Copyright 1999 - 2003 - Janine M. Bork
This page is part of the Union County, OR AHGP
The Indians of the Pacific Northwest—Their Mythical Creation, Gods of the Wat-teetash Age, legends, Myths, Religion, Customs Relating to Marriage, Naming of Children, and Murder—Their Dances and their Doctors—The Rehabiliment of the Dead, and Their Idea of a Future State.
A HISTORY of the settlement of the Pacific Northwest must necessarily embrace a history of our wars with the Indians. A knowledge of a people gained in time of war must convey an imperfect idea of the same people in time of peace. Our pioneers had comparatively little to do with the Indians in time of peace and quiet. They were too busy in home-building, agriculture, and in founding those industries upon which the welfare and prosperity of a community depend to spend much time in studying the customs and traditions of a savage people. In time of peace, they were scarcely more than cognizant of the fact that such people existed about them. but when the red hand of war was raised, and the smoke from desolated homes was going up, and homeless, fleeing settlers announced the reign of savage warfare, then our pioneers were brought painfully to realize the presence of the Indian.
Because our pioneers knew so little of the Indians in peace, and were so vividly impressed by their cruelties in time of war, their verdict on the Indian character has been, “Bad, very bad, none good but those who are dead.” So bitter was the feeling, that few cared to know anything of the Indian except to know that he was out of the way of doing harm. Many went so far as to advocate a policy of total extermination. Fate almost seems to have ordained circumstances against friendly relations between the races. When the two have been brought into contact, it has been under circumstances that brought before the Whites the worst characteristics of the Indian; and to the Indian the white man has appeared as a trespasser and tyrant. The Indian has founded his idea of the white man’s character and principles on the conduct of those who have taken his lands and driven him from his home.
The Whites have believed all
Indians to be bloodthirsty murderers; and the Indians have thought all
Whites were robbers and interlopers. The result has been that they have
spent their time each trying to exterminate the other. The contest between
civilization and savagism was unequal; and the Indian was pushed to the
wall. Now that he is subjugated and can no longer successfully raise his
arm against his
oppressors, and lasting peace reigns, there has been something of a reaction in sentiment; and the victors look more kindly on their oldtime foes.
The study of ethnology has within
a few years past assumed much importance. Antiquarian travelers, explorers,
students of anthropology, are all trying to solve the great mystery of
the earliest stages of human development. It has been discovered that the
myths, superstitions and folk-lore legends of all nations and races are
the natural if not inevitable incidents to certain stages in intellectual
and moral development. In the light of recent ethnological discoveries
and deductions, the myths and traditions of the Indians have assumed great
importance; and many men of profound learning and linguistic lore are now
pushing investigations in this line with all their ability. The Indian
in his primitive condition is a thing of the past. Contact with the Whites
is changing all his habits and modes of life. His myths and legends are
being obliterated. Having no literature, they have been handed down from
time immemorial only by oral tradition. Before the scream of the locomotive
engine, the clack of the mill and factory, the red man with his romances
fades away like the mists and is gone. The onward tread of the invincible
Anglo-Saxon civilization sweeps relentlessly away the Indian and all that
pertains to him; so that whatever we know and record of these interesting
people we must soon learn. To the student of ethnology there is an attraction
that is almost a fascination connected with the study of the character,
habits, laws, customs, myths, traditions and legends of these rapidly fading
tribes. To everyone must have occurred the questions: “What was the Indian
origin?” “How did he come to be in this country?” “What is
his past history?” “Was he, when this country was discovered, coming
up, or was he far down the decline of degeneracy from an ancient civilization?
“We turn to history; its pages are silent as to these inquiries. We are
thrown back upon the Indian himself. We question him, and he tells us the
traditions he received from his fathers. He relates the myths of the wonderful
“long time ago;” he tells us his legends and laws; we learn his customs,
his idea of the origin of things, what his gods were, what were his aspirations
in this life, and his hopes for the future. These, with the relics from
his burial mounds, a few examples of his picture-writing found on rocks
here and there, about complete the sum of attainable facts in relation
to the Indian. From a study of these and his language, and their comparison
with like data from other nations, the ethnologist will have to work out
all that will ever be known of the North American Indian. In view of this
fact, it would be desirable to make the record as complete as possible.
There are many difficulties in
the way of obtaining from the Indian his old folk-lore stories. His language
is difficult to comprehend; the idioms are peculiar; and his manner of
thought is widely different from ours. In his heart the Indian sincerely
believes the traditions and myths of his fathers; but it is difficult to
get him to open his mind and communicate them to the Whites. In their zeal
to correct the erroneous beliefs of the Indians, the white people usually
laugh at his stories; and then he becomes silent. These things are sacred
to him; and he cannot complacently bear to have them ridiculed. They are
his bible, his code of laws, his system of philosophy, and his religion.
From his infancy he
has heard these things related by his father as facts, - sacred facts; and to him they are sacred.
The tribes that inhabited the country of Oregon and Washington at the time of its discovery were very numerous, and the dialects spoken by them many. The principal tribes in Southern Oregon were the Klamaths, Modocs, Rogue river Indians, Umpquas and Calapooias. The Calapooias extended over the Calapooia Mountains north into the Upper Willamette. These latter, with the Yamhills, Molallas, Multnomahs and Chinooks were the principal tribes of Western Oregon. East of the Cascade Mountains, the Klikitats, Walla Wallas, Cayuses, Spokanes and Nez Perces were the main tribes, embracing many smaller clans. In the country about Puget Sound, the Nisquallies, Clallams and Skagits were the main tribes. On the Columbia river, the Chinooks below the Cascades, and the Klikitats above, were the strongest. Of all the Indians in the Northwest, the Klikitats were perhaps the most powerful, extending their excursions the farthest into the surrounding country. It is said that the word Klikitat signifies robber or marauder. It was characteristic of the people of that tribe to go almost everywhere and make themselves at home anywhere. Their language impressed itself upon a greater number of people than any other native language of the Northwest. They were the traveling traders, the “Yankee peddlers,” of the tribes in the Northwest. The Chinooks also were great traders in the Indian way; but, finding nearly everything they needed to supply their wants in their own country, they seldom made extensive excursions among the surrounding tribes. Their habits of life, their climate and methods of travel created a greater affinity between themselves and the coast and Puget Sound clans.
The Klikitats were quite nomadic
in their habits; and the summer time found numerous bands of them making
long journeys among distant tribes. Every year some of them would go east,
beyond the head of the Missouri river, over into Dakota. They frequently
met the Shoshones in Grand Ronde valley, and traveled as far south as Northern
California. In fact, occasional trips were made as far south as the lower
Sacramento valley. On the north they ranged far into British Columbia.
The objects of these excursions were traffic, gambling, horse-racing, and
sometimes theft and pillage. These Indians were well supplied with buffalo
robes, most of which they obtained from the tribes in Montana and
exchanging for them horses, shells, beads, knives, guns and articles of clothing which they had bough of the Whites or traded for with other Indians. In many places in Eastern Oregon and Washington, there are yet to be seen the old trails on the lines of commerce and communication between the tribes. These trails are sometimes as many as ten or fifteen in number running parallel and close together; in many instances they are worn down deep into the soil. In the prairie country of Eastern Oregon and Washington, the tribes had great herds of ponies. These constituted their wealth, and were used as a means of travel and commerce. The Chinooks and Lower Columbia and Puget Sound Indians traveled mostly in canoes. The northern tribes seem to have had most mechanical ingenuity and constructiveness. They were skillful in cutting and carving out pipes and various utensils, and in making other articles of utility or ornament. Some of them wove very handsome shawls from the wool of the mountain sheep, and made beadwork of really tasteful and ornamental design. Their wooden images and dodem or totem posts
or boards have been a matter of curious remark by all travelers among them.
The climate, physical nature
of the country, food and surroundings of a people seem largely to determine
their pursuits, and to measure their inventive geniuses. Nations and tribes
as well as individuals have failed in the struggle of life for lack of
opportunity. There is something pathetic in the fate of the Indian. For
unknown ages his race has struggled alone on a continent isolated from
the older civilizations of the East. He has wrestled with the problem of
destiny with no guiding star, and at last yields his native land to be
a home for strangers, and goes out of existence as a race without even
leaving a history behind him. We have very little to tell of the centuries
of a nation’s ambitions, struggles, sufferings, migrations and final ruin.
Almost all that is known of the past hopes, fears, loves battles, intellectual
physical and moral life of uncounted millions of human beings could be
written on a single page. All the rest is silent and forever lost in oblivion.
That the Indian race was capable of a great degree of civilization is evident
from the ruins of magnificent cities found in the southern part of the
continent. That this country is very ancient and has known a high degree
of civilization is certain. Whether the North American Indians worked out
their own destiny without any extraneous influence will probably never
be known. Our Northwest Pacific country has a wonderful past as well as
a grand future. As having some bearing on the past history of our tribes,
it may be mentioned that while boring an artesian well in Nampa, Idaho,
Mr. M.A. Kurtz found, July 24, 1889, a pottery image of the human form,
almost perfect in every detail, at a dept of nearly three hundred feet.
The well went first through the natural soil, gravel, etc., about sixty-five
feet, then through a lava flow of about fifteen feet; and the rest of the
distance was through layers of sand, quicksand, clay and pebbles. The image was found in sand underneath all these. It was of burnt clay, and about one inch long. Who made it, where it came from, how it came, where it was found, and how long it had lain there, are mysteries that never will be unveiled.
This curious find would go to indicate that, at some remote age back of all written history, there were in this country, somewhere, people who were well advanced in civilization and art.
ORIGIN OF THE TRIBES.
Nearly all of the Indians of
the Pacific Northwest claim to have been created by Coyote, the great Indian
god. In most of the legends, it is represented that he formed them out
of different portions of a great beaver. One traveler has remarked that
beavers are said by some of the tribes to be fallen Indians. I have never
met with this belief. It is commonly taught, however, that the beaver of
the present age is fallen from his former condition, inasmuch as he used
to reason and use language, but was a beaver still. As we approach the
Alaskan tribes, we find the creation myths or legends about the origin
of men and things differing, considerably from those farther south. About
the British Columbia line, and north of that on the coast, we find that
the Indians claim to have been made by Yehl, the raven. The Nisquallies
and Clallams are familiar with myths in which Yehl figures. In relating
Coyote’s doings, the Indians go into great detail in telling what he did
and said, and even his thoughts. As good a version as any, of the origin
of the tribes, is given by the Eastern Washington Indians, as follows:
A great while ago, in
the wonderful age of the ancients, when all kinds of animals spoke and reasoned and before the present race of Indians existed, there was a mighty beaver, Wishpoosh, that lived in Lake Cleellum.
