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Creation Myths of Primitive America, by Jeremiah Curtin, [1898], at


Sedit was in favor of death for men, and gives his reasons. It cannot be said that he brought death into the world, but he stopped the work which would have kept it out.

His discourse with the Hus brothers is curious; it represents the immortality and goodness of a weak and limited creature like man as barren and monotonous. The comparison of this conversation with the account of Adam and Eve before and after the Fall is not without interest.

The critical, unbelieving, disobedient Sedit, who is so willing to make life in the world varied and interesting through death, so long as the question stands apart from his own immortality, and his great concern and anxiety when he thinks that he must himself die, is brought out in good relief.

The earnest and honest Hus brothers stand in strong contrast to the sneering Sedit. The Hus character is a lofty one in Wintu mythology. This may seem strange to a new student of Indian ideas, when he remembers what a foul creature the turkey buzzard is.

The buzzard is considered as a purifier on earth, and surely in regions like Central America the service rendered by the bird in this regard is memorable. The buzzard is everywhere the most frequent and striking figure in Guatemala and Southern Mexico, both in city and country. In California there is a fine of five dollars for killing one.

The original Hus character is conceived by the Wintus as striving toward religious purification as strenuously as the earthly buzzard works at cleaning the earth of carrion of various descriptions.

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The following remarks accompanied this tale when published in "The Sun":--

This tale of Sedit and the Hus brothers is a splendid bit of aboriginal American philosophy, and touches on topics which have exercised many minds besides those of primitive America. The subject of life and death is treated here so simply, and at the same time so well, that I believe few readers would ask for explanation or comment.

Some statements, however, touching Sedit are not out of place, I think. The coyote is very prominent in the mythology of every region where he is found. The basis of his character is the same in all myths that I have collected. He is a tremendous glutton, boastful, talkative, cunning, exceptionally inclined to the other sex, fall of curiosity, a liar, a trickster, deceiving most adroitly, and is deceived himself at times. He comes to grief frequently because of his passions and peculiar qualities. He is an artful dodger, who has points in common with the devil of European folk-lore, being in many cases an American counterpart of this curious and interesting personage.

Of Northern Pacific coast tribes in the United States, the Modocs have given most distinction to the coyote. Among them the chief coyote is a trickster on the grandest scale, and has obtained possession of the indestructible disk of the sun, through which he is immortal, or, at least, is renewed every day to carry that luminary. Because of his vanity and boastfulness, the coyote undertakes various enterprises in which he fails through his passions.

Sacred springs and small lakes in the mountains are very prominent in the Modoc religion. A young man who hopes to be a magician or a doctor goes to these mountain springs before he is married or knows woman. There he fasts and watches a week or longer until he is nearly exhausted. If he is to be a magician or doctor, spirits appear to him in this interval. A coyote went to those mountains (in the time before men were on earth, of course), hoping to gain great magic power, but on the way be ate various kinds of food hateful to the spirits of the springs. These spirits were disgusted with the odor of food that came from him, struck him with mange, drove him away, made him hungry, foul, and

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wretched forever. He ran away, howling and lamenting, without hope of pardon. From this coyote are descended an especially bad breed of coyotes in Oregon. They are all foul and hungry to this day. In dark windy nights the mangy descendants of that glutton are heard bewailing the fault of their ancestor, their own fallen state and lost happiness.

The Shasta Indians have a long tale of a coyote whose fond grandmother tried to make him a great sorcerer. When the time came, she sent him to the sacred mountain and gave every instruction. He was not to stop, eat, or drink on the road, or to speak to any one. When about two-thirds of the distance, he passed near a house; inside was loud thumping and hammering; a frog woman was pounding seeds and singing; her house was full of food; coyote caught the odor of it, stopped, could not resist the temptation to go in. He went in, ate and drank everything put before him. In Indian mythology frog women are not vestals; so breaking his fast and gluttony were not his only offences. He had fallen past redemption. On leaving the frog woman's house he went through a series of unmentionable adventures, at the end of which there was nothing left but his head, which was in a pool by the wayside, and just as much alive as ever.

Two sisters, afterwards ducks, who were going that way, found and pitied the unfortunate. It was not easy to carry him, but the younger promised to do so if he would shut his eyes and not open them till she set him down on his grandmother's threshold. This condition was to prevent him from seeing how she carried him. When half-way home, curiosity overcame him. Though only a head, he opened his eyes and fell to the ground.

The duck woman had pity again, and took him to his grandmother. Loud was her wailing at sight of her lost and ruined grandson.

Sedit came to grief through peculiarities of character.

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