(an Apache Indian folktale)
Long ago, Coyote was troubled by the many people invading his land — there were miners and soldiers and settlers galore, and everyone was digging in the mountains, his sacred mountains. “How many more people can come?” he asked the other creatures, but nobody knew. It seemed the flow of invaders would never stop.
One day Coyote slipped behind a bush to eavesdrop on a group of prospectors who were warming themselves around a campfire.
Everyone knew Coyote loved to play tricks and outsmart everyone around him. And all the animals saw Coyote eavesdropping, but the prospectors weren’t paying attention. Or perhaps back then they did not know Coyote’s ways.
“What does he expect to learn from the people?” the buffalo muttered as they roamed, keeping their distance from these invaders with their picks and shovels and guns.
“He’s up to something,” the deer nodded knowingly. The snakes hissed, “Yes, indeed, but what?” Raven swooped over to watch, and the bats hung upside down and stared. But no one knew what Coyote was thinking. They only knew he was planning some trick or another.
And sure enough, Coyote was listening closely, for he had decided that in order to trick these human beings, he had to understand their nature. He must know what they loved and desired. And so he stayed quiet and close, and gradually he began to understand.
The prospectors spoke of nothing but gold and wealth and riches, of living happily ever after once they found all the money they could.
Coyote smiled to himself. So these prospectors loved money, he said to himself, and he began to plan his trick.
The next day at dawn Coyote visited all the animals, asking them to donate their money. He borrowed from the deer and buffalo, the rabbits and snakes and owls and rats. He promised he would pay them back with more than money.
Next he asked Raven to place a few dollars in the branches of a desert willow tree, and this he did.
“Now go away,” Coyote instructed Raven. Raven flew away, but he stayed close enough to keep an eye on things; he knew what a trickster Coyote was.
Coyote sat beneath the tree and waited.
Before long, just as he had anticipated, a group of prospectors and their mules happened past. They were carrying their blankets and baskets of food, their picks and shovels, their pans and guns.
When they saw Coyote, they stopped to ask what he was doing there. “Why do you sit there under this tree?” one of them asked.
“Ahh, I cannot leave this tree,” Coyote said. “It’s spring, and tomorrow afternoon it will bloom.”
“So what?” the prospectors laughed. “Whoever heard of guarding a tree for its blooms?”
But it was Coyote’s turn to chuckle. “This is a money tree,” he said. “Every day it ripens more and more. Today it has a few dollars, but tomorrow it will bloom completely.”
“A money tree!” the prospectors howled with laughter. “Whoever heard of a money tree?”
Coyote stood up and put his paw on the trunk. “You don’t believe me?” he sneered. “Watch.” He shook the tree, and as soon as he did, the dollars Raven had hidden in the topmost branches fluttered to the ground. Coyote quickly picked them up, as the prospectors stared in wonder.
“This tree grows money?” they asked. “Let us buy this tree from you. We’ll pay you well.”
“Ha!” Coyote spat. “You can’t pay me enough to give up this tree.”
The prospectors looked at each other, and they looked at the tree, and the eldest spoke. “We’ll give you everything. We’ll give you our mules and our blankets, our picks and our shovels, our food, our guns, our pots and pans. Everything we have can be yours in exchange for your tree.”
Coyote shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“We’ll give you our horses. They’re at our camp. They’re yours for the taking.”
“Well, then,” Coyote said as if he were thinking it over. “I suppose I’ll trade with you, but don’t forget to wait until tomorrow afternoon. That’s when the tree will be ripe. If you shake it before then, you’ll spoil the blooms, and it won’t reward you so well.”
“Of course, of course,” the prospectors said, greedy with imagining all the money they would have.
They shook Coyote’s paw, and Coyote climbed upon a mule and led all the others, carrying everything the prospectors owned into the rough, and he was good to the others. He shared his newfound wealth with the deer and the buffalo, the rabbits and the snakes, the owls and the rats, and to Raven he gave most of all.
But Coyote was careful to keep a good deal for himself, and off he ran into the wild.
The next day just after noon, the prospectors assembled eagerly around the tree. The eldest began to shake it, but nothing fell from the branches this time. He shook it again. Nothing happened. They all began to shake that tree, but still nothing happened.
And pretty soon they realized that they had been tricked, so they set off to hunt down that Coyote.
That is, most of them did, though some say a few of those prospectors still sit beneath that tree every spring, waiting for the money to bloom.