Coyote Races Buffalo

The story of Coyote Races Buffalo is a tale told by Calvin Grinnell of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. It was uploaded to on September 11, 2007. It's YouTube description labels it as "A cautionary tale from the oral tradition of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation." During an interview of Calvin Grinnell, he explained to me that the video was made in his spare time at his office in New Town, North Dakota. He made the video out of personal interested in producing a video version of the story, and also uses it to entertain his grandson. (Grinnell 2008)

Mr. Grinnell explained that while this specific story may be widespread, he found this version of the story in a book of transcriptions of Mandan stories collected by professors Wesley Jones and Dr. Robert Hollow for their "Earthlodge Tales" project conducted at the University of Mary by Bismark. The stories were collected in English, Mandan, and Hidasta languages. Mr. Grinnell used his experience working at the radio station KMHA and the illustrations to create the video. The original transcription of the stories can be classified as "written oral poetry", while Mr. Grinnel's video is a "reperformance" of the original story. (Foley 2002) Although the video is not a direct artifact from the Hollow and Jones collection, Grinnell postulates that he told the story as it would have been told originally. "Adding dramatic effect is as relevant today as it was 150 plus years ago," he said in a telephone interview.

Calvin Grinnell, a historian of the Mandan and Hidatsa peoples, states that the story would have been passed along as children's stories, and that the indigenous Oral Tradition used the story and similar stories to illustrate proper behavior and consequences for failing to act properly. These stories were generally told by grandparents (in some cases parents) or elders to grandchildren with a form of "transaction" occurring. The transaction consists of the child asking to be told a story, and the elder asking for a favor such as cooking a meal or doing a chore. Grinnell suggests that because the story does not come free to the children, they are more likely to remember it, and in essence remember the spirit of their elder through the story. (Grinnell 2008)

See Source:Calvin Grinnell for more information on Mandan and Hidasta stories.

Approach : Ethnopoetics Edit

HROPAll Approaches

The Ethnopoetic approach to Oral Tradition asks the observer to read the performance's non textual elements, represent them in a written form which allows either the transcriber or another "reader" to re perform the story. For the story of Coyote Races Buffalo, the script provides a great way to map the inflection of the storyteller's voice, as well as when he gets louder. A simple text transcription will fail to show how Calvin characterizes both Coyote and Buffalo based on the way the speak. Due to the limitations of the production, only the audio is provided. If accompanying video were provided, margin notes or other annotations would be made to explain to the reader even more aspects of the original performance.

Try reading the script before watching the video to experience how an ethnopoetic transcription helps convey more than just the words. Reading it out loud is the suggested method, as you yourself will become a reperformer of this story, even if the audience is just yourself.


bold text
italicized text
raised text
lowered text
Meaning: 2-3 second breath louder voice spoken faster rising inflection falling inflection
Video Ethnopoetic Script

