J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964) was a teller of tall tales, a spinner of yarns. In 1949 he wrote a story about a certain Brother Coyote who, while hunting for food one day, happened to tread on the living quarters of a little cricket. When the cricket objected to having his “palace” desecrated and accused Coyote of insulting him, Brother Coyote arrogantly replied,
“Insult you! Why, you dwarf, I am merely seeking my living, and now I have you, I am going to eat you up. I had rather have a red watermelon or a fat kid, but I eat a cricket or a grasshopper when it’s handy. Maybe you will fill the hollow in one of my molars.”
Now, the cricket decided that it might be a good time to try to defuse the situation and soothingly told Brother Coyote that he hadn’t been given an adequate chance. Brother Coyote asked Cricket just what kind of a chance he expected.
“I want to fight a duel,” said the cricket. “You fight a duel with me?” and Coyote laughed. “Yes, fight a duel with you,” said Cricket. “If I win, then my song will go on. If you win, then I’ll fill the hollow in one of your respectable teeth.”
Coyote decided that a little comedy might be fun. “Now I sit here trembling at the sight of your armor and weapons,” Coyote said. “But go on and name your terms.” The cricket told Coyote that on the next day when the sun was straight overhead, they were to bring together their respective armies to a place called the Tank of the Seven Coons and there they would engage in mortal combat. “That is clear, General Cricket,” said Brother Coyote. “Until tomorrow at high noon, adios.”
That night Brother Coyote went out in all directions in search of his allies. With a high-pitched voice he summoned his forces to meet on the plains above the Tank of the Seven Coons. He called upon the badger, the lobo, the tiger of the deep canyons, the panther of the rimrock, the wildcat of the chaparral, the coon, the possum, the fox, and all other people with claws and teeth.
In a singsong, General Cricket summoned his forces—the horseflies, the mosquitoes, the honey bees, the bumblebees, the yellow jackets, the black hornets, and even a colony of red ants—all the people that have stingers and can stick. He told them to gather in the thicket in the draw below the Tank of the Seven Coons.
As the appointed time neared, Brother Coyote surveyed his forces and was pleased. However, he could see nothing of General Cricket’s army. He sent Fox out to reconnoiter and to bring him word as to where the opposing forces had gathered. Fox trotted down into the draw and wriggled through the thorny underbrush always under the sharp eye of Brother Coyote. Just as Fox had flattened himself to the ground where he could use his keen nose to best advantage, Cricket ordered a battalion of black hornets to attack him.
“They did all at once. They stuck their stingers into his ears, into the corners of his eyes, into his nostrils, into his flanks, into every spot of his body where hair is short and skin is tender. He snapped and pitched, but only for a minute. He turned seventeen somersaults on the ground, and the black hornets came thicker. Then he streaked for the tank of water. He dived to escape his assaulters, and went to the bottom.
“But in a minute he had to come back up for air. Then, sticking his long, long mouth out of the water, he cried at the top of his voice, ‘General Coyote, retreat! The enemy are upon us!’ General Cricket had already ordered the yellow jackets to attack the army of giants on the prairie, and the war cries of the bumblebees were in the air.
“Brother Coyote tucked his tail between his legs and retreated and every soldier in the army tucked his tail and retreated also—all except the bobcat. He retreated without tucking his tail.”
And so, that fateful day on the prairie above the Tank of the Seven Coons, General Cricket won the duel with Brother Coyote. Mr. Dobie drew the conclusion that “thus a person should avoid being vainglorious and considering himself shrewder than he is. He may be outwitted by his own vanity.”
I learned for myself that a bumblebee is faster than a John Deere tractor. James M. Barrie rightfully said that life is a long lesson in humility.