This beaver was god of the lake, owning it, and claiming property in all the fish, wood, and everything in and about its waters. he lived in the bottom of the lake; his eyes were like living fire; his eyebrows bright red; and his immense nails or claws shone and glistened like burnished silver. Like so many other of the Indians’ animal gods, he was a bad character, and very destructive to life. He had made the lake and its surroundings a place of terror; for he destroyed and devoured every living thing that came in his way. To those he could not kill, he denied the privilege of taking fish, of which there were plenty in the water. All about in the country the people were hungry for fish; and, with plenty near by, it seemed hard that they must starve. Coyote, in his journeyings, found the people in this sad plight; and their condition moved him to do something for their relief. As many unsuccessful attempts had been made to destroy the monster, Coyote knew he had a big job on hand, and so made elaborate preparations for the encounter. He armed himself with a powerful spear with a long and strong handle. This spear he bound to his wrist with strong cords of twisted ta-hoosh (Indian flax). Thus equipped, he went up to the lake, and, finding old Wishpoosh, drove his spear into him. The wounded and enraged water god plunged out into the lake and down to the bottom. The cord of the spear-handle being fast to Coyote’s wrist, he was dragged along by the infuriated beast; so that now the two went plunging and tearing along through the lake. A fearful struggle ensued, in which they tore a gap through the mountain, and came wallowing and swimming into the lake that then covered Kittitass valley. On across that they came, and thrashed through the ridge forming the Nahchess gap, and entered the lake that then stood over the Yakima valley. Still the mighty beaver god struggled; and Coyote hung on, and they struck the ridge below the Ahtanum, and tore through forming Union gap; and then they went floundering on down, tearing the channel of the Yakima river. Poor Coyote was getting badly worsted, and was almost strangled, and was clutching at trees along the bank, trying to stop his wild career down the stream. He caught hold of the large cottonwoods; but they broke off or pulled up. He tried the firs; but they tore out by the roots. He clawed at the rocks; but they crumbled off. Nothing could stand before the irresistible power of the mighty Wishpoosh. Exhausted and almost drowned, he found himself wallowing in the mouth of the Columbia among the breakers. The muskrat was standing on the shore and laughing at him.
By this time the beaver god was dead; and the now half-drowned Coyote came out, dragging his game with him. When he came out, he wiped the water from his face and eyes, and proceeded to cut up the beaver’s carcass. As he cut the different parts, he made of them the Indian tribes. Of the belly he made the Lower Columbia and Coast Indians, saying, “You shall always be short and fat, and have great bellies.” Of the legs he made the Cayuses, saying, “You shall be fleet of foot and strong of limb.” Of the head he made the Northern tribes, saying, “You will be men of brains, and strong in war.” Of the ribs he made the Yakimas or Pshwan-wa-pams. The various tribes had characteristics derived from the parts from which they were taken. Last of all there was a lot of blood, pieces of entrails and filth, which Coyote gathered up and flung off towards the country of the Sioux and Snakes, saying, “You shall always be people of blood and violence.” Having peopled the country with tribes of Indians, he started up the Columbia, and, reaching the point where the Columbia and Snake unite their waters, the mighty maker of the red man paused. Standing there at the meeting-place of the waters, with hands outstretched like the arms of a balance, first towards the east and west, and then to the north and south, he said: “Earth is full if inhabitants; there is no longer place here for me.” He then ascended to the sky.
Some of the tribes below The
Dalles on the Columbia have always been noted among the other Indians as
having ugly mouths. Nature seems to have been too lavish in her works on
this part of their anatomy; and many of their mouths are accredited with
being rather too extensive for beauty, and sometimes considered crooked
besides. Their feet, also, are not models of beauty. A legend says that
the “great somebody” who first made the Indians made rather an imperfect
job; - they did not seem to be entirely finished. Their eyes were not open;
and nine days did not seem to bring any relief, as it does
with cats. They had no mouths, only a little mark where the mouth ought to be; and their feet were clubby, and their joints stiff. Coyote came along one time in the ancient time, and found these poor people hobbling about hungry, but having no mouths to eat with; and their eyes had grown shut. Pitying their condition, he took his stone knife and began to relieve them by cutting mouths and opening their eyes. being considerably hurried, and not having a very fine operating instrument, withal, he made pretty extensive openings of some of their mouths, and got others considerably awry; but thanks to their benefactor, they have since been able to eat a sufficiency of salmon, and get around with ordinary Indian agility.
We find among the Klamaths an
account of creation in which the world was said to have been made by an
old man above, or from above. This old god or god man, while making the
earth, sat on a stool. When the earth was finished, he made the fish and
then animals, and finally made a man. This man was authorized and empowered
to grade the animals, appointing each its station and duties in life. These
animals were all intelligent, having speech and reason. The newly-made
man proposed to start out each of them with a bow and arrows as an equipment
for the duties of life. The length of the bow was to correspond with the
rank and ability of the recipient. Having got bows enough for all the animals
ready, they were notified to appear at its distribution, which was to occur the next morning. Now Coyote thought his distinguished qualities entitled him to first rank and consideration; and he was determined to be the first at the distribution and get the longest bow. To make sure of it, he decided to sit up all night so as to be awake early in the morning. For a time he succeeded in keeping awake; but his drowsiness proved at last superior to his ambitious aspirations; and towards morning he fell into a deep sleep, and did not awake until the sun was up in the sky; and, instead of being first at the distribution of bows, he came in when there was only one left, the shortest and poorest of all. The master of ceremonies felt sorry for poor Coyote, and asked advice of the old man from above as to what should be done. As a sort of compensation for the inefficiency of the short bow, he “made it a law” that Coyote should be the most cunning of all other animals, which has been the case ever since.
The Chinook Indians claim to
have been made by Coyote. At first they were not perfect, being blind and
with closed mouths, and having stiffened joints in the feet. Afterwards
this defect was remedied, as is related in another place. This myth of
the Chinooks reminds one of the account of creation of man as given by
a Mexican tribe, which says that the first people were made of the pith
of wood. They walked about well enough, and had most of the attributes
of men. They multiplied and filled the world, but, having no sense or mind
or intelligence, the maker was disgusted with his essay at creation, and
destroyed the whole batch. He made another attempt; and the ordinary
Mexican Indian was the result
of his efforts. The old Chinooks of the Lower Willamette valley and Columbia believed that the present race of Indians were preceded by a different race, which they called the Ulhaipas. These were probably nothing more than the “ancients,” the “animal people,” which the Klikitats called the Wat-tee-tla'ma. In the Klikitat and Yakima languages, the word “ulhai” signifies the moon, and “ulhaipa” means pertaining to the moon. If the word had the same meaning among the Chinooks, it would indicate that these ancient people were regarded as being in some wa connected with the moon.
There appears among the creation myths of different tribes scattered up and down the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Lower California, what is called the “old man,” “wonderful man” or “giant man,” who figured as the creator or maker of the Indians. A closer investigation shows that in many if not most of the cases this wonderful man was Coyote. The Aleuts’ old man made men of stones. Stones thrown in the air became birds, those that fell in the water became fishes, and those on land became land animals. It is said that some little tribe on the extreme northern coast claim to have originated from the dog. The Indian dogs being nothing but domesticated coyotes, it is probable those tribes believe in the coyote god the same as nearly all the other western tribes.
Across the channel from the Skagit country, the Indians have a very singular tradition or myth. They believe that all animals contain something like the soul of man, a spirit essence or soul in an undeveloped state. This points quite strongly towards evolution and Darwinism. They say that a long time ago only animals were living int hat country; and that there were no human beings in all the land. One day two strange beings in human form came down the coast paddling a canoe. No such beings ever having been seen in those parts, the animals were so frightened that they stampeded and ran away pell-mell, in such haste that they in some way dropped or lost out of their bodies the soul essence or spirit embryos of humanity; and these subsequently developed into Indians such as now exist in that country.
ANCIENT ANIMAL GODS.
Though there are differences
in physique, great variety of language, and a vast number of myths varying
much as to the origin of things, there is among all the Indians of the
Northwest, all over the North American continent in fact, a remarkable
unanimity in blief, that before the present race of Indians there existed
a race of “animal people,” - gods in animal form. These all spoke one language,
-all had intelligence and reason. Even inanimate objects are clothed with
the attributes of active intelligent beings, and are represented in their
myths and legends as doing and saying many wonderful things. The smallness,
feebleness or insignificance of an animal or thing was no obstacle to its
of working wonders. Indeed, it seems to have been a favorite idea of the Indian myth-makers that some small or weak thing should outdo or defeat the efforts of more pretentious gods. Sometimes what Coyote himself could not do the muskrat or some little bird could accomplish. As we shall see later on, the eagle, beaver, owl, rattlesnake, bear and many other animals were gods of vast power and influence. These animals were designated in nearly all cases by a term signifying the “ancients” or the “ones ago.” If he uses the Chinook jargon, he will say, “a___n-kutty,” drawling out the first syllable to express more emphatically the great length of time. Anything more definite no one can ever learn. None of the present race existed at that time. These ancient animal people were giants in size. The mosquito, tick, spider and other insects were larger than an ox. The present race of animals are small and degenerate representatives of what they formerly were. They have been cursed or “put down: and are fallen, have lost speech, and are shabby semblances of their former greatness. The times of these “ancients” were days of magic and wonder-working, surpassing the Arabian Nights’ stories. These gods could transform themselves to anything they chose, and could skim over vast distances in the twinkling of an eye. They were diviners of thought, endowed with prophecy, wielded the spirits and controlled the forces of nature. The winds and waters, clouds and darkness, were subject to their bidding. They even had the power to change the face of nature. Many of the peculiarities of nature are attributed to their powers; and some of them represent the sun and moon to have come into existence by the same agency.
There has been a great deal said
and written concerning the monotheism of the Indians; and we hear much
about his worship of the “Great Spirit.” The idea has generally prevailed
that the Indians always and everywhere believed only in one God or Great
Spirit. Nothing could be more erroneous. According to the Indian cosmogony,
there are gods almost innumerable. The Indian legends consist largely of
stories representing the performances of these ancient gods. There seems
to be an idea that, though these gods still live in the form of the present
race of animals, the god-like part, the magic power, the great intelligence,
exists somewhere else as a spirit; and this spirit is reverenced as a god
appealed to for help.
In the age of the animal people,
the earth was full of violence; the greater preyed on the less; the strong
trampled upon or devoured the weak. It was a reign of violence, in which
each animal god was wholly selfish, almost without exception. There was
fear and terror on every hand until Coyote wrought order out of confusion,
conquered the monster destroyers and established laws and precedents. The
earth itself was spoken of by the Indians as being eternal. Some said it
was in the form of a man, with his head to the east and feet to the west.
The earth was in one sense considered the father of all living things.
“The earth is my father,” was not an uncommon Indian expression. Many mountains
and rocks were once living beings. These were transformed, many of them of stone, for some sin or transgression. Nothing now lives but had a giant ancestry. The present race of animals, insects and even trees and fruits are poor diminutive representatives of a gigantic, wonderful, mysterious race that preceded. Coyote, of all the animal gods, was the greatest; he of all the others was pre-eminently the Indians’ friend. What Coyote did, and his wonderful exploits in conquering giants, form the basis of a complicated mythology.
SPEELYAI (COYOTE), THE GREAT INDIAN GOD
We may learn the character of
a people from the character of the gods they worship, or from the attributes
they give them. An examination into the myths of the Indians shows Coyote
as being almost all-powerful, - transforming the face of nature, changing
living beings to stone, transforming himself into a feather, a little mewling
baby, or into anything that might forward his purposes. He traveled over
the earth, met and subjugated the monsters, demons and tyrant gods that
were destroying the people. He always was the friend of the Indian and
an enemy to their foes. While he is represented in their myths as performing
such wonderful and supernatural things, he often found himself outwitted
and circumvented even by some small and insignificant animal, and is spoken
of as doing the most ridiculous and absurd things, and getting into predicaments
of the most painful or ludicrous character. While he was sending salmon
to the Indians, and providing roots and berries for food, he suffered with
hunger, and found himself forced to live on the most filthy and disgusting
fare. he is represented as being very acute and cunning, and as resorting
to all sorts of stratagems, fair or unfair, to accomplish his objects.
He was sick, hungry and poor at times. Some of the legends represent him
as going about in his journeys clad in an old, worn, dirty robe made of
jack-rabbit skins. It is said that he at one time died through eating a
lot of fleas, but was brought back to life by a magpie picking him in the
eye. He is represented as being interested in games and amusements, and
as favoring and ordaining dances, promulgating laws, introducing industrial
pursuits, teaching the Indians how to cook food and do various other things
for their welfare and happiness. He was angry or amused, and enjoyed a
joke or trick, and frequently suffered because of his ignorance or folly.
