The Columbia River: Its History, Its Myths, Its Scenery, Its Commerce/Part 1/Chapter 1
The Land where the River Flows
Contrasts—The Two Islands—Uplift—Volcanic Action—Flood—Age of Ice—Story of Wishpoosh and Creation of the Tribes—Outline of the Mountain Systems—Peculiar Interlocking of the Columbia and the Kootenai—The Cascade Range—The Inland Empire—The Valleys West of the Cascade Mountains—The Forests—The Climate—The Native Races and Some of their Myths—Story of the Kamiah Monster—The Tomanowas Bridge at the Cascades—Origin of Three Great Mountains—The Chinook Wind—Myths of the Unseen Life—Klickitat Story of the Spirit Baby—Beauty of the Native Names.
WONDERFULLY varied though rivers are, each has a physiognomy of its own. Each preserves its characteristics even in the midst of constant diversity. We recognise it, as we recognise a person in different changes of dress. The Ohio has one face, the Hudson another, and each keeps its essential identity. The traveller would not confuse the Rhine with the Danube, or the Nile with the Volga.
Even more distinctive than most rivers in form and feature is the Columbia, the old Oregon that now hears far other sounds than "his own dashings," the River of the West, the Thegayo, the Rio de los Reyes, the Rio Estrachos, the Rio de Aguilar, the many-named river which unites all parts of the Pacific North-west. It is to its records of romance and heroism, of legend and history, as well as to its alternating scenes of stormy grandeur and tranquil majesty that the reader's attention is now invited. Though among the latest of American rivers to be brought under the control of civilised men, the Columbia was among the earliest to attract the interest of the explorers of all nations, and the struggles of international diplomacy over possession were among the most momentous in history. The distance of the Columbia from the centres of population and the difficulty of reaching it made its development slow, and for this reason its pioneer stage lasted longer than would otherwise have been the case. In this part of its history there was a record of pathos, tragedy, and achievement not surpassed in any of the annals of our country, while, in its later phases, the North-west has had the sweep and energy of growth and power characteristic of genuine American development. Finally, by reason of scenic grandeur, absorbing interest of physical features, the majesty and mystery of its origin in the greatest of American mountains, the swift might of its flow through some of the wildest as well as some of the most beautiful regions of the globe, and at the last by the peculiar grandeur of its entrance into the greatest of the oceans, this "Achilles of Rivers" attracts alike historian, scientist, poet, statesman, and lover of nature.
"A land of old upheaven from the abyss," a land of deepest deeps and highest heights, of richest verdure here, and barest desolation there, of dense forest on one side, and wide extended prairies on the other; a land, in brief, of contrasts, contrasts in contour, hues, productions, and history;—such is that imperial domain watered by the Columbia River and its affluents. To the artist, the poet, the scientist, and the sportsman, this region presents noble and varied scenes of shore, of mountain, of river, of lake, while to the romancer and historian it offers a wealth of native legend and of record from the heroic ages of American history.
As a fit introduction to the picture of the land as it now appears, there may be presented a brief record of the manner in which it was wrought into its present form. Professor Thomas Condon of Oregon thought that the first land to rise on the Pacific Coast was composed of two islands, one in the region of the Siskiyou Mountains of Northern California and Southern Oregon, and the other in the heart of what are now the Blue Mountains and Saw-tooth Mountains of North-eastern Oregon, South-eastern Washington, and Western Idaho. Other geologists have doubted the existence of the second of these two islands.
Those islands, if both existed, were the nuclei of the Pacific Coast region. The rock consisted of the earlier granite, sandstone, and limestone crust of the earth. For long ages these two islands, washed by the warm seas of that early age, and bearing a life now found in the tropics, were slowly rising and widening their boundaries in all directions.
Next, or perhaps as early, to respond to the pressure of the shrinking crust of the earth and to appear above the sea, was the vast cordon of pinnacled peaks which compose the present Okanogan and Chelan uplift, granite and porphyry, broken by volcanic outflow. These peaks are veined with gold, silver, and copper.
That first age of mountain uplift was ended by the coming on of the age of fire. The granite upheaval of the Blue and the Cascade Mountains was blown apart and cracked asunder by volcanic eruption and seismic force. A vast outflow of basalt and andesite swept westward from the Blue Mountains to meet a similar outflow moving eastward from the Cascades. Thus, throughout the Columbia Basin, the surface is mainly of volcanic rock overlying the shattered fragments of the original earth crust. At many points, however, the primeval granite or sandstone surface was not covered, while at frequent intervals the breaking forth of the fiery floods transformed those original rocks into various forms of gneiss, porphyry, and marble. But the greatest result of the age of volcanic outflow was the elevation of the stupendous isolated snow peaks which now constitute so striking a feature of Columbian landscapes.