One day Coyote was wandering along on the prairie. He came upon a small herd of buffalo. Which made him hungry.
One buffalo lay sleeping. Coyote had an idea on how he might make a meal.
Coyote hollered at the one that was sleeping. "You! Sleeping buffalo! You are slow and your feet are big!" "That may be" said Buffalo, "But your nose is thin and I can beat you. Do you want to race?" Coyote said "Yes. I'll go and make a rock pile. When I come back, we'll race."
He went to make a rock pile near the edge of a cut bank which was very high.
Coyote came back to Buffalo and said "Let's race! We'll run to the rock pile where we'll close our eyes and run faster." Buffalo agreed. "Now remember, we'll run to the rock pile where you have to close your eyes and run faster," said Coyote.
When they got to the rock pile, Coyote said to Buffalo "OK. Close your eyes!" Buffalo closed his eyes. Coyote closed one eye. The eye on the buffalo's side. They ran faster.
Buffalo fell off the high cut bank.
He laid there dead.
Coyote looked for a good path down to the buffalo. He took out his knife and cut up the buffalo. "Now I'll have a feast," he said.
He picked up wood and made a fire. He was tired from traveling, and his race. "I'll take a short nap."
He said to his left hand "I'm going to take a nap. If someone comes, you pretend to hit him." He said to his right hand "if someone comes, you pretend to hit him too." He said to his left leg "I'm going to take a nap. If someone comes, you pretend to kick him." He said to his right leg "if someone comes, you pretend to kick him too." He said to his eyes "if someone comes while I'm sleeping, you stare at him." Coyote stuck four arrows into the ground. He said to them "if someone comes, fall down and hit me." Coyote went to sleep. While he was sleeping Fox appeared. Coyote made a fist to hit him. The arrows fell, but they didn't wake Coyote. Fox ran away.
Fox appeared again. Again Coyote made a fist to hit him. Fox ran away again.
Later, Fox appeared again.
Coyote lifted a leg to kick him. Fox ran. Again Fox appeared. Again Coyote lifted a leg to kick him. Fox ran.
Coyote slowly opened his eyes as Fox returned again. He starred at Fox. Fox ran. Then Coyote was quiet. Fox invited all the other animals to come and eat. They took the roast and ate it up.
Then they ate up all his meat and ran away.
Coyote woke up and his meat was gone! He cried "I played a good trick on Buffalo. I won't be able to do it again." Coyote had no choice but to go back to his wandering. Even now, he may be traveling.

Source: YouTube permalink
Source: Transcribed from multiple viewings of the video.


Hungry Coyote tricks a buffalo into a deadly race. After cooking buffalo, he falls asleep before eating. While he is sleeping, Fox sneaks in and eats all the meat. Coyote resumes wandering, which explains why coyotes always wander around.

Further AnalysisEdit

While reading along with the performance of Coyote Races Buffalo, it is important to read it as a selection of oral tradition from the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, rather than reading it to fit conventional storytelling standards. The story has several traditional aspects, or keys to performance of Native American stories: stock characters, a focus on nature, anthropomorphic animals, and a lesson. (Erdoes and Ortiz 1998) These lessons are often told by showing the inverse of what is expected. The story of Coyote Races Buffalo has many possible lessons, such as retaining awareness (shown by Buffalo's death when he submits his awareness for a simple race), not leaving food out (shown by Fox stealing the meat), and to have a backup plan (Coyote wasted his only chance of tricking the buffalo off the cliff).

Native American stories also provide some explanation for "they way things are". (Bright 1993) In this story, the species of coyotes' tendency to wander around is explained. It is highly likely that the explanation of the wandering and the lesson provided go hand-in-hand as a sort of warning and possible consequence teaching. Oral traditions do not exist if they do not serve a social function. (Foley 2002) Entertaining as the story is, it exists also to teach and warn.

Further ThoughtEdit

See Talk:Coyote Races Buffalo for questions to think about and discuss.

External LinksEdit

  • -- official Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation website
  • -- official website of Calvin Grinnell, Mandan and Hidatsa historian
  • -- Earth Lodge Tales From the Upper Missouri: Traditional Stories of the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan, the source Calvin Grinnell used to find the story of Coyote Racing Buffalo at

  Twbtg2's Project on Native American Trickster Stories edit

Navigation: Twbtg2 - Abstract - Table of Contents - All Articles - Suggested Routes - Sources
Elements: Trickster story type - Coyote - List and maps of Native American tribes
Stories: The Coyote & The Prairie Dog - Coyote and Junco - Coyote and Turtle Story - Coyote Races Buffalo - Coyote Steals a Drink - Don't Be Too Curious - Rabbit's Short Tail
Approaches: Ethnopoetics - Performance Theory - Immanent Art - All
Sources: American Indian Trickster Tales - Calvin Grinnell Interview - A Coyote Reader - Coyote Stories - Finding the Center - How to Read an Oral Poem - Inconstant Companions - Tales of the North American Indians - The Telling of the World - All

The Video Lover Route

Coyote and Turtle StoryCoyote Races BuffaloRabbit's Short TailThe Coyote & The Prairie DogSourcesOther Routes

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.