehensive about getting on the buffalo's back.  Every suggestion offered by the buffalo was declined by the frightened porcupine until the buffalo asked him if he's rather cross the river inside him.  The porcupine agreed, and was swallowed by the buffalo.

As they crossed the river, the anxious porcupine asked the buffalo if they had arrived, the buffalo answered: "No, not yet", then a little while later, he asked again, the buffalo replied, "We have just come out of the water, it is safe for you to leave my insides"... But the porcupine replied: "Not yet, wait a little longer".

A while later, the buffalo grew tired of carrying the porcupine inside him, and ordered it to come out.  the porcupine came out, but his heavy tail, full of quills punctured the buffalo's heart on the way, causing it to charge and die suddenly. This angered the other buffalo, who tried to killed the porcupine, but he stayed beneath the buffalo's ribs, safe from their horned attacks.

After the buffalo got tired and abandoned their efforts, the porcupine emerged, and looking at the buffalo carcass said: "I wish I had something with which to butcher this buffalo."

A coyote who happened to be sleeping nearby hear the porcupine, and quickly got to its feet, and rushed to help the porcupine.  he said "Here is my knife for butchering", and joined the porcupine at the dead buffalo's side.

The coyote issued a challenge: "Let he who can leap over the beast butcher it", and the porcupine revved up, ran and jumped, but he fell short of the mark.  Of course, the coyote achieved the jump in a single bound, not even grazing the dead buffalo, so he got to carve up the beast.

After a while, he removed the paunch, and gave it to the porcupine for him to go and clean in the river, asking him to wait before eating any of it.  The porcupine, hungry from all the excitement tore off a little piece and ate it, but not so little a piece, and not eaten fast enough the t the coyote didn't see, and the latter howled with anger at the disobedient porcupine whom he chased and killed with a club, then stuffed inside the buffalo's carcass.

When he later joined his family, the coyote told them he had killed both the porcupine and the buffalo; and he asked them to help carry them home. 

Before being removed from inside the buffalo, the spirit of the porcupine said the magic words, "Let a red pine tree grow here fast".  The tree sprang upwards from beneath the meat and the porcupine, carrying them to the heavens, with the porcupine miraculously coming back to life.

When the coyote and his family returned to get the meat, they were surprised to find it had gone missing, and he asked his family to search the are, hoping to pick up a scent.

Porcupine sitting atop of the tall red pine, wished the coyotes would look up and see him there, then it happened, the smallest coyote looked up and saw the porcupine, sitting up at the top of the branches on a small hill of meat.  Coyote asked the porcupine to throw them a piece, for they were starving, but the porcupine had one request:

"Place the smallest of your children a little farther", the coyotes did as they were asked, placing their youngest off to the side... "Now make a circle and hold your hands upward to the heavens," so they did, and porcupine began throwing down the huge chunks of meat which ended up knocking the coyote and his family dead, with the exception of the little one.

When he came back down, he took care the little coyote, fed him some meat and then went home with as much as he could carry.  Later on, the porcupine and the coyote who had since become close friends, ended up helping each other in the hunt for buffalo.

The coyote, along with the buffalo and the bear,  features prominently in Ute lore, here is another example of a children's fable which features a coyote:

Coyote Steals the Blanket : A Ute Tale

by Janet Stevens (Illustrator)  The title says it all, in essence, this is a children's fable, about a coyote who steals a blanket and ultimately ends up giving it back, realizing that he's done wrong... 


Ute Tales (University of Utah Publication in the American West, Vol 29)
by Anne M. Smith (Compiler), et al (Hardcover - December 1992)

The Night the Grandfathers Danced
by Linda Theresa Raczek, Katalin Olah Ehling

Spirit of a Bear (G.K. Hall Large Print Western Collection) [LARGE PRINT]
by Susan Harmon

Ute Literature

Ute Native American Authors


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