With the close of the age of fire, the mountain chains were in place, as they now stand, but the plains and valleys were not yet fashioned. Another series of forces must needs come to elaborate the rude outlines of the land. And so came on the third great age, the age of flood. The upheaval of the mingled granite and volcanic masses of the Cascade and Blue Mountains, while at the same time the Rockies were undergoing the same process, imprisoned a vast sea over the region now known by Westerners as the Inland Empire. In the depths of this sea the sediment from a thousand torrents was deposited to fashion the smooth and level valleys of the Yakima, the Walla Walla, the Spokane, and lesser streams, while a similar process fashioned the valleys of the Willamette and other streams between the Cascades and the Coast Mountains westward.
But while the age of flood was shaping the great valley systems, a fourth age—the age of ice—was working still other changes upon the plastic land. The mountains had been reared by upheaval and volcanic outflow to a stupendous height. Then they became glaciated. The whole Northern Hemisphere, in fact, took on the character of the present Greenland. Enormous glaciers descended the flanks of the mountains, gouging and ploughing out the abysmal cañons which now awe the beholder, and scooping out the deeps where Chelan, Cœur d'Alene, Pend Oreille, Kaniksu, and other great lakes delight the vision of the present day.
Such were the forces that wrought the physical features of the land where the River flows. We do not mean to convey the impression that there was a single age of each, and that they followed each other in regular chronological order. As a matter of fact there were several eras of each, interlocked with each other: upheaval, fire, flood, and frost. But as the resultant of all, the Columbia Basin assumed its present form. The great forces which have thus fashioned this land manifested themselves on a scale of vast energy. Evidences of upheaval, fire, flood, and glacier are exhibited on every side, and these evidences constitute a testimony of geological history of the most interesting nature. Long before this record of the rocks had found a white reader, the native red man had read the open pages, and interpreted them in the light of his ardent fancy.
The Indian conception of the flood, involving also that of the creation of the native tribes, is one of the most fantastic native legends. This is the story of the great beaver, Wishpoosh, of Lake Kichelos. According to this myth the beaver Wishpoosh inhabited that lake on the summit of the Cascade Mountains, the source of the Yakima River.
In the time of the Watetash (animal people) before the advent of men, the king beaver, Wishpoosh, of enormous size and voracious appetite, was in the evil habit of seizing and devouring the lesser creatures and even the vegetation. So destructive did he become that Speelyei, the coyote god of the mid-Columbia region, undertook to check his rapacities.
The struggle only made the monster more insatiate, and in his wrath he tore out the banks of the lake. The gathered floods swept on down the cañon and formed another great lake in the region now known as the Kittitas Valley.
But the struggle between Wishpoosh and Speelyei did not end, and the former in his mad fury went on thrashing around in this greater lake. For a long time the rocky barriers of the Umtanum restrained the flood, but at last they gave way before the onslaughts of the wrathful beaver, and the loosened waters swept on down and filled the great basin now occupied by the fruit and garden ranches of the Cowiche, Natchees, and Atahnum. In like fashion the restraining wall at the gap just below Yakima city was torn out, and a yet greater lake was formed over all the space where we now see the level plains of the Simcoe and Toppenish. The next lake formed in the process covered the yet vaster region at the juncture of the Yakima, Snake and Columbia rivers. For a long time it was dammed in by the Umatilla highlands, but in process of time it, too, was drained by the bursting of the rocky wall before the well-directed attacks of Wishpoosh. The yet greater lake, the greatest of all, now formed between the Umatilla on the east and the Cascade Mountains on the west. But even the towering wall of the Cascades gave way in time and the accumulated floods poured on without further hindrance to the open sea.
Thus was the series of great lakes drained, the level valleys left, and the Great River suffered to flow in its present course. But there is a sequel to the story of the flood. For Wishpoosh, being now in the ocean, laid about him with such fury that he devoured the fish and whales and so threatened all creation that Speelyei perceived that the time had come to end it all. Transforming himself into a floating branch, he drifted to Wishpoosh and was swallowed. Once inside the monster, the wily god resumed his proper size and power; and with his keen-edged knife proceeded to cut the vitals of the belligerent beaver, until at last all life ceased, and the huge carcass was cast up by the tide on Clatsop beach, just south of the mouth of the Great River. And now what to do with the carcass? Speelyei solved the problem by cutting it up and from its different parts fashioning the tribes as each part was adapted. From the head he made the Nez Percés, great in council and oratory. From the arms came the Cayuses, powerful with the bow and war-club. The Klickitats were the product of the legs, and they were the runners of the land. The belly was transformed into the gluttonous Chinooks. At the last there was left an indiscriminate mass of hair and gore. This Speelyei hurled up the far distance to the east, and out of it sprung the Snake River Indians.
Such is the native physiography and anthropogenesis of the land of the Oregon.
