An excerpt from the book
‘Deeper Than Gold: Indian Life in the Sierra Foothills’
a story from the Maidu Nation of California
In the early days of this world, there was no death. When someone was killed or died, it was always possible to bring them back to life. It was Worldmaker who had said:
“When people die, after they are dead, they will be laid over into the river, and, when they have lain there, they will come to life again.”
However, Coyote disagreed:
“When people die, they shall be dead, and they will be buried under the earth. Indeed, the dead will not be going here and there in the morning. When they are dead, they will be dead.”
After that, Worldmaker did not speak. Instead, he gathered his things together and left. He soon came upon a small creek, whereupon he set two horsetail rushes on either side of the meandering little waterway.
Soon after Coyote asked his son, who he loved dearly, to fetch some water. When he reached the edge of the creek, the two horsetail rushes had turned into rattlesnakes, and they bit him. Then it was that Coyote’s son died. It was then that Coyote pleaded to reverse the outcome of death he had argued for. But it was to no avail; it could not be undone. He chased after Worldmaker, pleading for his son to be brought back to life. Worldmaker ignored him, continuing to travel about the country. And so it is today: when people die, they stay dead. The horsetail rush continues to live by the stream. And sometimes they do indeed turn themselves back into rattlesnakes, there, by the water’s edge.