In short, Coyote was a being with the qualities of a real coyote and a
live Indian. The Indian’s god was, in short, like himself, - full of treachery
and deceit, ignorant yet cunning; wise in some respects, yet full of folly
and childishness. Upon the whole, Coyote was a
pretty good character, viewed from the Indian standpoint, and, in fact, must have represented at one time the Indian’s idea of a being worthy to be called a god.
In the incongruities of the Indian god we see the incongruities of the Indian mind; for his god was the product of his own imagination; and he clothed him with such attributes as were in harmony with his own intelligence, feelings and moral nature. Since these myths and traditions have been handed down for centuries, they convey to us a picture of the Indian character for ages back, more correct, perhaps, than any written history could give us. The myth-makers had no design to flatter or traduce; but unconsciously, while telling of the doings of their gods, they told their own natures, feelings and impulses, and without knowing it gave us their own standard of morality.
A most singular myth connected
with Coyote was that he had three sisters that lived in his abdomen. These
sisters were in the form of berries that grow in the mountains. These sisters
were very wise, and were oracles to Coyote; whenever he found himself unable
to accomplish his designs, or was in doubt as to how to proceed, he called
out these sisters and asked them what he had better do, or how he should
manage. they are represented as always being unwilling to give the desired information; and then Coyote would threaten to send rain upon them, when they would yield and tell what he wanted to know. When he would urge them to give him information, they would say, “If we tell you, you will say you knew that yourself before;” and, when they finally gave the desired information, he always said: “Yes, my sisters, that is what I thought; that was my plan at first.” By this we infer that they thought Coyote was unwilling to have anyone know more than himself, though he was willing to avail himself of help from any source.
SPEELYAI AND HIS WONDERFUL DOG.
The god Coyote was nearly always equal to any emergency, and generally came off victor in any undertaking. He sometimes needed assistance, but usually had cunning enough to devise expedients that would carry him through. As an illustration of what he could do in the way of magic when he had nothing at hand to operate on except a little soft mud and his native genius, the following is related:
In the “ancient” times, Coyote
was traveling down in Oregon, and there ran across a man who had a very
wonderful one-horned dog. This dog was very cross and fierce; and its owner
had some difficulty in keeping it away from Coyote. This did not please
the Indian god; and he taxed his ingenuity to devise a plan of getting
rid of this troublesome beast. That evening he took a little lump of soft
clay, and by some kind of magic or conjuring made a dog that beat the one-horned
dog of the stranger. With his newly made dog trotting along by his side,
he went to the other man and said, “Let us have our dogs fight, and see
which will whip the other. The man was afraid, since Coyote’s dog had two
horns and was very fierce. “Well then,” said Coyote, “let us send our dogs
out, and see which will be able to tear down that cliff yonder.” Agreeing
to this, the man set on his dog; but he did not accomplish much, tearing
down a few rocks only, and then he quit. Coyote then sent out the two-horned
dog, when he tore the cliff down to a level with the ground. Coyote then
offered to trade dogs even; but the man seemed unwilling. Coyote said,
“Well, then, let us make them fight.” The man was afraid, having seen the
other dog’s power. Not being able to get up a fight, Coyote said, “Your
dog can’t dig up the ground like mine.” The man sent out his dog; but he
only tore out a small hole, and then returned;
when Coyote sent his dog, which tore up the ground fearfully, making great rents in it. He then offered to trade again; and this time the man agreed to the exchange. Having exchanged dogs, Speelyai took the one-horned dog and left that part of the country.
The Oregon man thought he had
made a great bargain, getting a two-horned dog for a one-horned one, and
the one he received being so much more powerful, too. He felt much elated
over his trade, and amused himself by sending it out to tear down great
mountains. He sent him out four different times this way; and every time
he displayed supernatural power. But the fifth time, he sent him out against
a stone wall, when it did not tumble down as he expected. When the dog
ran up to knock the cliff down, he all at once very mysteriously disappeared.
When the went up to see what had become of him, he found only a little
wad of soft clay sticking against the rocks. The man thus lost a wonderful
and the people a snarling enemy. What came of the other dog the legend does not say; but a dog so distinguished must have come to some notable end. There is a moral here, however, that whoever has a fighting dog is sure to find someone with a stronger one.
COYOTE DESTROYS THE POWER OF A WATER GOD.
It is a noticeable fact that, in the myths of the Indians, a majority of the monsters of the ancient times were females. The Indians having no term to represent gender say woman beaver, woman wolf, man bear, etc. When relating their legends they say an old man or an old woman did thus and so. If inquiry be made it generally is discovered that the old man or woman was a male or female animal of the “animal people” who lived in the magic Wat-tee-tash age.
The deep, dark holes and whirlpools
in the Columbia, Willamette and other rivers of the Northwest were anciently
the abodes of water gods or demons. A great many places where these beings
pointed out yet; and there is even now among the Indians a dread and fear of these places at times. At the fishing above The Dalles, one of these monster water nymphs used to live. She was described by the Indians as having reddish-brown hair flowing down to her waist. She never appeared entirely above water. She was in those ancient times a fearful monster, who swallowed up the poor Indian fishermen. When a boat came near, she set the water into a whirl, and sucked it and its occupants under, never more to appear again. She had been swallowing up people this way for a long time, and had become a terror to the fishermen; so that they scarcely dared to fish at all; and their life was a continual round of alarm and dread.
Coyote pitied the poor people, and meditated how he might rid the river of this great destroyer. He thought a long time, but could not devise any plan that promised success. He went early one morning to the edge of the cliff on the shore, and looked over to take observations. He soon saw her come up, but had no courage to do anything and so returned. Consulting his sisters, they advised him to transform himself into a feather and cause the water to float him over the monster’s abode. This he did. She eyed the feather curiously, and was suspicious, but swallowed it down but soon vomited it up again. He floated back, and was spewed out like Jonah again. This was repeated until the fifth time, when the monster retained him. He now transformed himself into a strong Indian warrior, with knives and fire rods. It being extremely cold and dark, he began to feel about for something with which to make a fire. Finding some fine soft substance, which he thought would ignite, he twirled his fire rods and struck a blaze. On trying to light the material he found that it shriveled up and would not burn; it was the hair of a human being. Feeling around farther he found a canoe, and split off some pieces and built a warm fire, which illuminated the monster’s stomach so he could see. On looking around he was astonished to find people of various races, boats, fishing-tackle, and a great variety of stuff that had been swallowed. The people were all benumbed with cold, and were stupefied. Whaiama, the eagle, was there cold and wet, with bedraggled feathers, a sorry specimen of the god of the air. Coyote told all the people to come up and get warm. He said to the eagle, “I want you, when I tell you, to take this canoe in your beak and fly away with it to a high mountain and rescue these people.”
Coyote looked up and saw the
great heart of the monster beating and throbbing against her ribs. He had
along five stone knives. He took one and sawed and cut away at the heart-strings
of the god, but the knife broke. He then tried another, and it broke. With
each knife he made some progress; and the monster was growing weaker. Just
as the last knife broke the monster died. Whaiama seized the boat
in his beak, and flew away to a high mountain. Coyote rushed out after
the eagle and the boat, and, reaching the shore, stood there and pronounced
a curse upon the now despoiled river giantess: “Your career as a destroyer
is ended. You can never swallow up and kill so many people again. You
may remain and frighten fishermen, and occasionally may swallow a person from a strange tribe. A better race of people is coming; and you shall not destroy it.” Coyote was almost too late in making his escape from the ventral cavity of the monster; and the tip of his tail was caught in the grip of the sphincter and begrimed. Ever since then, the end of the coyote’s tail has been black.
AMASH, THE OWL, SLAIN BY COYOTE.
The owl figures very prominently in the myths of the Northwest Indians. Amash, the owl god in the age of the animal people, was a great object of terror. Coyote, who subjugated so many other pests, slew Amash also.
One time, way back in the days of “the ancients,” Coyote was traveling in Washington somewhere below where Lewiston now is, and met Amash, the owl god, coming on the same trail he was in. He had heard of this great destroyer; and, in order to conceal his identity, he immediately transformed himself into a magnificent young Indian warrior, rigged out in the most splendid manner. When they came up very near together, coyote said, “Where do you come from?” Amash, the owl god, stood still, looking wise and sedate, but made no reply. Coyote said again, “Where do you come from?” Still no reply. He repeated the third time, when Amash replied by saying, “Where do you come from?” Coyote said: “I am from no other country than this where you are living. This is my country; and I am looking for somebody to eat.” Amash then thought: “I never saw this man before. Who can he be?” He then spoke up to Coyote and said: “I have traveled all over this country everywhere; and I never met you before.” Coyote said: “I have been myself from one end of the world to the other. I have been where the sun rises, and where it goes down, and from north to south. You claim to have been eating people. Suppose we both vomit, and see who will throw up the most bones; and then we shall see which of us is the greatest. Amash said, “Yes, that is good.” “now,” said Coyote, “let us both shut our eyes before we begin. We will then vomit and not open our eyes until I give the word. Be sure to keep your eyes shut until I say open.”
Amash shut his eyes tightly;
but Coyote managed to keep his partly open. So they both began to retch
and strain and belch forth the contents of their stomachs, when Coyote
discovered that the owl man had thrown up a vast quantity of skulls and
other bones of human beings, and that his own pile only showed up a lot
of bones of mice. Here was a dilemma that would tax even the ingenuity
of a god;
but Coyote was equal to the emergency, and adroitly slipped his own pile of bones over to the owl, and
took the owl’s to himself. He then said to Amash, “Now let us open our eyes, and see what we have vomited.” When both had looked, the owl was very much astonished and Coyote said: “you see you eat nothing but mice, while I am the one who eats human beings; for the bones down there show for themselves.” The owl proposed to make another trial, which was done. Every time Coyote took the owl’s bones. When this had been done five times, Coyote said: “you have made great pretentions of eating people; but you vomit nothing but mice bones. I shall therefore take your head.” So saying, Coyote walked up to the owl and drew out his stone knife and cut off his head. He then said, “You have been killing and destroying long enough.” Taking the owl’s body, he flung it off to the mountains, and continued; “You may stay there and hoot and scream and scare the traveler in the night, or make people feel lonely and sad at night; but you will never take human life. A new people are coming; and you are not to destroy them.” Since that time the owl has been diminutive in size. He lives in unfrequented places, and makes people feel lonely by his hoo-hoo-ah, but had never killed anybody.
SPEELYAI FIGHTS EENUMTLA.
Eenumtla, or Thunder, was a very mighty god in the days of the Wat-tee-tash. He lived in the high mountains and clouds. His terrible roar filled every living thing with deadly fear; and his searching gaze penetrated from his home in the clouds to every spot on the earth. The wink of his eye was the flashing of fire; and no living thing could hope to escape his notice. This thunder god abused his power, and made himself a tyrant. Seated high in the clouds, and always watching, whenever he saw anyone, he immediately spread dark clouds over him and thundered so violently as to make the world tremble; and with a flush of lightning his victim was stricken out of existence. The people were living in a state of continued terror, and scarcely dared come out of their houses for fear of being shot by the lightning.
The Indian god Speelyai (Coyote) came along one day and found the people in great consternation. He said to them: “What is the matter? Of what are you all so fearful?” They then related how they lived in constant dread of the mighty Eenumtla, and scarcely dared to go out to fish, hunt or do anything. He told the terrified people he would break the power of the dreaded storm god. After much thought, he failed to come to any conclusion as to the best mode of getting at the monster. As was his custom when in need of counsel or help, he called forth his sisters, who lived in his stomach; and, when they had told him what to do, he said; “That is just what I thought, my sisters; that is my plan.”