If now one could rise on the pinions of the Chinook wind (the warm south wind of the Columbia Basin, of which more anon), and from the southern springs of the Owyhee and the Malheur could wing his way to the snowy peaks in British Columbia, from whose fastnesses there issues the foaming torrent of Canoe River, the most northerly of all the tributaries of the Great River, he would obtain, in a noble panorama, a view of the land where the River flows, in its present aspect, as fashioned by the elemental forces of which we have spoken. But not to many is it given thus to be "horsed on the sightless couriers of the air," and we must needs use imagination in lieu of them. Even a map will be the safest guide for most. Inspection of the map will show that the distance to which we have referred covers twelve degrees of latitude, while the distance from the source of the Snake River in the Yellowstone National Park to the Pacific requires a span of fifteen degrees of longitude. The south-eastern part of this vast area occupying Southern Idaho is mainly an arid plain; arid, indeed, in its natural condition, but, when touched by the vivifying waters in union with the ardent sun, it blossoms like a garden of the Lord. Upon these vast plains where the volcanic dust has drifted for ages, now looking so dismal in their monotonous garb of sage-brush, the millions of the future will some time live in peace and plenty, each under his own vine and apple-tree. On the eastern boundary, all the way from Western Wyoming to Eastern British Columbia, stand cordons of stupendous mountains, the western outposts of the great Continental Divide. These constitute one spur after another, from whose profound cañons issues river after river to swell the torrents of the turbid and impetuous Snake on its thousand-mile journey to join the Columbia. Among these tributary streams are the Payette, the Boisé, the Salmon, and the Clearwater. Yet farther north, beyond the system of the Snake, are the Bitter Root, the Missoula, the Pend Oreille, the Spokane, and the Kootenai (we follow here the American spelling, the Canadian being Kootenay), with almost innumerable affluents, draining the huge labyrinths of the Bitter Root Mountains and the Silver Bow.
Thus our northward flight carries us to the international boundary in latitude 49 degrees.
Far beyond that parallel stretches chain after chain of divisions of the great Continental Range, the Selkirks, the Gold Range, Purcell's Range, sky-piercing heights, snow-clad and glaciated. Up and down these interlocking chains the Columbia and the Kootenai, with their great lakes and unexplored tributaries, seem to be playing at hide-and-seek with each other. These rivers form here one of the most singular geographical phenomena of the world, for so strangely are the parallel chains of mountains tilted that the Kootenai, rising in a small lake on the western flank of the main chain of the Canadian Rockies and flowing south, passes within a mile of the source of the Columbia at Columbia Lake, separated only by a nearly level valley. Connection, in fact, is so easy that a canal once joined the two rivers. From that point of contact the Kootenai flows far south into Idaho, then makes a grand wheel to the north-west, forming Kootenai Lake on the way, then wheeling again in its tortuous course to the west, it joins the greater stream in the midst of the majestic mountain chains which stand guard over the Arrow Lakes. And meanwhile where has the Columbia itself been journeying? After the parting from the Kootenai it flows directly north-west between two stupendous chains of mountains. Reaching its highest northern point in latitude 52 degrees, where it receives the Canoe River, which has come two hundred miles or more from the north, it turns sharply westward, finding a passageway cleft in the mountain wall. Thence making a grand wheel toward the south, it casts its turbid floods into the long expanse of the Arrow Lakes, from which it emerges, clear and bright, soon to join the Kootenai. And how far have they journeyed since they parted? The Columbia about six hundred miles, and the Kootenai hardly less, though having passed within a mile of each other, flowing in opposite directions.
It will be readily seen from this description that the mountains which feed the Columbian system of rivers on the east and north, are of singular grandeur and interest. But now as we bear our way southward again we discover that another mountain system, yet grander and of more curious interest, forms the western boundary of the upper Columbia Basin. This is the Cascade Range. Sublime, majestic, mysterious, this noble chain of mountains, with its tiaras of ice, its girdles of waterfalls, its draperies of forest, its jewels of lakes, must make one search long to find its parallel in any land for all the general features of mountain charm. But over and beyond those more usual delights of the mountains, the Cascade Range has a unique feature, one in which it stands unrivalled among all the mountains of the earth, with the exception possibly of the Andes. This is the feature of the great isolated snow peaks, stationed like sentinels at intervals of from thirty to sixty miles all the way from the British line to California. There is nothing like this elsewhere on the North American continent. The Sierras of California are sublime, but their great peaks are not isolated monarchs like those of the Cascades. The high Sierras are blended together in one mountain wall, in which no single peak dominates any wide extended space. But in the long array of the Cascades, five hundred miles and more from the international boundary to the California line, one glorious peak after another uplifts the banner and sets its regal crown toward sunrise or sunset, king of earth and air to the border where the shadow of the next mountain monarch mingles with its own. Hence these great Cascade peaks have an individuality which gives them a kind of living personality in the life of any one who has lived for any length of time within sight of them.
From the north, moving south, we might gaze at these great peaks, and find no two alike. Baker—how much finer is the native name, Kulshan, the Great White Watcher—first on the north; Shuksan next, the place where the storm-winds gather, in the native tongue; then Glacier Peak, with its girdle of ice, thirteen great glaciers; Stewart next with its dizzy horn of rock set in a field of snow; then the great king-peak of all, Rainier, better named by the natives, Takhoma, the fountain breast of milk-white waters; and after this, Adams, or in the Indian, Klickitat, with St. Helens or Loowit near at hand on the west; then, across the Great River, Hood or Wiyeast, with its pinnacled crest; next southward, Jefferson with its sharp chimney whose top has never yet been touched by human foot; yet beyond, the marvellous group of the Three Sisters, each with its separate personality and yet all together combining in one superb whole; then Mt. Scott, Mt. Thielson, Diamond Peak, Mt. Pitt, and with them we might well include the truncated cone of Mt. Mazama, once the lordliest of the chain, but by some mighty convulsion of nature, shorn of crown and head, and now bearing on its summit instead the most singular body of water, Crater Lake, on all the American continent.
