with Ed Edmo
On Turtle Island Storytellers, Ed Edmo treats us to some tales originating along the beautiful Columbia River gorge in the Pacific Northwest. Ed is of Shoshone-Bannock, Yakima, Nez Perce and French descent. As a young boy, he sat at the feet of his father and his grandmother as they told the stories of their ancestors.
How Coyote Made the Columbia River
This next legend is the Colville legend on How Coyote Made the Columbia River.
A long time ago, they said there was no Columbia River. Where the Cascade Mountains are, there was a great big lake. And if you read magazines like Scientific America and the Smithsonian, they talk about a polar ice cap melting two million years ago and flooding the northwest, making the lakes and rivers of the Northwest. But that’s science.
Ellen Squiemphem, Susan Moses, Bernice Mitchell, Ada Sooksit, Adeline Miller
Bunny Hop Skip Dance (A Fun Dance)
Traditional Music From Warm Springs
Here’s what the Colville Indians say.
Coyote took a big stick to the top of the mountains and dug and sang a powerful song. Coyote took a big stick to the top of the mountains and dug and sang a powerful song. Coyote took a big stick to the top of the mountains and dug and sang a powerful song. Coyote took a big stick to the top of the mountains and dug and sang a powerful song. And the water broke through, making the Columbia River.
Ah! Coyote was proud of himself. He made the river. He was walking up and down the river to see what he had made.
Animal people moved down to the banks of the river to be closer to the water. Coyote saw that they didn’t have that much to eat. So Coyote walked clear down to the mouth of the Columbia. And he saw salmon, many salmon swimming in the ocean. And he used his power and told the salmon to swim up stream.
Fish Dance Song
Heartbeat: Voices Of First Nations Women
That’s how Coyote made the Columbia River. And that’s why the salmon swim up stream.
That’s how Coyote made the Columbia River.
The story of She Who Watches
Did you know, a long time ago along the Columbia River, women were chiefs, not the men?
Coyote was walking up and down the river saying, “The world is going to change over. Women aren’t going to be chiefs anymore.”
There is this place between Dallesport and Wishram that’s called Horse Thief Lake. A long time ago it was Spearfish Village. I remember the village. I used to go there and play on the high cliffs, when I was a little boy.
Coyote stopped and said, “Is your chief taking good care of you? Is she a good chief?”
The people said, “Yes, she stands on the high cliff and watches over us. Her name is Tugagala, She Who Watches.”
So coyote climbed the high cliffs, says “Is it true you are a good chief?”
She said “Yes, I like to think so. My name is Sagalala, She Who Watches.”
He said “The world is going to change over. Women aren’t going to be chiefs anymore.” He said, “Why do you like to stand up here and watch over your people?”
Somewhere Down The Crazy River
She said, “I’m Sagalala, She Who Watches. I like to watch over my people to see that they have enough food. I like to watch over my people to see that they have enough fire wood. I like to watch my people to see that they have good shelter. I like to watch my people to see that they live in peace.”
He said, “Forever that will be.”
He used his power and changed her into the petroglyph, the one they called She Who Watches. And she is still there today. That’s a Wishram legend.
The Bridge of the Gods Legend
This next legend is The Bridge of the Gods Legend. There are three versions. There is a Yakima version, the Warm Springs version and the Klickitat Version. That is the only one I know.
A long time ago, there were two brothers who wanted better land for the people. One’s name was Wy’East. And the other was Klickitat. They were chiefs of the tribe. The tribes were really, really poor. They wanted to be better chiefs. Wy’East was chief of the Multnomahs. Klickitat was chief of the Klickitats.
The Great Spirit brought them, when they were asleep, to this part of the country, woke up the brothers. They saw the Columbia River, the large mountains, and the new forests.
Great Spirit told one brother, “Shoot your arrow to the north.” Klickitat shot his arrow to the north. As far as his arrow went was the Klickitat tribes.
The Great Spirit told the other brother, “Shoot your arrow to the south.” Wy’East shot his arrow south and to the Willamette River Valley. That was the Multnomah peoples.
The people were happy. They got new land. The Great Spirit said “I’ll build a sign of peace for you.” Over the Columbia River, the Great Spirit built a large land bridge with tall trees and great big rocks on it. They called it the Bridge of the Gods.
The people went across the bridge, hunted and traded and fished together for a long time. They began to quarrel and fight among each another.
At that time there was no fire on Earth. Except one old woman who lived way up in the mountain. Her name was Lewit. Lewit had fire. The Great Spirit went to the old woman and said, “What do you want if you share your fire with the people?” Lewit thought and thought. She says, “I want to become young and beautiful.” The Great Spirit said “Tomorrow that will be. Take your fire to the bridge.”
As the sun was rising on the Columbia River Gorge, in the middle of the Bridge of the Gods was a young beautiful woman watching fire. The Klickitats and Multnomahs took fires to their lodges. With fire they could heat their lodges. With fire they could cook. And with fire they could see at night.
The Multnomahs and Klickitats saw the young woman who brought fire and were happy. So did Wy’East and Klickitat and wanted to marry her. One would bring a gift.
One would bring another gift. One would bring a bigger gift. One would bring a bigger and better gift until there was quarreling and fighting.
Somewhere Down The Crazy River
Many people were hurt and killed. The Great Spirit got angry and it caused the earth to shake. And the Bridge of the Gods fell into the river. As punishment, it changed the people into mountains. Wy’East, it changed into Mt. Hood.
Klickitat into Mt. Adams. Lewit into Mt. St. Helens. And that is how the mountains came to be. That is a Klickitat legend, Bridge of the Gods.
Playwright and storyteller, Ed Edmo now lives in Portland, Oregon and travels throughout the Northwest sharing his stories and humor, in schools and in public performance.