Following their directions, he transformed himself to a downy feather, and floated on the wind up to the thunder god, and over him, so as to get a good sight of him. He then came down in a whirlwind and alighted on a dry sunflower stock, and sat there watching Eenumtla. During these movements the thunder god had been watching and kept thinking: “That looks like a feather, and yet it looks like a man.” He then raised up and took a better look. Being suspicious and in doubt, he said: “It probably is a feather that I knocked from someone the other day; and the wind has blown it here. I will try a little rain on it, and see what it will do.” So saying, he raised up and thundered and sent a shower of rain down. The magic feather did not move. When the rain ceased all of a sudden, coyote, in the form of a feather, rose up in the air and began to peal out thunder and flash lightnings and pour rain down at a terrible rate. Eenumtla was amazed and sorely perplexed that so small an object as a downy feather should do such a wonderful thing. “I thought I was the only Thunder in the world.” Feeling jealous at this usurping of his power and dignity, he flashed lightning at the little down and thundered at it, and sent down a deluge of water at his insignificant enemy. The disguised god Coyote became very angry, and began to flash lightning in the very eyes of the thunder god himself, so that he began to dodge and blink. Determined not to be outdone by so puny an antagonist, Eenumtla the thunderer shot back hot lightning, sending the fire at his eyes; yet Coyote did not dodge nor wink, but answered with lightnings more fierce, and thunders more loud. The contest waged hotter and fiercer. The thunderer shot thunderbolts at coyote, and tore up the earth about him; and he in turn answered lightnings with flashes more terrific, and hurled the thunder god from his seat in the clouds. The enraged combatants then raised high up over the world, and fought amid rollings and crushings of thunder, and the demoniac play of lightnings and thunderbolts; while the storm clouds darkened the sky, and rain deluged the earth with fearful violence.
They finally came together in
a fearful last death grip, in the midst of thick clouds and tempestuous
elements; they fell to the ground with such force that they shook the whole
world. Coyote fell on top of Eenumtla the thunderer, and began to beat
him unmercifully with his war clubs. The fallen giant pleaded for mercy;
but Coyote continued to pummel his antagonist until all the clubs were
broken; and then he pronounced sentence upon the once haughty thunderer:
“You shall no more make it your business to kill and terrify people. You
may live, but can only thunder on hot, sultry days. You may flash lightning,
but not to destroy.” From that day the power of Eenumtla has been broken;
though he sometimes terrifies, he seldom kills.
COYOTE OUTWITS THE BEAVER WOMEN AND SUPPLIES THE PEOPLE
Throughout all the Northwest there is a myth current which represents that in the long, long ago there were salmon; but that in some way they were not permitted to come up the rivers. In nearly all the myths the rivers were said to have a sort of dam or obstruction thrown across that prevented the fish coming up. This dam was locked up or made secure some way with something like a key. This dam belonged to and was kept by women.
The Columbia river Indians say
that in the animal age the people up the river could get no salmon. They
were very hungry, and Coyote, seeing their suffering, decided to go down
and “bring the salmon.” There was a big dam down at Astoria presided over
by five young women (“beaver women”) who kept watch and allowed no fish
to go up the river. Coyote made a boat and in it started down to the mouth
of the river. Before reaching the place, he transformed himself into a
little Indian pappoose lashed on a baby board; and thus metamorphosed he
went floating down towards the dam or obstruction. When he was near where
the young women lived, one of them happened to come down to the water’s
edge like Pharaoh’s daughter of old. When Coyote in the form of a baby
perceived the young woman near, he began to cry very pitifully to attract
her attention. She saw hi, and her tender woman’s heart was touched. She
ran and called her sisters and said: “O sisters! I have found a baby. Somebody
must have been in a canoe and got upset; and this little fellow has not
drowned.” After making much ado
over the little waif, one of them said, “Let us take him and feed him, and raise him up to be a man for us to live with us.” This proposition was readily approved; for they were five young women living alone. They took him to their camp. When they had all gone away, leaving the little fellow alone, Coyote resumed his wolf form and began to smell about for something to eat. He ate up their salmon and other food; and, when he heard them returning, he immediately changed himself back to the little mewling baby again. The women were off most of the day watching the fish; and they soon began to miss things and wonder what the trouble was. After five days spent this way, Coyote determined to accomplish his mission. He prepared himself for his work, and went down to the water to unlock the dam. The earth began to tremble; and then the women, who were some ways off, were alarmed, and said: “That is strange! It is wonderful; that baby has something wonderful about it. It must be the
cause of this.” They then say Coyote in his own proper form, and fell upon him and struck him. He plunged into the water, the dam opened, and the salmon shot up stream in myriads; and the wants of the people were supplied. this is the Klikitat version. The Klamaths and Modocs have an almost identical story to account for the salmon in the Klamath river.
On the Tiatan river in Washington,
there is a little valley in which there are a number of large rocks standing
up, the most prominent of them all being called by the Indians Me-'ah-wa,
that is, chieftain. A legend says that Speelyai (Coyote), in the days of
the ancients, had a son named Me-áh-wa . This young man was a handsome
young warrior and chief, who had a young wife who was about to become a
mother; and the young man was anxious to add another wife to his domestic
circle, as he had grown tired of his first woman. He and his wife were
camping in this little valley on the Tiatan. One day he went into his sweathouse
near the water to sweat and bathe. On coming out to plunge into the water,
he noticed a great many young women from all parts of the country standing
around the edges of the valley watching him. They had come, each hoping,
and wishing to be chosen as his second wife. The legend says there were
girls there from Spokane, Klikitat, Yakima, Walla Walla and from all sections
of Eastern Washington. When Me-áh-wa crawled out of the sweathouse,
he discovered these young women standing off and looking at him, and, feeling
abashed at being caught in such a position, turned his back towards them
but looked back over his shoulders. He understood their wishes, but gave
them no sign of approval. About that time Speelyai, his father, who was
standing off in the direction of the Yakima, began to jump and dance about
and clap his hands saying, “Oh, my son is going to get him another wife!”
In the twinkling of
an eye, by some kind of enchantment or magic power, Me-áh-wa and all the young women were transformed to stone, where they have stood ever since.
The different groups of stones are pointed out as the young women of different tribes. The five nearest Me-áh-wa are called the Wisham women, or women from the “Tumwater” above the Dalles. Each group is named after some tribe. Me-áh-wa ‘s wife here gave birth to a child; both mother and child are pointed out, as is the sweathouse also. They say that the young women had with them such found as abounded around their homes, and that the moment they were turning to stone they dropped these edibles, consisting of berries, seeds, camas and various roots, and that they took root and grew and have come every year since. The great variety of Indian food that grows about there is thus accounted for.
The Indians had names for
a great many of the large rocks on the Columbia river; and connected with
each was a myth or legend. Between the White Salmon and Little White Salmon
rivers there is a large ridge or body of rock lying endwise towards the
river and reaching out in the water. This the Indians
have given a name signifying, “Baby-on-the-board;” and
from its fancied resemblance to a pappoose lashed to the Indian cradle
there undoubtedly arose the following myth. In the days when Speelyai was
going around over the world doing so many wonderful things for the people,
slaying monsters and instituting laws and usages, this rock was a huge
living baby, which was suspended by cords or ropes
high in the air across the river. There this giant infant had been hanging for ages (rather old for an infant); and Coyote, coming up the Columbia one day, observed the prodigy, and seemed to be displeased. took his big stone knife and cut the cord that held the Titanian infant, when it came down with a plunge into the water. Its feet being still held, it swung towards the Washington side, the head falling into the Columbia. It seems a hard fall, a hard method of baptism, and a still harder fate to be turned into a hard, cold stone.
“The gods move in a mysterious way,
Their wonders to perform.”
But who shall question their ways that cannot control their power?
What the Whites call Eagle Rock was anciently a goddess, the daughter of the Indian god Speelyai. This daughter was slim and bony, and neither handsome nor attractive. As a result, her hand was never sought by suitor; and she in consequence became an old maid. On account of a crime costing her her good name and reputation for chastity, she was transformed to stone, - a humiliating example for all the Indian old maids in succeeding generations.
Not far from Mosier’s landing, on the Columbia, persons can see from the river steamers a ledge of rock on the shore which the Indians called Coyote’s (Speelyai’s) Wall. At this point Coyote, while traveling along the river once, became very hungry. Here he committed a degrading crime, hoping to thereby satisfy his hunger. Immediately he was overwhelmed with a feeling of shame and remorse and a dread lest the news of his sin should be scattered around among the people. He set to work to build a high wall that should stops the news from going out. Alas! he builded in vain. He would get his wall up and seemingly all right, when the news would break over and the wall tumble down. As fast as he mended one place another breach was made somewhere else. He became so weary and disheartened that he abandoned his project, and, filled with shame and remorse, started on up towards the Klikitat. On nearing a house, the first sound that greeted his ears was that of the inmates talking about his evil deeds. without gong in, though tired, he passed by and went on towards the Wisham camps above the Dalles. Here he had the same experience; thus everywhere the news of his conduct had preceded him. The moral of the story is “You can’t build a wall strong enough to prevent a knowledge of your evil doings being spread.” Which is about the same as the old adage, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
A few miles above the Cascades
on the Columbia, there is a round-bottomed “pot hole” in the rocks which
the Cascade Indians called “Coyote’s Kettle.” Here they say he used to
cook his salmon. For a long time, people had been eating their fish and
other food raw, and only knew of one way of baking bread, and that was
by the heat of the sun. In this way they dried their salmon and berries;
but Coyote taught
them at this place to cook. Having caught a quantity of salmon, he put them in this pot hole and poured water over them. He then heated boulders and threw them in, when they heated up the water and caused it to boil. When the fish were done, he called up all the people and made a great feast. He thus showed them how to cook, and at the same time ordained the salmon feast, which he commanded them to celebrate
every spring on the coming of the salmon. He also instructed them how to broil salmon on sticks, and gave them a start in the art of cooking generally.
LEGEND OF THE TICK.
In Washington, up the Nahchess
river on the north side, there is a high, bold mountain that has been famous
among the tribes of that country as a hunting ground, the deer especially
abounding. In the ancient animal age, so the myth goes Upsha, the tick
god and progenitor of the present race of ticks, lived. The place was called
Ta-hát-hat. A little serpentine lake there was called by the Kittitass
Sklée. At this place the Indian god Coyote used to have a sweathouse, which they point out to this day, a sunken place where there are a good many stones. On this mountain old Upsha, who, it must be understood, was a terror for size, lived and was the possessor of an immense herd of deer, mountain sheep, elk, and all kinds of animals whose flesh is good for food. He had these animals all tamed so that he could go about among them without their being afraid of him. Here he lived in great ease, killing a deer or elk whenever he liked, and was boss of the situation. Coyote, on the contrary, was eking out rather a precarious living, taking what he could pick up, - a mouse, squirrel, grasshopper, or whatever he
Seeing Upsha having so easy a
time, and himself having to “rustle” so hard for subsistence, the wily
god determined to make way with Upsha and take possession of the flocks
and herds. Intent on this purpose, he journeyed up the mountain to the
Upsha mansion. Arriving there, he found the tick god sweating and bathing.
