Native American Myths
Northwest Native American Myths
Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest watched eruptions of Mount
St. Helens long before the explorers and settlers came. Early accounts
of eruptions were handed down and explained by their legends,
contributing to a rich tradition of oral history and myth.
From the Puyallup Tribes
According to the lore of these tribes, long ago a huge landslide of
rocks roared into the Columbia River near Cascade Locks and eventually
formed a natural stone bridge that spanned the river. The bridge came to
be called Tamanawas Bridge, or Bridge of the Gods. In the center of the
arch burned the only fire in the world, so of course the site was sacred
to Native Americans. They came from north, south, west, and east to get
embers for their own fires from the sacred fire.
A wrinkled old woman, Loowitlatkla ("Lady of Fire,") lived in the
center of the arch, tending the fire. Loowit, as she was called, was so
faithful in her task, and so kind to the Indians who came for fire, that
she was noticed by the great chief Tyee Sahale. He had a gift he had
given to very few others -- among them his sons Klickitat and Wyeast --
and he decided to offer this gift to Loowit as well. The gift he
bestowed on Loowit was eternal life. But Loowit wept, because she did
not want to live forever as an old woman.
Sahale could not take back the gift, but he told Loowit he could
grant her one wish. Her wish, to be young and beautiful, was granted,
and the fame of her wondrous beauty spread far and wide.
One day Wyeast came from the land of the Multnomahs in the south to
see Loowit. Just as he arrived at Tamanawas Bridge, his brother
Klickitat came thundering down from the north. Both brothers fell in
love with Loowit, but she could not choose between them. Klickitat and
Wyeast had a tremendous fight. They burned villages. Whole forests
disappeared in flames.
Sahale watched all of this fury and became very angry. He frowned.
He smote Tamanawas Bridge, and it fell in the river where it still boils
in angry protest. He smote the three lovers, too; but, even as he
punished them, he loved them. So, where each lover fell, he raised up a
mighty mountain. Because Loowit was beautiful her mountain (St. Helens)
was a symmetrical cone, dazzling white. Wyeast's mountain (Mount Hood)
still lifts his head in pride. Klickitat , for all his rough ways, had a
tender heart. As Mount Adams, he bends his head in sorrow, weeping to
see the beautiful maiden Loowit wrapped in snow.
From the Yakima Tribes
Si Yett, meaning woman, is the Yakima Indian name for Mount St.
Helens. According to legend, Si Yett was a beautiful white maiden placed
on earth by the Great Spirit to protect the Bridge of the Gods on the
Columbia River from the battling brothers, Mount Adams and Mount Hood.
From the Klickitat Tribes
Klickitat Indians tell of two braves, Pahto, (Mount Adams) and Wyeast
(Mount Hood), who fought to win the affections of an ugly old hag, who
had been turned into a beautiful maiden by the Great Spirit.
From the Cowlitz Tribes
Cowlitz Indian legends tell of a time when Mount Rainier had an
argument with his two wives, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Mount St.
Helens became jealous, blew her top, and knocked the head off Mount
(Cowlitz Indians called Mount St. Helens "Lavelatla," which means
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