Fifteen is the number of the great peaks named, but there are dozens of lesser heights, snow-crowned and regal. The great Cascade chain is, therefore, the noblest and most significant feature of the topography of the land of the Columbia. Between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascades lies what is locally known as the Inland Empire, mainly a continuous prairie or series of prairies and valleys, wheat land, orchard land, garden land, fertile, beautiful, attractive, broken by an occasional mountain spur, as the irregular mass of the Blue Mountains, but substantially an inhabited land, reaching from Colville, Spokane, and the Okanogan on the north to the Klamath valleys on the south, a region five hundred miles long by two hundred wide, a goodly land, one difficult to excel in all the potentialities of use for human needs.
Such are the distinguishing features of the Columbia Basin on the east side of the Cascade Mountains.
To the west of those mountains is another vast expanse of interior valleys, not so large indeed and not more fertile, but even more beautiful, and by reason of earlier settlement and contiguity to the ocean, better developed.
This series of valleys is enclosed between the Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, and in a general way parallels the Inland Empire already described. But this statement should be qualified by the explanation that North-western Washington consists of the Puget Sound Basin, which is a distinct geographical system, while South-western Oregon consists of the Umpqua and Rogue River valleys, and these valleys though commercially and politically a part of the Columbia system, are geographically separate, since they debouch directly into the Pacific Ocean. There is left, therefore, for the Columbia region proper west of the Cascade Mountains, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the valleys of the Lewis, Kalama, and Cowlitz in Washington, with several smaller valleys on each side. The Willamette Valley is the great distinguishing feature of this part of the Columbia Basin. A more attractive region is hard to find. Mountains snow-clad and majestic, the great peaks of the Cascades already described, guard it on the east, while westward the gentler slopes of the Coast Range separate it from the sea. Between the two ranges lies the valley, two hundred miles long by about a hundred broad, including the foot-hills, a succession of level plains, oak-crowned hills, and fertile bottoms. Not Greece nor Italy nor the Vale of Cashmere can surpass this earthly paradise in all the features that compose the beautiful and grand in nature.
Geologists tell us that this Willamette region was once a counterpart of Puget Sound, only with less depth of water, and that, as the result of centuries of change, the old-time Willamette Sound has become the Willamette Valley. It has now become the most thickly settled farming region of the Columbia Basin, and, as its fitting metropolis, Portland sits at the gateway of the Willamette and Columbia, the "Rose City," handsomest of all Western cities, to welcome the commerce of the world.
The valleys on the Washington side of the Columbia make up together a region of great beauty, fertility, and productiveness, perhaps a hundred miles square, and, though yet but partially developed, contain many beautiful homes.
The larger part of the Columbia Valley west of the Cascade Mountains is, in its natural state, densely timbered. Here are found "the continuous woods where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound but his own dashings." These great fir, spruce, cedar, and pine forests, extending a thousand miles along the Pacific Coast from Central California to the Straits of Fuca (and indeed they continue, though the trees gradually diminish in size, for nearly another thousand miles up the Alaska coast), constitute the world's largest timber supply. The demands upon it have been tremendous during the past twenty years, and the stately growths of centuries have vanished largely from all places in the near vicinity of shipping points. Yet one can still find primeval woods where the coronals of green are borne three hundred feet above the damp and perfumed earth, and where the pillars of the wood sustain so continuous a canopy of foliage that the sunlight is stopped or filters through only in pale and watery rays. Hence all manner of vines and shrubs grow with almost tropic profusion, though with weak and straggling stems.
Throughout the entire Pacific North-west the soil is of extraordinary fertility. It is largely of volcanic dust as fine as flour and seems to contain the constituents of plant life in inexhaustible abundance. Even in the arid belts of Eastern Oregon, where to the eye of the stranger the appearance is of a hopeless waste, those same elements of plant food exist, and with water every manner of tree or vine or flower bursts quickly into perfect life.
The climate of the Columbia Basin is a puzzle to the stranger, but in most of its aspects it quickly becomes an equal delight. As is well known, the Japan ocean current exercises upon the Pacific Coast an effect similar to that of the Gulf Stream on Ireland and England. Hence the states of the Columbia Valley are much warmer in winter than regions of the same latitude on the Atlantic Coast or in the Mississippi Valley. Though the average temperature is higher, yet it is cooler in summer on the Pacific Coast than on the Atlantic. The Pacific climate has much less of extremes. The State of Washington has about the same isothermal line as North Carolina. There is, however, another feature of the Columbia climate not so well known to non-residents, which is worthy of a passing paragraph. This is the division of the country by the Cascade Mountains into a humid western section and a dry eastern one. The mountain wall intercepts the larger part of the vapour rising from the Pacific and flying eastward, and these warm masses of vapour are condensed by the icy barrier and fall in rain on the western side. Hence Western Oregon and Washington are damp and soft, with frequent clouds and fogs. The rainfall, though varying much, is in most places from forty to fifty inches a year. But east of the mountain wall which has "milked the clouds," the air is clear and bright, the sun shines most of the year from cloudless skies, and there seems to be more of tingle and electricity in the atmosphere. The rainfall ranges from ten to thirty inches, and in the drier parts vegetation does not flourish without irrigation.
