A long time before this story starts, Coyote’s wife died. He tried to get her back, but as ever he was impatient and silly, and he thought he lost her forever.
One day long after that mistake, while he was wandering in the plains, causing trouble, Coyote met a priest of the white men, who told him that their god can bring back the dead. Coyote asked where his wife went, that a priest can bring her back.
The priest told him she must have gone to the underworld because she is an indian. Coyote asked the priest to bring her back but the Priest told him that only the gods can do that. And the priest told Coyote that once a great priest of the white people died and came back after 3 days. So Coyote realised that priests’ bones are the key to the underworld, and he killed the priest and took one of his bones as a key and went into the underworld to find his dead wife and bring her back, like he failed to do before. The Nez Perce said it would take 5 days to bring her back; this priest said it takes 3, so he must have had powerful spirits to help him!
Coyote found the place where all the dead people were, but there were no dead indians there, only white people. He thought that the priest lied to him, and hewas sad, and he thought that the underworld was a very poor and desolate place full of sad dead people but he wanted to have something interesting to take back with him, because he had come all this way. He snuffled about and he discovered from snuffling and listening and being tricky that the Great Father of the Underworld keeps a special garden, and in this garden there are special magical flowers, and if you have one of these flowers you can do special magical things. So he sneaked into the Great Father’s garden and took a bunch of the flowers. But the Great Father of the Underworld realised Coyote was stealing his magic flowers and got angry, because he needs the nectar from the magic flowers to give the priests of the white people their magic. So he sent his soldiers to admonish Coyote.
But Coyote doesn’t like being admonished, so he ran all the way back the way he had come, and used the Priest’s bone key to close the gate to the underworld; but in his haste he dropped one of the flowers there, and it stayed stuck in the door, and grew into a great big horrible thorntree in the canyon, that can’t be cut down and won’t go away. So from then on all the People knew where Coyote went into the Underworld to find his wife, and never found her, and came back but didn’t close the door properly because he jammed a thorny rose stem in it in his haste when he was locking it.
Once he was back in the sun, Coyote didn’t like the flowers anymore, so he gave one of each of the bunch of flowers to one of each of the tribes of the People, and that is how they got their special powers.
Some people say that Coyote never closed the door properly, and that someone who knew how to kill the thornbush could open it again, because it would be unjammed. And other people say that the Thornbush is evil and eats souls. Yet other people say that the soldiers of the Great Father are waiting behind the thornbush, and if it is cut down and the gate is opened they will come swarming out to punish the People for Coyote’s trickery. None of the People can agree about the meaning of the place. But everyone agrees that the place where Coyote went into the underworld is a bad place, and noone goes there.