I first heard this story while working on a ranch in southern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains, where another wrangler told it to me one night while we camped by a creek.
"Samson Jessop was a preacher passing through the Painted Desert on his way home from Utah Territory in 1892.
That night, during an eclipse, he heard a coyote wailing with strange words, human words. He and his horse chased the coyote until he got close enough to shoot it with his revolver.
"But coming nearer, he saw it wasn't a coyote: it was a young Native woman, weeping and cowering naked in the bloodstained sands.
"The woman begged for mercy. But Samson, lonely and zealous, didn't listen. He was smitten by her beauty, and the memory of her uncanny song.
So he took her home with him, baptized her, married her, and renamed her Delilah.
"Although Samson gave her everything to make life sweet, Delilah still mourned her faraway homeland. She longed for its towering red mesas, and for the smell of pinyon fires in the autumn twilight.
She felt as if her skin were on fire, often wandering into the hills at night, to gaze at the sky and cool her burning feet in the dark river of stars.
"Eventually she pined to the brink of death. Samson crouched at her bedside, whispering to her:
"'When you reach the throne of God, my dear witch, listen for the universe's ultimate truths in His voice. Then return to me in spirit, and sing to me what you have heard .'
"Delilah only laughed. She laughed until she died.
"Samson grieved so deeply that he ignored taboo. He did not wrap her body in yucca fiber. He dug her grave too shallow. Worst of all, he did not smear his skin with juniper ash.
"Three nights later, a rattlesnake lay coiled outside the church door, startling Samson.
But in its scaly, vengeful stare, he recognized his beloved wife! For in this world, what creature's eyes so perfectly reflected every star in the night sky?
"'Darling Delilah," he wept, kneeling to face the snake. "'Tell me, have you heard the voice of God? What did He say?!'"
"The rattlesnake spoke with a voice like wind whistling through hollow bone.
"'My gods have swallowed your God,'" it hissed, and struck him in the heart with its venomous fangs.
"And that's where Samson Jessop died. His ghost, in the form of a coyote that sings human words, wanders across the hills even now.
He wails for his wife's spirit, for the gates of heaven to open once again, for the voice of God to call him to that shining, empty throne..."
The wrangler looked over her shoulder then, as did I.
The campfire's last, crackling embers had burnt out. The creek's silvery whisper had quieted.
A coyote cried in the distance, its strange chants plaintive as it sang its lonely songs to the stars, and only the ancient stars returned those cries.