Any view of primeval Oregon would be incomplete without a glimpse of the native race, that melancholy people, possessed of so many interesting and even noble traits, whose sad lot it has mainly been to struggle against the advent of a civilisation which they could not understand nor resist, and before which they have melted away in pitiful impotency. But they have at least had the highest dignity of defeat, for they have died fighting. They have realised the conception of the Roman Emperor: "Me stantem mori oportet."
The Oregon Indians have essentially the same characteristic traits as other Indians, secretiveness, patience, vindictiveness, stoicism; and, in their best state, fidelity and boundless generosity to friends.
The poor broken fragments of the once populous tribes along the Columbia cannot but affect the present-day observer with pity. Most of the tangible memorials of this fallen race have vanished with them. Not many of the conquerors have been sympathetic or even rational in their treatment of the Indians. Hence memorials of memory and imagination which might have been drawn from them and treasured up have vanished with them into the darkness. Yet many Indian legends have been preserved in one manner and another, and these are sufficient to convince us that the native races are of the same nature as ourselves. Some of the legends which students of Indian lore have gathered, will, perhaps, prove interesting to the reader.
A quaint Nez-Percé myth accounts for the creation as follows: There was during the time of the Watetash a monster living in the country of Kamiah in Central Idaho. This monster had the peculiar property of an irresistible breath, so that when it inhaled, the winds and grass and trees and even different animals would be sucked into its devouring maw. The Coyote god, being grieved for the destruction wrought by this monster, made a coil of rope out of grass and with this went to the summit of Wallowa Mountains to test the suction power of the monster. Appearing like a tiny spear of grass upon the mountain, he blew a challenge to the monster. Descrying the small object in the distance Kamiah began to draw the air inward. But strange to say, Coyote did not move. "Ugh, that is a great medicine," said the monster. Coyote now took his station upon the mountains of the Seven Devils, a good deal closer, and blew his challenge again. Again the Kamiah monster tried to breathe so deeply as to draw the strange challenger into his grasp, but again he failed. "He is a very big medicine," he said once more. And now Coyote mounted the top of the Salmon River Mountains, somewhere near the Buffalo Hump of the present time, and again the monster's breath failed to draw him. The baffled Kamiah was now sure that this was most extraordinary medicine. In reality, Coyote had each time held himself by a grass rope tied to the mountain.
Coyote now called into counsel Kotskots, the fox. Providing him with five knives, Kotskots advised Coyote to force an entrance into the interior of the monster. Entering in, Coyote found people in all stages of emaciation, evidently having had their life gradually sucked out of them. It was also so cold and dark in the interior that they were chilled into almost a condition of insensibility. Looking about him, Coyote began to see great chunks of fat and pitch in the vitals of the monster, and accordingly he rubbed sticks together and started a fire, which being fed with the fat and pitch, soon grew into a cheerful glow. Now, armed with his knives, he ascended the vast interior until he reached the heart. He had already directed Kotskots to rouse up and gather together all the emaciated stowaways and provide that when the monster was cut open they should see how to rush out into the sunlight. Great as was the monster Kamiah, he could not stop the persistent hacking away at his heart which Coyote now entered upon. When the fifth knife was nearly gone, the heart dropped down and Kamiah collapsed into a lifeless mass. The people under the guidance of Kotskots, burst out into the sunshine and scattered themselves abroad. It must be remembered that these were animal people, not human. Coyote called upon them to wait until he should have shown them a last wonder, for, cutting the monster in pieces, he now began to fashion from the pieces a new race of beings to be called men. The portion which he cut from the head he flung northward, and of this was fashioned the Flathead tribe. The feet he cast eastward, making them the Blackfeet. So he continued, making new tribes here and there. But at the last Kotskots interposed an objection. "You have made no people," he said, "for the valley of the Lapwai, which is the most beautiful of all." Realising the force of the suggestion, Coyote mixed the blood of the monster with water and sprinkled it in a rain over the entire valley of the Clearwater. From these drops of blood and water, the Nez Percé tribe was formed. The heart of the monster is still to be seen by all travellers in that country, being a heart-shaped hill in the valley of Kamiah.