Being weary and dusty, he begged that Upsha would permit him to refresh
himself with a bath and a sweat. Permission being granted, he entered the
sweathouse. When inside, he found the structure was made in a very novel
manner, as it was formed of the body of an immense deer, the ribs coming
down on each side like the bent poles generally used by the Indians in
the construction of
their sudatories. Old Upsha heated rocks and passed them in to Coyote. The heat radiating from the hot stones caused the fat to fry out and drip down from the ribs; and the smell was exceedingly delicious to the hungry god; so he held up his mouth and caught the dripping fat. He felt as though he were in a veritable heaven, and determined to murder old Tick at the first opportunity. While he was forming his plan, Upsha could discern his thoughts, and was also planning to defeat him. In the night, Coyote got up and went to Upsha and attempted to choke him to death. He held him down a long time until he thought the tick god was dead, and then left him. No sooner ha d he left than Upsha jumped up and ran outside, and called to all his herds and flocks to fly for life. The deer which formed his house sprang to life and fled; but Upsha clung to his hair, and was being carried off at great speed, when he raised up, and, looking back, began to taunt the outwitted coyote god, who was left standing alone, saying: “You ought to have had more sense than to try to squeeze a tick to death. Why didn’t you put me on a rock and crack me with a stone?” And then he laughed in derision, which made Coyote very angry; and he cursed Upsha, saying: “You will never kill any more game. You shall be little and feeble, and crawl around on animals’ hair, and only have power to suck a little blood.” So the tick has been a blood-sucker ever since, and is thin and flat, and cannot be killed by squeezing, but must be crushed by sudden violence.
It is a somewhat remarkable fact that almost if not quite all the Indians throughout the continent have myths connecting the rabbit and the sun. Most of these myths represent the rabbit as being angry at the sun for scorching his back. Our Oregon and Washington Indians say that anciently the sun was not regular in his visits to the world. He lived in a dark cave somewhere off in the West; and sometimes he went away and remained so long that everybody was freezing, and there was much distress; then again he would return so close as to burn everybody and everything, so that his capricious way of doing was the source of endless trouble. In all the tribes there are myths that show an antipathy of the rabbit to the sun, and a conflict or trial of strength or cunning in which rabbit comes off victorious.
The Omahas in Nebraska and Iowa had a myth in which the rabbit snared the sun with a bow string. Finding the sun caught he was afraid to go up and take his game, as the sun was so fiery and hot. He finally mustered up courage, turned his head low down between his fore feet, and rushed up and cut the bow-string snare. When he raised up he found he had not been quick enough; the sun had scorched him between the shoulders and gone up into the sky again. Rabbits all have a brown spot on their backs in commemoration of this event.
The Indians from the Cascade
Mountains eastward relate a legend something as follows. There are a good
many variations, however; and some make the story very long. In the days
of the ancients, the sun one time stayed away a long time; and the people
were anxiously awaiting his return. They were very cold, and were shivering
about in the darkness. The jack rabbit god was sitting around the campfire
with his little children, watching for the sun to come back; and becoming
very weary, he went to sleep. While he was sleeping, the sun came so near
that it began to scorch his back. The little children awoke the parent
rabbit, saying, “O father! your back is all on fire.” When he was thoroughly
awakened and saw what the sun had done, he was very angry, and told his
children that he was going to fight the sun; that he would shoot him with
his bow and arrows. He armed himself and started towards the East, and
traveled many days. He finally reached the edge of the world where the
sun came up, and sat down to watch for the coming of his enemy. He had
a bow and five arrows. After watching a long time, the
dilatory sun came in sight, when the rabbit sent an arrow at his face; but the sun consumed it. He then shot the second arrow; and it too was burned, and never reached the sun. He thus shot four of his arrows, and had not even touched his enemy. Only one was now left; it was, however, the mystic fifth, the charmed arrow. To prevent its burning the hero wet it with a tear (rabbits eyes were always full of water);
and then he put it to his bow and shot. This time the arrow went straight to the sun, and shattered it into ten thousand fragments, which felt like firebrands all over the world, setting fire to everything. The rabbit god now had to fly before the conflagration. Some of the tribes say he flew to a little scrubby, worthless kind of shrub, and besought its help, crawling under its low branches for protection. He was compelled to fly from every hiding place, and so went jumping over the world, which now got so hot that it burned off first his toes, then his feet, and then his legs and body; and nothing was left but his head. But on it kept going over mountains and valleys until it struck a stone and burst, or some say it swelled and burst, when the water from his eyes (tears) poured forth a flood that quenched the grand conflagration. The animal gods then had a big council and decided that thereafter the sun should not be so irregular and capricious, but should travel around the world every day and make the seasons, and should no more come so near as to burn people or wander away and leave them to freeze.
FROG AND THE MOON.
Among the tribes of the Northwest
there are a good many mystic tales in which the frog and the moon are connected.
One story says that a long time ago the frog jumped to the moon and has
ruled that body ever since. According to some of the tribes up Snake river,
the whippoorwill or night hawk made
the orb of night. According to the resident philosopher in that region, the whippoorwill, wanting a light suitable for its pursuits, determined to make a moon, and sued the frog as material. By witchcraft or magic, the cool batrachian was transformed to a luminous full moon, and hung in the heavens, frog side out, for the benefit of succeeding generations. The Indian says “frog in the moon” instead of “man n the moon.” Some of the Indians in the extreme northwest of Washington appear to have at one time worshipped the moon, or to have appealed to it in times of storms. It is certain that some of the tribes in British Columbia did.
MOUNTAIN LAKE MYTHS.
The Oregon and Washington Indians
were very superstitious in regard to lakes, caves or any place in nature
where silence or gloomy darkness prevailed. Crater Lake in Southern Oregon
has many myths and legends connected wit it. Sunk deep down in the mountain,
being surrounded by high, rocky walls, the dark waters are smooth and silent
as the tomb. This wonderful abode of silence filled the Indian with awe
and superstitious dread. He believed that lake was the abode of spirits
long since departed; and it was with great unwillingness he would go about
or near it. In many places in the mountains where the Indians resorted
late in the summer for huckleberries and to hunt game, there are
small lakes. In Washington, about the base of Mounts Adams and Ranier, there are several. Between these peaks there is a lower plateau or range called by the Indians Sheep Mountain, because of the abundance of mountain sheep always found there. Some of these little lakes are very picturesque, and beautiful. Others are small, dark, deep and surrounded with tall timber that makes them very quiet and lonely. Connected with these little pools are various superstitions. Some of them are believed to be presided over by gods or genii connected with the formation of rain. These gods or demons to not like to have the waters disturbed, having a desire to be forever quiet and still. Of some of these lakes
the Indians believe that if the water be disturbed in any way the spirits will be angry or some way offended, and send rain down upon the offenders. They are careful, therefore, not to trouble the waters in any way, such as by throwing in stones, getting water for cooking or watering their ponies. The Indians firmly believe these things and act accordingly.
An intelligent half breed assured
the writer that he certainly believed that there was something in the lakes
that caused rain when the waters were disturbed. He related his experience,
which he regarded as settling the matter in his mind at least. Being camped
up in the mountains one time with a party of Indians after huckleberries,
he one fine sunny day became very warm running about hunting berries; and,
coming across one of these little lakes, he undressed and went in for a
swim. Soon after coming out, the clouds began to gather; and the rain poured
down in torrents. In the evening, when the company had gathered in the
camp, the inquiry went around whether any of the party had been troubling
the waters of the lake. The young man had to acknowledge what he had done,
and was cautioned not to do so again. The following morning, the sun came
up bright; and a beautiful, clear, blue sky indicated fine weather. Our
hero, not altogether believing in the Indian superstition, concluded to
temp the spirit or genii in the lakes again, and to test for himself the
truth or falsity of the rumored mystery connected with the waters. With
this purpose intent, he went to the pool once more; and, going up on a
hillside above, he found a large stone, which he dislodged and sent rolling
and crashing down the hillside among the brush to the lake’s edge, where
it plunged into a dark, deep hole. The water bubbled and acted very strangely,
he thought, and kept boiling and swirling for some time. In a short time
the sky was overcast with black clouds; and the rain was pouring down worse
than before. The company gathered in camp; and the mysterious occurrence
was talked over with feelings of
superstitious awe. It was determined they should break camp and leave, they feeling sure that if they stayed longer some dire calamity might overtake them.
Some of these lakes are reported to have strange animals living in them, - the spirits of ghosts of deceased beings who existed ages ago. They have wonderful stories about these mysterious beings. At night, when all is dark and silent, these ghostly beings come out and gather food on the shores. Some of the lakes are believed to be the abode of the souls of little children who lived in the time of the “ancients.” at night, when stillness reigns, the lonely silence is broken by the cries of the little babies. The prints of their little naked feet have been found in the soft mud and wet sand around the margin of the water. They even tell of a strange kind of elk that have been seen to come out of the lakes and feed on the shores, and then disappear as mysteriously as they came. In the mountains, where the Indians gather for their hunting or berry-gathering, is a favorite place for relating their old myths, and folk-lore legends. Deep in the solitudes of the mountain forests, gathered about their campfires, beneath the lofty pines and fire, while the cool night winds of the mountain, sighed soft and mournful music in the swaying branches, the untutored savages, spell bound, listened to the stories about the strange events that took place amide these scenes in the wonderful “long ago.”
At the foot of the hill at the
southern edge of the Klikitat valley, near the stage road leading to The
Dalles, there is a small pond or lake where a few years ago the Indians
found an abundance of tules for mat-making. An Indian tradition relates
that many years ago there was here an extensive lake abounding in fine
fish. They tell of salmon and sturgeon anciently being caught there. This
lake in the “long ago” was presided over and owned by an immense swan,
Ha-wi-la-kok. The water of the lake had
very magical powers and properties. Whoever drank of the waters or bathed in it was sure of good fortune, and long life and great happiness. As was the case with most of the Indian demi-gods, Ha-wi-la-kok was selfish, and objected to anyone taking any liberties with her property. When anyone came near she caused the water to pursue and overtake them. Ages ago a beautiful young maiden of the Wishams or Tumwater tribe went over to the lake to bathe in its magic waters, hoping thereby to secure good fortune and length of days. She undressed and plunged into the sacred tide, laving her tawny skin and cooling her body. An elk had come down from the mountains to drink, and to cool itself had lain down in the water. Not observing the elk below, she climbed into the branches of his spreading antlers that stood above the water, when he got up and ran away, bearing her towards Mount Adams. While being borne away, she succeeded in cutting off one of his horns, and fell to the ground. Returning towards the lake, she happened to urinate at the same spot where the elk had done the same thing previously. In consequence of this, she, after her return to her home on the Columbia, bore a child that was neither elk nor Indian, but half elk and half human. She was both angry, and very much ashamed and killed the strange child, hoping to conceal the affair from the tribe. This offended the elk so that they retired farther away, into the mountains, and refused after that to come to the lake to drink. Since then the Indians have found it hard work to hunt and kill the elk. This legend will recall to everyone the myth of the Centaur of the ancient Grecians.
There is much reason to believe
that, sometime in the remote ages of the past, the Columbia river valley
was a great lake, barred from the ocean by the Cascade Mountains, and that
the bed of the river was gradually worn through by the water. There must
have been a long period when the country about The Dalles and far above
was deeply submerged in water. Klikitat valley may have been wholly or
with water also. There is hardly a probability that the ancestors of the present race of Indians were living at that time.
The Puget Sound Indians have legends connected with their lakes, springs and lonely places in nature very similar and in many cases identical with those east of the mountains. Besides the rain lakes they have a “snow plant” and “rain plant,” in which the spirit of snow or rain resides; and, whenever one of these plants is plucked off or pulled up, rain or snow are certain to follow. The Indians regard these plants as sacred and mysterious, and will not disturb them.
