Legends relating to various plants vary from tribe to tribe. One cause of such variance is tribal location. Mythology concerning the origin of tobacco is an example of this.
To tribes in the south-east portions of the United States where tobacco was a native crop it had a sexual association because of its power to give a peaceful sensation. But in the plains and other regions where tobacco was not native it was revered as a marvelous star plant.
In one legend about the origin of tobacco a young man and woman traveled together, fell in love, and left the path for the happiness of intercourse.
Being so pleased, they agreed to marry. Later, while hunting the man returned to the place where they first united a pretty flower with scented leaves. He returned with it, telling the people of his discovery.
They told him, “When it is dried, we will smoke it, and name it ‘Where We Came Together.'” Since the tribal elders declared that because the man and woman were so completely at peace and happy when tobacco was made it has been smoked at every council promoting peace and friendship between tribes.
Within the Penobscot version, First Mother, Corn Mother, after the people returned, after seven moons had come and gone, to find the earth covered with green plants with silken tassels, and fruit-their mother’s flesh-was sweet and tender.
The also found in the clearing, where they had buried her bones, another plant, a fragrant one that was their mother’s breath. Her spirit told them that these were sacred leaves, and they should burn them to clear their minds and lift their hearts, and make their prayer effective.
They remember their mother when they smoke, and in this way she lives, her love constantly renewing itself from generation to generation.
According to the White Mountain Apache legend, Coyote Steals Sun’s Tobacco, Slim Coyote, a trickster, visits his cousin Sun on day when Sun was not home. Coyote tells Sun’s wife he came to talk to his cousin and will wait for him to return.
While waiting Coyote asks if he can have some of Sun’s tobacco to smoke, since he came to talk and smoke, saying his cousin would not mind. Sun’s wife says he can. Coyote fills his own little buckskin bag from Sun’s bag, quickly hiding his own bag. He then rolls a cigarette and says he has decided not to wait.
When Sun returns home he immediately asks who’s been there when seeing his depleted tobacco bag. His wife tells him what occurred. Sun get very angry and is determine to get that fellow. He saddles his horse Black Wild Horse and takes off after Coyote.
Now the horse could fly, making a sound of lightening when it did. A falling light rain covered Coyote’s tracks, but Sun still could follow him by the ashes from the thief’s cigarette.
As it continued raining the tobacco that Coyote had with him began to sprout and grow putting out leaves, and then flowers. When it dried, the wind scattered its seeds everywhere. When Sun saw this, he stopped chasing Coyote and went back home.
But Coyote’s troubles, due to his behavior, were not over yet. When getting back to the Apache camp where he was living Coyote would not share his tobacco.
The people kept asking him for tobacco to smoke and Coyote kept refusing to give them any. Finally an Apache council was held and it was decided to pretend to give Coyote a wife in order to get his tobacco.
When they told Coyote they were going to give him a wife, at first he thought they were joking, but they convinced him of their sincerity by building him a new wickiup and putting a bed in it. This caused Coyote to feel so good that he gave them all of his tobacco.
So come time, a young boy dressed as a girl entered the wickiup and sat down beside Coyote; he had been told not to let Coyote touch him till dawn. Slim Coyote became very excited; he could not stand up but just crawled around on the ground.
As time passed he became more and more impatient to go to bed with his bride. Finally the boy did lay down beside him, but not too closed.
Coyote kept trying to touch him. The boy kept saying “Don’t” and pushing Coyote’s hand away. This continued all night.
Then just before dawn Coyote made a grab and caught hold of the boy’s penis. He immediately jumped away screaming for the boy to get away from him: “You’re not a girl, but a boy.” He ran out screaming to the people, “You lied to me, you didn’t give me a wife at all. Give me my tobacco back!”
But no matter how loud he ranted and yelled the people would not give the tobacco back. This is how people first got tobacco. A.G.H.
Burland, Cottie. North American Indian Mythology. Middlesex, England. Hamlyn Publishing Group. 1968. pp. 110-111
Erdoes, Richard, Alfonso Oritz. Eds. American Indian Myths and Legends. New York. Pantheon Books. 1984. pp. 377-379
Leeming, David, Jake Page. The Mythology of Native North America. Norman. University of Oklahoma Press. 1998. p. 65