Perhaps the most perfect and beautiful of all Indian fire myths of the Columbia, is that connected with the famous "tomanowas bridge" at the Cascades. This myth not only treats of fire, but it also endeavours to account for the peculiar formation of the river and for the great snow peaks in the near vicinity. This myth has various forms, and in order that it may be the better understood, we shall say a word with respect to the peculiar physical features in that part of the Columbia. The River, after having traversed over a thousand miles from its source in the heart of the great Rocky Mountains of Canada, has cleft the Cascade Range asunder with a cañon three thousand feet in depth. While generally swift, that portion between The Dalles and the Cascades is deep and sluggish. There are, moreover, sunken forests on both sides visible at low water, which seem plainly to indicate that at that point the river was dammed up by some great rock slide or volcanic convulsion. Some of the Indians affirm that their grandfathers have told them that there was a time when the river at that point passed under an immense natural bridge, and that there were no obstructions to the passage of boats under the bridge. At the present time there is a cascade of forty feet at that point. This is now overcome by government locks. Among other evidences of some such actual occurrence as the Indians relate, is the fact that the banks at that point are gradually sliding into the river. The prodigious volume of the Columbia, which here rises from fifty to seventy-five feet during the summer flood, is continually eating into the banks. The railroad has slid several inches a year at this point toward the river and requires frequent readjustment. It is obvious at a slight inspection that this weird and sublime point has been the scene of terrific volcanic and probably seismic action. One Indian legend, probably the best known of their stories, is to the effect that the downfall of the bridge and consequent damming of the river was due to a battle between Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams,—or, some say, Mt. St. Helens—in which Mt. Hood hurled a great rock at his antagonist; but, falling short of the mark, the rock demolished the bridge instead. This event has been made use of by Frederick Balch in his story, The Bridge of the Gods.
But the finer, though less known legend, which unites both the physical conformation of the Cascades and the three great snow mountains of Hood, Adams, and St. Helens, with the origin of fire, is to this effect. According to the Klickitats, there was once a father and two sons who came from the east down the Columbia to the region in which Dalles City is now located, and there the two sons quarrelled as to who should possess the land. The father, to settle the dispute, shot two arrows, one to the north and one to the west. He told one son to find the arrow to the north and the other the one to the west, and there to settle and bring up their families. The first son, going northward, over what was then a beautiful plain, became the progenitor of the Klickitat tribe, while the other son was the founder of the great Multnomah nation of the Willamette Valley. To separate the two tribes more effectively, Sahale, the Great Spirit, reared the chain of the Cascades, though without any great peaks, and for a long time all things went in harmony. But for convenience' sake, Sahale had created the great tomanowas bridge under which the waters of the Columbia flowed, and on this bridge he had stationed a witch woman called Loowit, who was to take charge of the fire. This was the only fire in the world. As time passed on Loowit observed the deplorable condition of the Indians, destitute of fire and the conveniences which it might bring. She therefore besought Sahale to allow her to bestow fire upon the Indians. Sahale, greatly pleased by the faithfulness and benevolence of Loowit, finally granted her request. The lot of the Indians was wonderfully improved by the acquisition of fire. They began to make better lodges and clothes and had a variety of food and implements, and, in short, were marvellously benefited by the bounteous gift.
But Sahale, in order to show his appreciation of the care with which Loowit had guarded the sacred fire, now determined to offer her any gift she might desire as a reward. Accordingly, in response to his offer, Loowit asked that she be transformed into a young and beautiful girl. This was accordingly affected, and now, as might have been expected, all the Indian chiefs fell deeply in love with the guardian of the tomanowas bridge. Loowit paid little heed to any of them, until finally there came two chiefs, one from the north called Klickitat and one from the south called Wiyeast. Loowit was uncertain which of these two she most desired, and as a result a bitter strife arose between the two. This waxed hotter and hotter, until, with their respective warriors, they entered upon a desperate war. The land was ravaged, all their new comforts were marred, and misery and wretchedness ensued. Sahale repented that he had allowed Loowit to bestow fire upon the Indians, and determined to undo all his work in so far as he could. Accordingly he broke down the tomanowas bridge, which dammed up the river with an impassable reef, and put to death Loowit, Klickitat, and Wiyeast. But, inasmuch as they had been noble and beautiful in life, he determined to give them a fitting commemoration after death. Therefore he reared over them as monuments, the great snow peaks; over Loowit, what we now call Mt. St. Helens; over Wiyeast, the modern Mt. Hood; and, above Klickitat, the great dome which we now call Mt. Adams.
Of the miscellaneous myths which pertain to the forces of nature, one of the best is that accounting for the Chinook wind. All people who have lived long in Oregon or Washington have a conception of that marvellous warm wind which in January and February suddenly sends them almost summer heat amid snow banks and ice-locked streams, and causes all nature to rejoice as with a resurrection of spring time. Scarcely anything can be imagined in nature more picturesque and dramatic than this Chinook wind. The thermometer may be down nearly to zero, a foot of snow may rest like a pall on the earth, or a deadly fog may wrap the earth, when suddenly, as if by the breath of inspiration, the fog parts, the peaks of the mountains may be seen half stripped of snow, and then, roaring and whistling, the warm south wind comes like an army. The snow begins to drip like a pressed sponge, the thermometer goes with a jump to sixty, and within two hours we find ourselves in the climate of Southern California. No wonder the Indians personified this wind. We personify it ourselves.