The Dalles, Klikitat and other Indians just east of the Cascade Mountains have a tradition that there was a time where the Yakima and Kittitass valleys, and all the country up the Columbia above The Dalles was covered with water. This was before the present race of Indians existed, they say. The “animal people” or Wat-tee-tlá-ma then dwelt on the higher grounds and mountains around. They have marvelous stories about the great animals that used to be seen swimming around on and in the waters. Coyote the Indian god used to walk around on the mountains about the valleys and watch one particular monster beast. The Indians go so far as to describe the color of its hair and how it acted in the water. In the process of time the water dried up and the beast died. A few years ago there were bodies of some huge extinct animal found near a marshy place on the Yakima. These were the remains, so the Indians say, of this monster animal.
The American continent has been
prolific in specimens of the bones of extinct mammalia of large proportions.
The Indians have undoubtedly been acquainted with these for ages. The fact
that they had no knowledge of when these animals existed no doubt gave
rise to various surmisings and stories. The observation of these remains
which in ancient times were doubtless more numerous and in better state
preservation probably give rise to the general belief among the Indians of an ancient race of giant “animal people.” The finding of the bones of a pterodactyl would very readily suggest the myth of “Wa-wa,” the ancient mosquito god. The bones of ancient silurians and other reptiles would very naturally suggest myths like those we find related to the snake gods of the “animal people.” Seeing there are no animals of like proportions existing at the present time, there must be some method of explaining how this “fall” or degeneracy came about. There is a natural tendency with all people to think that former times were better than the present. Old men deplore the degeneracy and corruption of the present age; the young men of to-day are not what they formerly were; politicians are more corrupt; there is less pure patriotism than formerly; times and things are “down at the heel.” This characteristic of civilized people is still more prominent among the Indians. We therefore find them inventing a mythology representing a race of giant gods existing in former times, who have fallen or been put down; and they point to the bones of extinct animals, reptiles and birds to prove the truth of their deductions.
The following legend of the Palouse
Indians is directly connected with the remains of some extinct animal.
On the Palouse at a certain point there is a cave or hole in a rocky cliff
that stands near the shore. Here in the magic age of the animal people
there lived five giant women. These women devoured human beings; and, in
order to catch the poor Indians, they made a great feast and dance and
decoyed them to it. While they were feasting and having a god time, the
giant women suddenly pounced upon the unsuspecting people and rapidly devoured
them. their way of taking the victims was to catch them about the knees,
and lift them up as a child might handle a little doll. They were then
thrust into the
giants’ mouths head, foremost, and bit in two about the middle. that part was then swallowed and the lower part of the body and legs were shoved in and gulped down. The Indians describe this as all taking place in the twinkling of an eye; and, one being swallowed, another was grabbed up and shared the same
fate, until the whole assemblage was swallowed. If anyone expressed doubts as to the truth of the story, they were told of a huge jawbone and teeth that had been often seen lying near the bank. They story must be true; there was the visible proof, - the very teeth and jaws that did the mischief.
THE ORIGIN OF FIRE.
Perhaps there is nothing that
has given rise among the Indians to so many mythic tales as that of fire.
To their untutored mind it was an enigma, and partook of something in the
nature of a spirit. It did not grow; it must be kindled; if left alone
it went out. Someone made it; and how it first came among men exercised
his ingenuity to explain. With it there was warmth, light, comfort and
life; without it there was cold, darkness and death. To see it spring forth
from the cold, solid flint or from the chafed wood was a profound mystery.
Several legends are handed down relative to its origin upon earth, the
more prevalent one being that, inn the “long, long, ago,” the earth was
inhabited by the “animal people” who for want of fire were suffering with
the cold, and were obliged to eat their meat and other food raw. Speelyai
was chieftain over all the tribes of animal of animal people; so he one
day called them all around him and said: “We must have fire; we are all
freezing, and eating our food raw. Who among you will get us fire. There
is fire in the sky; and the people living there have good times, and are
and have plenty of cooked food.” Various propositions as to the best plan to procure the needed fire were discussed, when it was finally decided that someone should shoot an arrow up to the sky. Speelyai said he would shoot first. He then took a bow and sent an arrow up. On and up it went for a long time; but after a while it came back. It had not struck the sky, - had not reached the fire. Various bird and animal people tried their hand at shooting; but their arrows always fell short of the mark and came back. The beaver finally took the bow and shot; and the arrow stuck in the sky, which in the Indians’ belief is a kind of material canopy. He then shot again; and the second arrow fastened itself in the
bow-spring notch of the first, and so on in like manner with all the arrows he shot, until five quiverfuls were exhausted. When the last quiver was empty, there was a long and reaching from the earth up to the sky. Speelyai said, “Who will go up to heaven (or the sky) and bring the fire down?” After waiting some time for a reply, the dog expressed a willingness to make the attempt, saying: “I will bring the fire. I will carry it in my mouth. I will go up and smell around and find how things are; and at night, when they are all gone to bed, I will slip in and get the fire quick, and come down as fast as I can with it.”
So the dog went climbing up for
a long time. On reaching the sky, he cut a hole through it and crawled
up into the sky country. Here he found that the people lived as those on
the earth, with the exceptions that their surroundings were of a vastly
superior quality; and everything was more beautiful. Being hungered after
his long climb, he began a hunt for food. The only thing in the way of
eatables to be found was some filth, which he devoured. Contrary to what
might have been expected, he found it not only palatable but much suited
to his tastes; and this, together with the cheerfulness of his surroundings,
induced him to forego the object for which he came and determine to remain
in the sky country. The people down on the earth after a while began to wonder why Koosi, the dog, was gone so long. The beaver said: “I will go up, and when I get the fire I will put it under my long finger nails. You must all then follow up after me. When I get up there, all the people in heaven will wonder what kind of a strange animal I am, and will see how sleek and fat I am, and will kill me and cut me up and get ready to eat me. About that time they will all be in the house. You people must all rush up and fall upon them; and they will be frightened and run away. I will then get the fire, and we will all come back.” So the beaver went up the arrow rod to the sky; and sure enough, when he got there, the people were much surprised; and, as he had foretold, they caught and killed him and had him all cut up and were about to make a feast when all at once, the animals from down on the earth came rushing up the arrow rod and through the hole in the sky and attacked the sky people, when they were panic stricken and scampered away. Immediately the beaver resumed his original form, came to life, snatched the fire and hid it under his long finger nails; and all the animals came down in precipitate haste. Some succeeded in getting down all right; but their weight was so great that they broke the arrow, and some of them fell. Speelyai himself fell and mashed out, and was changed to a common coyote. Some of the animals fell into the water and remained there as fishes, some flew out into the air as birds. A number of peculiarities of animals were acquired in this wonderful ascent to the sky, and the fall occasioned by the breaking of the arrow rod. The people ever afterwards had fire to warm
by and to cook their food.
Another legend known to all the
tribes from Klamath Lake to Northern Washington was something as follows:
All the fire in existence was anciently in the possession of two old wrinkled
hags, who would neither sell, loan, nor give it away. They were deaf to
all blandishments or threats. Do what he might, no Indian could get any
fire. Coyote was besought by the people to do something to help them procure
they were cold and needed cooked food. After much thought, Coyote worked out a plan. He expected a hard struggle and a big race; and so he stationed the various animals out in a line reaching from the old grannies’ place of abode to the animal people’s country. The strongest and best runners he put on the stations nearest the old hags, and tapered off with the weaker. Coyote appointed a man to secrete himself near the old women’s lodge, and instructed him that at a given signal he should attack them. Everything
being arranged, Coyote went up to the hut complaining
of the cold, and begged permission to go in and warm. The old hags, not
thinking of anything wrong, permitted him to enter the wigwam. All at once
the concealed man jumped up and rushed at the women. During the fighting
and scratching, Coyote snatched a brand of fire and rushed off towards
the Indian camps. The old hags, seeing their fire going, struck out after
Coyote, pressing him hard. With lolling tongue and panting breath he came
up to the panther, who took the brand and went on with it, and, just as
he was about to give out, the bear took it and carried it on to another
animal; and so the brand passed from one to another, the old hags all the
while pressing on, trying to regain their stolen fire. Luckily the firebrand
passed safely along the line until it fell to the poor little squatty frog.
By this time there was not much left of the brand; and froggy was never
noted as a runner. With his slow and labored hopping, the old women overtook
him. It was no use to try to run farther, as he was going to be caught.
Just then he swallowed the fire and jumped into
the river, and went to the bottom with the coveted fire in his belly. Between the hard racing and the fire, it had gone hard with the frog; for he had lost the tail of his youth, and was a stumpy representative of his former self. He came up, however, and spit the fire out upon pieces of wood. The Indians always had fire since; for it has remained in wood and can be extracted by rubbing or twirling.
Another version of the origin
of fire represents that the fire was anciently kept by five old blind women
who lived together. They had five firebrand each, and were always counting
them over to see if they had lost any. They were very suspicious of each
other, each always expecting the others at any time to steal a brand. While
they were counting their brands, Coyote slipped stealthily up and stole
The old woman immediately discovered her loss and accused the others of taking it. They got to quarreling, and then fell to fighting; and, while they were fighting and scratching, coyote gathered the firebrands and ran off with them to the people.
All the Indians of the Northwest
believe that in springs and fountains there live a kind of nymphs or spirits
having visible form and color. These beings are called “beaver women,”
and are described as having the face of the ordinary Indian woman, only
she is usually painted bright red; the hair is long and comes down to the
waist. These women never come up more than half way out of the water; all
below the breasts is covered with hair or fur. These beings are the spirits
of dead ancients. One woman only lives in each spring or fountain. If the
nymph was out or was to appear, a passerby would hear a sound of a baby
crying, and would wonder, “Where can that baby be out here?” He would
then hear a sound as of a mother soothing the baby in Indian fashion, saying “h’loo-loo-loo-loo-loo, h’loo-loo-loo-loo. On coming up nearer the nymph would be seen in the water half way out, holding in her arms a little infant, also painted red with Indian paint. Her long hair came down to the water. If any noise were made, she immediately went down and disappeared. On approaching the water, it was found to be still and clear; and everything was silent, giving no appearance of anyone or anything having been about. Sometimes the prints of the baby’s bare feet might be found in the soft mud around. If the woman happened to stop soothing the baby, and raised her head, and saw anyone who might be passing, that look was the look of the sorcerer, - it brought death to the person. It might not occur immediately; but it followed soon. Not all of these beaver women were represented as having infants with them; some of them were represented as maidens.
In the Yakima country there is a spring where formerly an Indian man used to live, that is, a being in the form of a naked Indian man. He would mysteriously pop up out of the water, stand there as naked as Adam for a few moments, then suddenly vanish out of sight. The Indians say that some forty years ago a number of old chiefs, among whom was Kamiakin, got up a party of twenty men and went to dig out this wonderful Indian spirit. They spent the whole day in the operation, and ran long poles in where the water emerged; but, strangely enough to them, they found no man nor spirit.
WAWA, THE MOSQUITO GOD.
According to the philosophy of
the Eastern Washington tribes, the mosquito, or Wawa, was in the time of
the ancients a wonderful being. His place of abode is variously located;
but generally it is at or near some locality now noted for mosquitoes.
The Peshkoes located the ancient home of Wawa near the mouth of the Satas,
not far from the present crossing of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Here
this giant Wawa had his house in a narrow place hemmed in by the bluff.
Wawa was much larger than any man now living; and his bill or proboscis
was three or four feet long, and very sharp and powerful. When anyone attempted
to pass, the old god came out and thrust him through and sucked up his
blood. He had been slaughtering the poor people at a terrible rate, and was thinning them out dreadfully, when Speelyai or Coyote determined to destroy him and relieve them of this incubus. He was at a loss how to succeed. He had two sisters that he always consulted when in perplexity and doubt as to what to do. These two sisters lived in his stomach, and were two kinds of berries, such as the hail often damages. These sisters therefore dreaded the hail. Sometimes these sisters refused to
give Coyote the desired information, or were otherwise
wayward or willful, when he would look up to the sky and call upon the
hail to come. This threat to bring the hail always terrified the sisters,
and they cried out: “Hold, hold, don’t bring the hail! We will tell you
anything you wish!” When Coyote had received their views he always said,
“Yes, that is just what I thought, that is my idea,” whether he had ever
thought of it before or not. He was anxious to take the glory all to himself.
