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The Coyote People

By 1805 our fictionalized Coyote People have lived in the valleys of the fictional Shoal River on the Big River Plateau, West of the Towering Mountains (The Rockies), for at least 16,000 years.

They are expert salmon fishermen and since the arrival of the horse 100 years before, they have become expert horse breeders. They live as nomadic, hunter-gatherers roaming on a seasonal timetable across their traditional tribal lands. 

Their technologically is based on stone and wood and flint knapping and wood-working are highly valued skills. Even so, for perhaps as long as 100 years, the tribes have been aware of a mysterious new people encroaching from the South and the East and have been trading with the Pacific coastal tribes and the Plains Indians, East of the Rockies, for the new technology of these ‘new men’. 

By 1800 Iron axes, arrow-heads, kettles, and pots are common on the Big River plateau and guns are just starting to appear. 

Despite the fact the Indians of the Plateau have never met a white-man, by 1805 they have already been victims of the white man’s diseases. French fur traders to the North and Spanish and British explorers on the Pacific coast had introduced European diseases to the population and tens of thousands had already been killed by outbreaks of smallpox in 1775, 1782 and 1801. 

These outbreaks reduced the population of the Plateau tribes by 50-75% and several of the smaller tribes have been completely wiped out even before the white men arrive and we now know nothing of them other than the faded memories of the tribes who did survive.

Traditional Way of Life

On a day-to-day basis the Coyote tribe live in four autonomous bands of around 50-75, that come together several times a year for the salmon fishing season, buffalo hunting trips to the Great Plains and raiding parties.

Coyote society is organized according to a number of defining principles:

  1. All people (both men and women) are born free.

  2. Men and women are born different but equal. 

  3. Both men and women choose who to marry and any person can ‘divorce’ a wife or husband simply by choosing to do so. The women has the final say and the man has to move out.

  4. A person may freely decide to temporarily follow the leadership of another person but no man has the power to tell another what to do. 

  5. People can sustainably use the resources of the earth but they cannot ‘own’ them. 

  6. Labor, food and technical resources are shared – for example hunters do not hunt only for their own family, they hunt for the group.


Men and woman in Coyote society are far more equal than in other indigenous tribes or indeed Euro-American society in the nineteenth century. This is partly a result of the socio-political principles described above and but also because of the cultural value attached to the idea that women can create life and that the tribe is just as dependent for food upon the traditional ‘women’s work’ of foraging for Camas roots and the drying of fish, as they are on the ‘male’ skills of hunting and fishing.

There are also no ‘leaders’ of the tribe in the way that profoundly hierarchical European societies conceive of them. Group decisions are made collectively by consensus and no person is bound by the decision of the group. 

There are ‘leaders’ who emerge for certain purposes and at certain times of the year but these leaders are more like town or parish councilors than they are commanders.

For example, there may be a ‘Fishing Councilor’ who will coordinate the salmon fishing, or a ‘Hunting’ Councilor or a ‘War’ Councilor. But these ‘leaders’ are not formally appointed and have no ‘power’, they emerge only as prominent individuals because of their exemplary knowledge, skill and wisdom; obedience to their instruction is entirely voluntary… although widely observed.

Trade and Wealth

Coyote concepts of ownership and wealth are barely recognizable as such to Western Europeans. For the Coyote and indeed all the tribes West of the Rockies, trade is not a competitive endeavor aimed at the acquisition of personal wealth, on the contrary, trade is regarded as a reciprocal social endeavor that creates ties of mutual obligation.

The nomadic lifestyle of the Coyote means that amassing personal wealth in the form of goods or precious metals, is neither possible nor desirable... how are you going to carry it all? (Hence the use of horses as a sign of wealth - because horses can move themselves when you break camp.)

[Note: On the Pacific Coast this led to the idea of the Potlach, a feast provided by a ‘rich’ man at which he would literally give away or even destroy, all of his material wealth.]

'Ownership' of land is also inconceivable to the Coyote. The land is the land, it is just there. All creatures have to live and walk on the land; where else could they live and walk? On the clouds? When Euro-Americans try to introduce the idea of contractual ownership of designated pieces of land by individuals, the Coyote will simply reject it as being ridiculous. 

Paradoxically, tribal lands are the lands of the whole tribe and are held collectively and are respected as such, even by their enemies. Before Euro-American colonial expansion, Native Americans rarely fight with each other to occupy territory but as more and more tribes are displaced by whites the fight for territory will become ever more desperate. 

Similarly, the Coyote regard large-scale agriculture as a form of sacrilege. Mother Earth has provided naturally and in abundance everything human beings need to live. Resources are all around us. To the Coyote, the idea of expending time and energy destroying and excluding those naturally occurring resources from the land by clearing trees, ploughing the soil, weeding and building fences, simply seems insane. Why work so hard when you can live very comfortably by hunting and gathering what is already there?


The spiritual and religious belief system of the Coyote People can best be described as Animism (from Latin: anima meaning 'breath, spirit, life’). This is the belief that objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence. 

The Coyote perceive all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animated and alive. They believe that ALL material phenomena have agency and intent. 

The origin-myths of the Coyote People are based around the character of Coyote, a super-natural trickster, responsible for the creation of the Coyote People as the first or real people of the earth.

Many academic experts speculate that the concept of the ‘Great Spirit’ that created all living things, actually only developed in Native American religion after Native Americans were introduced to the Christian concept of God. Before that, the ultimate ‘higher power’ in the Coyote universe was the collective power of the ancestors personified as ‘the grandfathers’.

The Coyote’s ancestors live eternally in the land of the souls, but this afterlife is neither heaven nor hell and everyone goes there regardless of their behavior in the land of the living. 

Dreams and visions are, central to the spiritual world-view of all Native American cultures. The Coyote do not perceive dreams and visions as incoherent, psychological phenomenon but rather as direct ‘messages’ from the grandfathers and the concept of the spiritual prophet through whom the ancestors communicate with the living world is common amongst the Coyote long before first contact.

To access the land of the souls the living have to die but then come back to life. There is some evidence that some tribes regard all forms of unconsciousness as a form of ‘death’ and in these cases ‘dying and coming back to life’ is a relatively common experience.

There are numerous anecdotal references in the literature and in current Native American folklore, of Medicine Men and Women choosing to die ‘but only for a short while’ in order to receive messages from the land of the souls and return to pass the messages on.

Warriors and War

There is no such thing as full-time ‘warrior’ in Coyote society. Being a warrior is only one of many roles for men between 15-40. Coyote men are first and foremost hunters, fishermen and traders but many are also skilled horse trainers and others skilled in working wood and stone. 

Even as ‘warriors’ Coyote men are more like ‘policemen’ than soldiers, as their role includes ensuring order within the tribe and protecting the tribe from danger. This might include guarding horses or stopping children playing near a dangerous river or ‘arresting’ a ‘criminal’.

And the role of ‘warrior’ is not even limited to men. Coyote women are just as capable on horseback as any man, and the choice to be a female warrior is seen as unusual rather an aberration and several Coyote women became renowned raiders and fighters.

The Coyote only fight neighboring tribes for very limited reasons - to avenge the deaths of relatives; to obtain plunder or prestige and to take captives. These aims are all achieved by small-scale raids using techniques developed from hunting and based on stealth, speed and camouflage.

Raiding parties are for the most part, private adventures entered into voluntarily and led by ambitious individuals.