The Yakima account of the Chinook wind was to the effect that it was caused by five brothers who lived on the Columbia River, not far from the present town of Columbus. Now there is at rare intervals in this country a cold north-east wind, which the Indians on the lower Columbia call the Walla Walla wind because it comes from the north-east. The cold wind was caused by another set of brothers. Both these sets of brothers had grandparents who lived near what is now Umatilla. The two groups of brothers were continually fighting each other, sweeping one way or the other over the country, alternately freezing or thawing it, blowing down trees and causing the dust to fly in clouds, and rendering the country generally very uncomfortable. Finally, the Walla Walla brothers sent a challenge to the Chinook brothers to undertake a wrestling match, the condition being that those who were defeated should forfeit their lives. It was agreed that Speelyei should act as umpire and should inflict the penalty by decapitating the losers. Speelyei secretly advised the grandparents of the Chinook brothers to throw oil on the wrestling ground so that their sons might not fall. In like manner he secretly advised the grandparents of the Walla Walla brothers to throw ice on the ground. Between the ice and the oil it was so slippery that it would be hard for any one to keep upright, but inasmuch as the Walla Walla grandfather got ice on the ground last, the Chinook brothers were all thrown and killed.
The eldest Chinook had an infant baby at home, whose mother brought him up with one sole purpose in view, and that was that he must avenge the death of his father and uncles. By continual practice in pulling up trees he became prodigiously strong, insomuch that he could pull up the largest fir trees and throw them about like weeds. The young man finally reached such a degree of strength that he felt that the time had come for him to perform his great mission. Therefore he went up the Columbia, pulling up trees and tossing them around in different places, and finally passed over into the valley of the Yakima, where he lay down to rest by the creek called the Setas. There he rested for a day and a night, and the marks of his couch are still plainly visible on the mountain side.
Now, turning back again to the Columbia, he sought the hut of his grandparents, and when he had found it, he found also that they were in a most deplorable condition. The Walla Walla brothers had been having it all their own way during these years and had imposed most shamefully upon the old people. When he learned this, the young Chinook told his grandfather to go out into the Columbia to fish for sturgeon, while he in the meantime would lie down in the bottom of the boat and watch for the Walla Walla wind. It was the habit of these tormenting Walla Walla wind brothers to wait until the old man had got his boat filled with fish, and then they, issuing swiftly and silently from the shore, would beset and rob him. This time they started out from the shore as usual, but to their great astonishment, just as they were about to catch him, the boat would shoot on at miraculous speed and leave them far behind. So the old man landed safely and brought his fish to the hut. The young Chinook then took his grandparents to a stream and washed from them the filth which had gathered upon them during all those years of suffering. Strange to say, the filth became transformed into trout, and this is the origin of all the trout along the Columbia.
As soon as the news became known abroad that there was another Chinook champion in the field, the Walla Walla brothers began to demand a new wrestling match. Young Chinook very gladly accepted the challenge, though he had to meet all five. But now Speelyei secretly suggested to the Chinook grandfather that he should wait about throwing the oil on the ground until the ice had all been used up. By means of this change of practice, the Walla Walla brothers fell speedily before the young Chinook. One after another was thrown and beheaded until only the youngest was left. His courage failing, he surrendered without a struggle. Speelyei then pronounced sentence upon him, telling him that he must live, but could henceforth only blow lightly, and never have power to freeze people to death. Speelyei also decreed that in order to keep Chinook within bounds he should blow his hardest at night time, and should blow upon the mountain ridges first in order to prepare people for his coming. Thus there came to be moderation in the winds, but Chinook was always the victor in the end. And thus at the present time, in the perpetual flux and reflux of the oceans of the air, when the north wind sweeps down from the chilly zones of Canada upon the Columbia Basin, his triumph is but transient. For within a few hours, or days at most, while the cattle are threatened with destruction and while ranchers are gazing anxiously about, they will discern a blue-black line upon the southern horizon. In a short time the mountain ridges can be seen bare of snow, and deliverance is at hand. For the next morning, rushing and roaring from the South, comes the blessed Chinook, and the icy grip of the North melts as before a blast from a furnace. The struggle is short and Chinook's victory is sure.
Nearly all our native races had a more or less coherent idea of a future state of rewards and punishments. "The happy hunting ground" of the Indians is often referred to in connection with the Indians of the older part of the United States. Our Indians have ideas in general quite similar. Some believe that there is a hell and a heaven. The Siskiyou Indians in Southern Oregon have a curious idea similar to that of the ancient Egyptians as well as of the Mohammedans. This is to the effect that the regions of the blessed are on the other side of an enormously deep chasm. To pass over this, one must cross on a very narrow and slippery pole. The good can pass, but the bad fall off into empty space, whence they reappear again upon the earth as beasts or birds.