On the present occasion, Coyote had to resort to these sister oracles.
They said to him: “You must get five kinds of wood, to make rods to twirl
to make fire. Hide these in your bosom and go to where Wawa
lives, and obey our directions. So he set out on his journey to the giant mosquito’s home. In the myths, coyote almost always had to go a long way to perform his wonderful exploits.
When he neared Wawa’s place,
the giant or god called out; “Where are you going? You can’t go by here.
This is my road; and I don’t allow anyone to pass here.” Coyote became
very polite, and spoke in the blandest manner possible, saying: “My friend,
I see you are very cold, and have no fire in your house. Let me make you
a fire, so that you can warm yourself.” Wawa, not suspecting any treachery,
permitted him to go on; for really the weather was cold and damp, and made
the mosquito god feel very stiff and sluggish. So Coyote took out his five
fire-rods. With the first he twirled and worked; but no fire came. He then
took another, but no fire; and so he went through all until the fifth,
when lo! the
wood ignited and blazed up. When Coyote had got a big fire going, he smothered it down and filled the lodge with strong smoke. Old Wawa could not get his breath, and so laid down on the ground to breathe. Taking advantage of the old fellow’s situation, Coyote said: “You are not going to kill people any more. You have been a terror to everybody; but your power shall be put down. I will split open your head; and from it shall come a diminutive race. But they shall not have power to kill; they may fly about people’s faces, and may annoy them, and draw a little blood, but shall not take life any more. Whereupon Coyote raised his huge stone knife, and with a tremendous blow split the giant’s head open at one stroke; and immediately there swarmed forth myriads of little mosquitoes such as have existed ever since. Since that time the mosquito cannot stand smoke; and by this lesson from Coyote the people learned to protect themselves by making a smudge or big smoke. The scene of this performance has been the worst plagued by mosquitoes of any part of the earth ever since, so they say.
A pretty little legend is told that accounts for the strips on the chipmunk’s back. A long time ago there was an old woman who destroyed young infants whenever and wherever she could find them. She had long, sharp claws, and sharp, savage teeth, and eyes like fire. She had a mode of charming the little babies, crooning to them and enticing them to her; and when they were in her power she rent their soft flesh like a wolf devouring a lamb. She had been exercising her diabolical powers for a long time; and many a poor mother in the land was mourning the loss of her little ones. This wretch had become the terror of every mother who had an infant. One time the monster caught a little Indian baby, and was about to devour it in sight of its frantic mother. The poor woman, wild with fear and grief, besought the Great Spirit to save the child. In answer to her prayer, the little baby was transformed into a beautiful little chipmunk, which sprang away from the old wretch and ran off. As it jumped, she grabbed at it with her hand; and he sharp claws scraped along the little fellow’s back and made black strips, which all chipmunks have since retained.
ORIGIN OF THE LOON.
The lonely cry of the loon, as it slowly flew over the lakes and marshes, impressed the Indian mind with a sense of awe. A legend says that many, very many hears ago, there was a family of Indian children who used to play a great deal about the water, tracking and paddling around in the soft mud. Their mother forbid their going into the water; but they would go. She finally punished them; and they went off crying among the tules, and, wandering farther and farther away, were transformed into loons. The parents and friends hunted everywhere for them; and, when they went about the water among the rushes, the children in the form of loons would rise up and cry and go flying away. Indian women are thus constantly reminded that they should not be too harsh and severe in punishing their little ones.
CASTILTAH, THE CRAYFISH OR LOBSTER GOD.
According to the Yakima cosmogony,
there was in the age of the “ancients” a large lake on the Topnish river
or creek, at a place now known as Big Willows. The Indian name of this
place is Shwee-ash. In this lake there lived Castiltah, the crayfish god,
a sort of Neptune of the little sea. He was of immense proportions. His
spreading arms reached out like a mighty octopus. His great pincers would
crush an Indian as easily as a sledgehammer would break an eggshell. This
god claimed ownership of the lake, all the fish, all the ta-hoósh
(Indian flax) that grew on its banks, and all the camas, which were very
plentiful. Castiltah watched over all these things with a jealous eye,
and drove away intruders. He permitted Indians to go and gather flax, and
to take fish or dig camas, but was liable at any time to become offended.
If they took too much flax, or fished too long, or in any other way displeased
him, he forthwith drove the intruders away. By the power of his will or
by magic he could cause the water to seethe
and boil and flow out in any direction. When he wished to drive anyone away from his possessions, he caused the water to rise up in a wave and run out after him. If the person had been stealing fish or camas, he must at once drop them and fly for his life; for, if he persisted in holding onto the articles, he was swallowed up and destroyed. If he dropped them, the waves carried them back to Castiltah; and his wrath was appeased, and the waves subsided.
Near by there was a fishing-place not as good as the lake. At this place, to this day, the Indians say that if they go and fish they will for a time get good fish, and everything will be all right; but soon they begin to see strange fish coming about their hooks, appearing as if they had coals of fire in their mouths. These strange fish are sent by the spirit of Castiltah to warn them to get away; and if they do not, but continue fishing, they feel the bank begin to crumble under them, and experience other premonitions of the impending wrath of the crayfish spirit. No Indian dares to further tempt the water god, but will get up and leave at once. The Indians say that, when aroused by Castiltah, the waters seethed and boiled very mysteriously, then rose up in ridges which ran out and around as if trying to head off the fleeing fishermen or camas-diggers.
WAK-A-POOSH, THE RATTLESNAKE.
In the Wat-tee-tash times, Wak-a-poosh, the rattlesnake, was, according to all the Northwestern tribes, a mighty god. Among the other animal gods he was a great conjuror, and had the “big medicine.” He lived in a fine stone mansion, led a very indolent life, and spent much of his time out sunning himself about his premises. He was an incessant talker, boasting of his power, and had three heads instead of one as he has now. The sound of his rattles cast a sort of fatal spell over the other people, and they became “crazy”. He gazed at them and charmed or in some way paralyzed them, so that they permitted him to swallow him. As was his custom, Coyote consulted his sisters as oracles of wisdom; and they advised him not to strike first at Wak-a-poosh’s head, but to smite off his rattles, and then he would be able to conquer him. After much strategy and cunning, he succeeded in debasing the monster, and cursed him, permitting him to live, but with only one head and one set of rattles.
The tribes up Snake river say that witches live in the old cast-off snake skins, and that the echo is caused by these witches repeating the sounds that are made in their hearing. How this all came about was that a certain witch was once hotly pursued by the eagle, and ran to the rattlesnake for protection. He was lying out basking in the sun, and could do nothing against the enemy, and so opened his mouth and the witch ran in. His snakeship, not being accustomed to that sort of diet, was made deathly sick; and he tried so hard to vomit the witch up that he wriggled out of his skin, leaving the witch in that.
Feeling relieved, and not knowing what had become of the load in his stomach, he looked back at his old skin and said, “Old witch, where are you?” She tauntingly replied, in the same tone of voice, “Old witch, where are you?” Witches live in snake skins ever since, and mock the voices of passersby.
THE TUMWATER LUMINOUS STONE GOD.
The “Tumwater” Indians above The Dalles, who call themselves Wishams, have a tradition saying that ages ago there was at Tumwater a large, white, luminous stone, - a sort of fortune god for the tribe. It shone at night, lighting up the water so that they could see to fish or carry on other avocations. It was a guardian over the welfare and destiny of the people. by its protection, light and favoring influence the Wishams prospered and led a very happy and contented life, having an abundance of fish and all the comforts of Indian living. Seeing their good fortune and happy condition, the clans around were very envious; and, knowing that these blessings were attributable to the white stone god, they determined to humiliate the Wishams, and rob them of their prosperity by destroying the stone. They formed an alliance, and made war upon the fishermen people, overpowered them, and then rolled their big white stone protector into the Columbia. When night came on, the poor Wishams missed their accustomed light and stumbled about in darkness. They were in trouble; things did not seem to go as well with them as formerly. They finally found the stone in the water and managed some way to get it out, and set it up, when its benign light and influence were felt again; and the people once more prospered. After a time the jealousy of the surrounding tribes became so great that they made common cause against the Wishams; and their wonderful stone genius was completely demolished. Since then these Indians have had to get along as best they could without their ancient petrous guardian.
THE WOODEN FIREMAN OF THE CASCADES.
The following legend is a direct
proof that the Indians believed that inanimate objects even have a spirit
essence, and that in the time of the “ancients” objects without life formerly
exhibited intelligence. In the Watteetash age there used to be an old wooden
man who lived down below the Cascades. He was in the shape of the Indians’
fire-making machine. This apparatus consisted of rods for twirling, and
block of wood. The Indian god Coyote, when going down
the river, heard the old wooden man in the form of a machine going around
and around with a creaking noise. He stopped, pricked up his ears and listened,
when he thought he heard the word “pitli, pitli, pitli” repeated, which
in the Klikitat language means nephew. The sound was so doleful he thought
it was some one mourning for a dead nephew. His
sympathies were moved; and he also began to mourn by howling most lamentingly. The old wooden man heard the noise and was startled, and ceased his turnings to listen, when his creaking stopped. Coyote finding the lamentations had ceased, his own grief likewise was assuaged; and he silenced his howling. The old fire-maker once more resumed his work of turning and twisting around, and the squeaking began again, “pitli! pitli! pitli!” Whereupon Coyote’s feelings were again wrought upon; and he broke out in fresh howlings. Four times the old fire-maker stopped and started again. Each time Coyote was deceived, thinking the creaking of the old man was someone mourning for a dead nephew. The fifth time Coyote perceived the deception; and, going up to the fire-maker, who had now struck a blaze, he took his fire and pronounced a curse upon him, changing him to stone saying, “You will never make fire any more nor cry ‘pitli! pitli” to deceive people and harrow up their feelings.” So Coyote took the fire and gave it to the Cascade Indians, who have had it ever since. The poor old fire-maker stands on the shores of the Columbia a silent cold stone, bearing the name of the Indian fire-machine, but never more disturbs the passersby with the noise of his turnings.
We read in the histories of Eastern nations of cities of refuge, to which those who had committed murders might flee; and while within the cities’ walls they were for the time being free from the hands of the avenger. A myth of the Klikitats and Wishams indicates that there was a similar idea or custom among the Indians. Between the fishery above The Dalles and the Klikitat valley near the old trails used by the Indians from time immemorial, there are five stones three or four feet high. These, tradition says, were anciently people, and that Coyote, the Indian god, transformed them to stones, saying: “You shall stand here forever; and whoever commits a murder or spills human blood may run to you. If he shall jump over your heads and back again five times without touching his moccasin to you, he shall live; but whoever shall strike his feet against your heads shall die.”
SPECIAL CARE OF THE GODS OVER EACH TRIBE.
Each tribe or clan of the Indians regards itself as the favored of heaven. The wonderful doings of the ancient gods, so far as they had any reference to the interests of humanity, had especial reference to “us,” our tribe.” For “us” Coyote brought the salmon; for “us” he made the falls and rapids, so that we could fish successfully; for “our people” the berries came. We, our tribe, are the center around which everything else has moved. For other tribes, the gods and powers are either indifferent, or they even conspire against them. Our people were put at the head of creation and have been the special object of supernatural protection ever since. This is the belief of each tribe. The fat, squabby coast Indian believes his people are the beloved of the gods, the good and wise, while the Snakes and Piutes are no good. These on their part are proud of their noble descent, and have a sort of feeling of contempt for the “fat, lazy fellows” of the river and coast.
