The Fire Bringer
: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES
: Boys And Girls Bookshelf
BY MARY AUSTIN
They ranged together by wood and open swale, the boy who was to be
called Fire Bringer, and the keen, gray dog of the wilderness, and saw
the tribesmen catching fish in the creeks with their hands, and the
women digging roots with sharp stones. This they did in Summer, and
fared well; but when Winter came they ran nakedly in the snow, or
huddled in caves of the rocks, and were
very miserable. When the boy saw
this he was very unhappy, and brooded over it until the Coyote noticed
"It is because my people suffer and have no way to escape the cold,"
said the boy.
"I do not feel it," said the Coyote.
"That is because of your coat of good fur, which my people have not,
except they take it in the chase, and it is hard to come by."
"Let them run about, then," said the counselor, "and keep warm."
"They run till they are weary," said the boy; "and there are the young
children and the very old. Is there no way for them?"
"Come," said the Coyote, "let us go to the hunt."
"I will hunt no more," the boy answered him, "until I have found a way
to save my people from the cold. Help me, O counselor!"
But the Coyote had run away. After a time he came back and found the boy
still troubled in his mind.
"There is a way, O Man Friend," said the Coyote, "and you and I must
take it together, but it is very hard."
"I will not fail of my part," said the boy.
"We will need a hundred men and women, strong, and swift runners."
"I will find them," the boy insisted, "only tell me."
"We must go," said the Coyote, "to the Burning Mountain by the Big Water
and bring fire to our people."
Said the boy: "What is fire?"
Then the Coyote considered a long time how he should tell the boy what
fire is. "It is," said he, "red like a flower, yet it is no flower;
neither is it a beast, though it runs in the grass and rages in the wood
and devours all. It is very fierce and hurtful, and stays not for
asking; yet if it is kept among stones and fed with small sticks, it
will serve the people well and keep them warm."
"How is it to be come at?"
"It has its lair in the Burning Mountain; and the Fire Spirits guard it
night and day. It is a hundred days' journey from this place, and
because of the jealousy of the Fire Spirits no man dare go near it. But
I, because all beasts are known to fear it much, may approach it without
hurt, and, it may be, bring you a brand from the burning. Then you must
have strong runners for every one of the hundred days to bring it safely
"I will go and get them," said the boy; but it was not so easily done as
said. Many there were who were slothful, and many were afraid; but the
most disbelieved it wholly.
"For," they said, "how should this boy tell us of a thing of which we
have never heard!" But at last the boy and their own misery persuaded
The Coyote advised them how the march should begin. The boy and the
counselor went foremost; next to them the swiftest runners, with the
others following in the order of their strength, and speed. They left
the place of their home and went over the high mountains where great
jagged peaks stand up above the snow, and down the way the streams led
through a long stretch of giant wood where the somber shade and the
sound of the wind in the branches made them afraid. At nightfall, where
they rested, one stayed in that place, and the next night another
dropped behind; and so it was at the end of each day's journey. They
crossed a great plain where waters of mirage rolled over a cracked and
parching earth, and the rim of the world was hidden in a bluish mist. So
they came at last to another range of hills, not so high, but tumbled
thickly together; and beyond these, at the end of the hundred days, to
the Big Water, quaking along the sand at the foot of the Burning
It stood up in a high and peaked cone, and the smoke of its burning
rolled out and broke along the sky. By night the glare of it reddened
the waves far out on the Big Water, when the Fire Spirits began their
Then said the counselor to the boy who was soon to be called the Fire
Bringer: "Do you stay here until I bring you a brand from the burning;
be ready and right for running, and lose no time, for I shall be far
spent when I come again, and the Fire Spirits will pursue me."
Then he went up the mountain, and the Fire Spirits, when they saw him
come, were laughing and very merry, for his appearance was much against
him. Lean he was, and his coat much the worse for the long way he had
come. Slinking he looked, inconsiderable, scurvy, and mean, as he has
always looked, and it served him as well then as it serves him now. So
the Fire Spirits only laughed, and paid him no further heed.
Along in the night, when they came out to begin their dance about the
mountain, the Coyote stole the fire and began to run away with it down
the slope of the Burning Mountain. When the Fire Spirits saw what he had
done, they streamed out after him red and angry in pursuit, with a sound
like a swarm of bees.
The boy saw them come, and stood up in his place clean-limbed and taut
for running. He saw the sparks of the brand stream back along the
Coyote's flanks as he carried it in his mouth, and stretched forward on
the trail, bright against the dark bulk of the mountain like a falling
star. He heard the singing sound of the Fire Spirits behind, and the
labored breath of the counselor nearing through the dark. Then the good
beast panted down beside him, and the brand dropped from his jaws.
The boy caught it up, standing bent for the running as a bow to speeding
the arrow. Out he shot on the homeward path, and the Fire Spirits
snapped and sung behind him. Fast as they pursued he fled faster, until
he saw the next runner stand up in his place to receive the brand.
So it passed from hand to hand, and the Fire Spirits tore after it
through the scrub until they came to the mountains of the snows. These
they could not pass; and the dark, sleek runners with the
backward-streaming brand bore it forward, shining star-like in the
night, glowing red through sultry noons, violet pale in twilight glooms,
until they came in safety to their own land. Here they kept it among
stones, and fed it with small sticks, as the Coyote had advised, until
it warmed them and cooked their food.
As for the boy by whom fire came to the tribes, he was called the Fire
Bringer while he lived; and after that, since there was no other with so
good a right to the name, it fell to the Coyote; and this is the sign
that the tale is true, for all along his lean flanks the fur is singed
and yellow as it was by the flames that blew backward from the brand
when he brought it down from the Burning Mountain.
As for the fire, that went on broadening and brightening, and giving out
a cheery sound until it broadened into the light of day.
[S] From "The Basket Woman," by Mary Austin; used by
permission of the publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Company.