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 Rainier.
(Cowlitz Indians called Mount St. Helens "Lavelatla," which means "smoking mountain.")