CONTEST BETWEEN THE CHINOOK AND COLD WIND BROTHERS.
Among all savage tribes, the
operations of nature are ascribed directly to beings. The tides, the movements
of the sun and moon, the coming of the salmon, the winds, rain, hail, snow,
thunder, earthquakes, etc., are all direct performances of somebody. The
Indian seems to have no conception of natural law as we understand it.
And yet, in his talks and harangues about Coyote and his doings, he often
says Coyote, made the law thus and so. It is a part of the Indians’ philosophy
that phenomena are caused by “somebody” instead of something, or through
the operations of fixed laws. If the wind blows, somebody is blowing
it; if the earth quakes, somebody is shaking it; if the snow falls and
on a long time, somebody is doing it. Each and every separate operation of nature is a direct intervention of a somebody. Earth, air, mountain, vale, river and cañon are peopled with spirits and powers.
In the long, long ago, the warm
Chinook wind was caused by five brothers; these lived down the Columbia.
The Walla Walla wind, or cold east wind, was caused by five brothers, who
lived somewhere east of the mountains. The five Chinook wind brothers and
the five Walla Walla wind brothers had grandparents, - old people who lived
on the Washington side of the Columbia about twenty-five miles below the
mouth of the Yakima river. These wind brothers had always been blowing
over the country very hard. Sometimes the warm Chinook would come along
and dash over the camps, blow down trees, tear up the earth, and fill the
air with dust and stones. Then the cold Walla Walla wind would come
along and freeze everything solid with its breath; so that, between the blowing of the two sets of brothers, the people were in a sad strait, and led a miserable life. One time the Walla Walla wind brothers sent a challenge to the Chinook wind brothers to come up to a wrestling match, the stakes on either side to be the life of the unsuccessful one. The Chinooks accepted the challenge, and came up to the designated place. Speelyai was there to witness the wrestling, and to be umpire and execute the penalty by cutting off the head of the unsuccessful wrestler.
Speelyai cunningly said to the grandfather and grandmother of the Chinook brothers, “If you see your sons are about to get thrown, you must pour oil on the ground where they are wresting; and your son will not fall.” He then slyly said to the cold wind brothers grandparents, “You must, if you see your sons about to get thrown, throw ice on the ground.” So they cleared off the ground smoothly and made everything ready; and the eldest of the five brothers on each side took hold to wrestle. When the Chinook wind brother was about to go down, Speelyai would say to the old grandfather, “Throw on your oil!” And he did so; and then the other old grandfather threw on ice; and so between the oil and the ice the ground was so slippery that even a god could not keep his feet. The Chinook wind brother went sprawling down; and, while he was down, Speelyai cut his head off wit a huge stone knife. The second Chinook wind brother then took hold. He shared the fate of his elder brother, fell and was beheaded. During the wrestling, the old grandparents always threw on oil and ice; but the cold win grandfather, always got his ice on last, and so the Chinook brothers were all killed.
It happened, however, that the
eldest brother, who was killed first, had a wife down at home who was about
to become a mother. She shortly after gave birth to a boy. In process of
time he became a fine strong lad; and his mother said: “Your father
was killed by the cold wind brothers; and you must exercise yourself to
make you strong, and practice wrestling so that you can avenge the blood
of your father.” So he grew up, gaining in stature and increasing in strength
by practicing at pulling up trees. He became so strong that he could snatch
up a large pine or fir with one hand, and toss it away like a weed. He
concluded that he was strong enough to undertake the avenging of his father’s
and besought his mother’s consent that he might do so. Gaining her permission, he started in the night and went up the Columbia, tearing up trees, twisting them off, and piling them in every shape. He went on and turned up the Yakima, reaching the mouth of the Satas about daylight, and laid down on his back against the south hillside. The Indians yet point out the prints of where he lay. He staid there and slept all day, and then in the evening started on again towards the home of his grandparents. Ever since the first Chinook brothers had been killed, these old people had suffered great indignities at the hands of the cold wind brothers. These five overgrown churls were beastly and low, and would go
up near the old folks’ hut and discharge their excrement; and then they would pull open the mat door, and thrust their nether extremities in, and require the old folks to use their hair to wipe the filth from them. They were in a sad plight, for the cold wind brothers would not permit them to get out of the hut. The young giant Chinook wind determined to relieve the old grandparents the first thing, and so went tearing on towards their old home. Along in the night the old folks heard the frame of their hut squeak and strain; and the old man, recognizing the cause, exclaimed, “O my grandson! you have come at last.” Then the old shanty squeaked again at the force of the wind. Another roar of the wind
and in burst the young giant.
The old folks were wonderfully
rejoiced to see their grandson come to their relief. He said to them, you
must put me under your pillows, and keep me out of sight until night comes
again.” The cold wind brothers always traveled by day to torment the old
people. The grandson said, “Grandfather, you take your canoe and go and
fish for sturgeon.” The old man got into his canoe and started as directed.
The cold wind brothers were on the other side of the river, watching; and,
when the old man would get a load of fish and would start, they would get
into boats ad go after him, robbing him of his sturgeon. This was repeated
five times, when the grandson accompanied the old man, lying down flat
in the canoe out of sight. When the boat was again full of fish, the marauders
came after him as before. The old man pulled for life to get to shore.
The race was hard. The old fellow got down to this oars, and put forth
his utmost exertions. Just behind him, and coming in hot haste and gaining
were the five cold wind brothers. Just as they were within reach of the
old fisherman, and were about to take hold of his craft,
the grandson lying in the stern of the boat would make a slight move; and the boat would shoot off and leave the pursuers far behind. They then gained on him again; and his boat again shot forward and left them. This was done five times; and the old man landed safely. The strange action of the old fellow’s boat very much surprised the five brothers; and they were suspicious of something wrong. When they landed, the young grandson picked up the sturgeons, carrying them all easily on his little finger. The old people, having been so badly treated were very filthy; and the young grandson took them to a spring near by and washed them. The filth turned to trout, and the spring has been full of fish ever since. Despite their filthy origin, the fish are as fine as any in the world, so they say.
The news of the young man’s arrival
was soon spread around; and Speelyai announced that there would be another
wrestling match. That things might not turn out so badly, Speelyai said
to the Chinook wind grandfather: “You must not throw on your oil first.
Even if you see your grandson is almost down, you wait until the other
old man throws on his ice; then throw on your oil, and your great-grandson
will down the whole lot.” So the young man took hold with the oldest Walla
Walla wind brother first. Speelyai said to the young man’s grandfather,
“Now, on with your oil!” But the old man sat still and looked on; and the
cold wind brother went almost down. His old, white-bearded grandfather
then threw on some ice, and the other old man splashed on oil, when down
came the cold wind brother; and Speelyai, with a tremendous yell, whacked
off his head. The wrestling was resumed, and with the same results until
the cold wind brothers were all beheaded save one. The younger, seeing
the fate of his brothers, said he would not wrestle. He did not approve
of the idea of all the cold wind brothers being killed, and
the Chinook allowed to live. Speelyai then said: “You may live; but you shall not go about freezing people to death every time you breathe on them. You may breathe lightly, but not blow so very cold as
heretofore.” It was thus decreed that the Chinook should blow at night time the hardest. It might then go roaring along the mountain ridges and take off the snow there first, but must not blow so hard on people as to kill them.
SPEELYAI’S ASCENT TO HEAVEN.
The Indian god Speelyai (Coyote)
had five daughters (some say sisters), who all died before he left the
world. Because of their death, his grief was inconsolable. He wandered
about mourning and crying for them for a great length of time. While
thus engaged, he was one day met by a woman, who said to him: “If you will
go far away towards the rising sun, you will find a rope or cord reaching
down from heaven. Go to that rope and take hold of it and you will be told
what to do.” Obeying these directions he started out towards the east,
journeying outward for a great while. He at last found the rope hanging
down, as had been told him. Looking all about, he could see no one nor
hear any sound. Casting his eyes upward he saw the rope going on and up
until it was lost out of sight, so that it seemed to be suspended from
the sky. Growing bolder, he went up and with his paws grasped the suspended
cord, and began to pull and jerk at it. Immediately his hands were involuntarily
clutched to the rope, so that, although he tried hard to let go, he could
not. He then heard a voice far above, saying to him: “Climb
up.” He then began climbing, pulling himself up by his paws and feet. In this way he kept going up., up, higher and higher, for one whole summer and winter, when he all of a sudden heard music. He pricked up his ears to listen. The sounds came from a great way above him still. He looked, and beheld a very beautiful country there, - green grass, trees and beautiful streams. The people were all very happy; but all was far, far above his reach. He now discovered that, while he had been looking and listening, he had become fixed and attached to the rope; so that he could neither go up to the beautiful country above nor recede to the earth below, - a sad plight, indeed, for a god. While thus suspended between earth and heaven, he heard a voice saying to him: “You cannot come up; your heart has been very bad; you have been forked-tongued and deceitful, and have practiced evil. You are unfit for the heavenly country. You never can come up until you have first confessed your wrongs ad put away your evil spirit.
Now Speelyai had been a very great god, and had done many wonderful things; and it was very humiliating to him to have to make confession. He therefore hung up there a long time before he would do so. Finding that there was no other help for him, he made a clean breast of it and confessed his iniquities, and was then drawn up to the sky and went in through the trap door. He almost immediately met four of his daughters, who embraced him with tears of joy and rejoicing. A little while afterwards the younger daughter came along, but expressed no pleasure at meeting him. On the contrary, she wanted to know what he was doing there, and told him he had been sinful and full of deceit, and was not fit for the heavenly country. As they were standing near the trap door in the sky, she gave the discomfited god a shove, when he tumbled down through the opening and fell like Lucifer. The rope by which he had ascended had been drawn up, so that there was nothing to catch hold of; and there was nothing left for him but to fall, and fall he did, sweeping down through upper space for a whole year. When he struck the ground, he was mashed out flat as a tule mat. A voice then said to him, “You shall be a vagabond and wanderer, and shall be a common, contemptible coyote, and shall forever cry and howl for your sins.” So from that day to this the coyote has whined and cried of nights, and wandered about hungry and friendless over the world.
COYOTE’S RIDE ON THE STAR (Another Version of Coyote’s Fall).
Among the tribes farther south,
- the Klamaths and Warm Springs Indians, - they have a legend or myth about
Coyote’s ride on a star. Coyote had been doing very many wonderful things;
for had he not killed the thunder god, and put down the various monsters
that had been plaguing and destroying the people? He had made the people
a sun and moon to light them, built rapids in their river, and brought
them fish. He was priding himself upon his wonderful achievements. It was
hardly fit that a being so wonderful should be limited to walking
or running about on the earth. He wanted to dance with the stars. The evening
star shone brightly upon the world; and, as it rose above the hill, Coyote
and barked and howled at it, begging to be permitted to get on and ride and dance around the world. The star told him it was not a good place for him; that he had better stay where he was. He was not to be satisfied; but came out and howled and whined and entreated the star night after night, until the sky god was weary of Coyote’s continued noise and importunity; and at last it came up close to the hill. Coyote gave a leap to get on, but only succeeded in getting hold with his paws. Thus hanging, the star took him dancing through space. It may have been very fine at first; but the muscles of even a god grow weary and cold. The air so high was very frosty. Coyote’s paws were getting very numb; and at last he lost his grip and came plunging down from the upper ether. They say he fell for ten snows, and struck the earth so violently that he was mashed out as thin as pasteboard and was doomed ever afterwards to be a common coyote.