The Klickitat Indians, living along The Dalles of the Columbia have a fine legend of the land of spirits. There lived a young chief and a girl who were devoted to each other and seemed to be the happiest people in the tribe, but suddenly he sickened and died. The girl mourned for him almost to the point of death, and he, having reached the land of the spirits, could find no happiness there for thinking of her. And so it came to pass that a vision began to appear to the girl at night, telling her that she must herself go into the land of the spirits in order to console her lover. Now there is, near that place, one of the most weird and funereal of all the various "memaloose" islands, or death islands, of the Columbia. The writer himself has been upon this island and its spectral and volcanic desolation makes it a fitting location for ghostly tales. It lies just below the "great chute," and even yet has many skeletons upon it. In accordance with the directions of the vision, the girl's father made ready a canoe, placed her in it, and passed out into the Great River by night, to the memaloose island. As the father and his child rowed across the dark and forbidding waters, they began to hear the sounds of singing and dancing and great joy. Upon the shore of the island they were met by four spirit people, who took the girl, but bade the father return, as it was not for him to see into the spirit country. Accordingly the girl was conducted to the great dance-house of the spirits, and there she met her lover, far stronger and more beautiful than when upon earth. That night they spent in unspeakable bliss, but when the light began to break in the east and the song of the robins was heard from the willows on the shore, the singers and the dancers fell asleep.
The girl, too, had gone to sleep, but not soundly like the spirits. When the sun had reached the meridian, she woke, and now, to her horror, she saw that instead of being in the midst of beautiful spirits, she was surrounded by hideous skeletons and loathsome, decaying bodies. Around her waist were the bony arms and skeleton fingers of her lover, and his grinning teeth and gaping eye-sockets seemed to be turned in mockery upon her. Screaming with horror, she leaped up and ran to the edge of the island, where, after hunting a long time, she found a boat, in which she paddled across to the Indian village. Having presented herself to her astonished parents, they became fearful that some great calamity would visit the tribe on account of her return, and accordingly her father took her the next night back to the memaloose island as before. There she met again the happy spirits of the blessed, and there again her lover and she spent another night in ecstatic bliss. In the course of time a child was born to the girl, beautiful beyond description, being half spirit and half human. The spirit bridegroom, being anxious that his mother should see the child, sent a spirit messenger to the village, desiring his mother to come by night to the memaloose island to visit them. She was told, however, that she must not look at the child until ten days had passed. But after the old woman had reached the island, her desire to see the wonderful child was so intense that she took advantage of a moment's inattention on the part of the guard, and, lifting the cloth from the baby board, she stole a look at the sleeping infant. And then, dreadful to relate, the baby died in consequence of this premature human look. Grieved and displeased by this foolish act, the spirit people decreed that the dead should never again return nor hold any communication with the living.
In concluding this chapter we cannot forbear to call the attention of our readers to the rare beauty of many of the native Indian names of localities. These names always have some significance, and ordinarily there is some such poetic or figurative conception involved in the name as plainly reveals the fact that these rude and unfortunate natives have the souls of poets beneath their savage exterior. It is truly lamentable that some of the sonorous and poetic native names have been thrust aside for the commonplace and oft-repeated names of Eastern or European localities or the still less attractive names of discoverers or their unimportant friends.
Think of using the names Salem and Portland for Chemeketa and Multnomah, the native names. Chemeketa means "Here we Rest," or, some say, the "Place of Peace," for it was the council ground of the Willamette Valley Indians. But the Methodist missionaries thought that it would have a more Biblical sound and conduce to the spiritual welfare of the natives to translate the word into its equivalent, Salem. So they spoiled the wild native beauty of the name for all time. Multnomah means "Down the Waters." But two Yankee sea captains, with a sad deficiency of poetry in them, tossed up a coin to decide whether to employ the name of Boston or Portland, the native town of each, and the latter won the toss.
Oregon has been more fortunate than Washington in its State name, for it has the unique name, stately and sonorous, which old Jonathan Carver first used for the River and which is one of the most distinctive of all the names of States. But whether Oregon is Indian, Spanish, French, or a corruption of something else, or a pure invention of Carver's is one of the mooted points in our history. Idaho, too, has one of the most mellifluous of names, meaning the 'Gem of the Mountains.'"
All three States have many beautiful and appropriate names of rivers, lakes, mountains, and cities. Such are Chelan, "Beautiful Water"; Umatilla, "The Wind-blown Sand"; Walla Walla, "Where the Waters Meet"; Shuksan, "The Place of the Storm Winds"; Spokane, "The People of the Sun"; Kulshan, "The Great White Watcher"; Snoqualmie, "The Falls of the Moon God." Seattle derives its name from the old chief Seattle, or Sealth.
The most bitterly disputed name of all is Tacoma vs. Rainier, as the name of the greatest of our mountains. The name of Rainier was derived by Vancouver from that of an officer of the British navy, a man who never knew anything of Oregon and had no part or lot in its discovery or development. Tacoma, or more accurately, Takhoma (a peculiar guttural which we cannot fully indicate), was the native Indian name, meaning, according to some, "The Great White Mountain," and according to others meaning "The Fountain-breast of Milk-white Waters."
With these glances at the character of the land, and its native inhabitants, we are now ready to see how they became known to the world.