Legends of the Pacific Northwest
Here in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, we are surrounded by beautiful mountains, lakes, and the Pacific ocean to the west. These natural wonders are also an important part of the culture of the native peoples of this region. Stories describing the histories and events (including ancient volcanic eruptions) of the mountains in the region have been handed down for many years through tribal oral histories. In the first of several articles on this subject, I thought it would be fun to share these legends with my LifeReader clients. It is always fascinating to explore the legends about your own area– and it might really enlighten you to learn about the abundant history associated with your very own ‘neighborhood.’
The Puyallup (pronounced: Pew’all’up) tribes have lived in the Pacific Northwest for many centuries. Their oral history is rich and interesting. One of their most famous stories is about the “Bridge of the Gods”. The Puyallup believe that a long time ago a huge rockslide came crashing into the Columbia River and created a fire-y bridge that crossed the river. They called this bridge “Temanawas” or the “Bridge of the Gods”. In the middle of the bridge there was a special arched area where fire burned eternally. The Puyallup believed this was the only place to find fire in the world, and that this place was sacred for that reason. Tribes from great distances all around traveled to gather embers from this sacred fire to take back to their own peoples.
An old woman, named “Loowit” lived on the bridge and was the caretaker of the sacred fire. Loowit was totally committed to tending the fire and helping any and all who came to partake of it’s embers. The great Chief Sahalee noticed her dedication to this important task and decided to give give her a special gift in appreciation of her efforts; the gift of eternal life. Since it was so special, Chief Sahalee had only given this gift to a few other people, including to his sons, Klickitat and Wyeast. Although Loowit was honored to be given this special gift, she also cried bitterly at the thought of living in eternity as an old woman.
Once Chief Sahalee gave this precious gift to Loowit, he could not take it back. However, in consolation, he did offer Loowit one wish that he could grant, which he did. She asked to be made young and beautiful, and the stories of her beauty and her tireless tending of the sacred fire were acclaimed for miles around. One day, no longer able to resist the stories of her beauty, Sahalee’s son Wyeast came from the South to see Loowit. But just as he came to the Sacred Bridge, his brother Klickitat came running towards the bridge from the North. As it turns out, both brothers fell immediately in love with Loowit and she was unable to choose between them. The brothers began fighting violently- villages, forests, and great swaths of land were destryed by fire and flames from the fighting, jealous brothers.
Chief Sahalee watched all this violence with sadness and anger. He decided that the Sacred Bridge was now cursed and must be destroyed. By sheer will, he destroyed the bridge and watched it fall into the river, smoking with fire. He also punished the three lovers by striking them down, one by one, even though he loved them. Where each one fell, rose a tall mountain. Because Loowit wished to stay beautiful forever, her mountain was made symmetrical and beautiful, and was then known as Mt. St. Helens. Wyeast’s mountain is Mount Hood, which raises it’s head proudly over the horizon. Kickitat, although rough, cried inside at the loss of his pursuit of Loowit. He is Mount Adams, who has his head bent in sorrow over his lost love to the north, blanketed in snow.