Mythology Of Mt. St. Helens -- Part 1C Picture


Ancient Stories --Part 1C

The Bridge Of The Gods—Cascade Tribe Version

--Chuck Williams

Pg. 29-32

On the western side of the great sea lived two sons of the Great Spirit: Wy-east (Mt. Hood) and Pah-toe (Mt. Adams). The Great Spirit had shot two arrows into the air—one to the north of the Columbia, the other to the south—and told the brothers to settle where the arrows landed. After many years of living together happily, a beautiful woman mountain moved into the valley between the brothers. She fell in love with Wy-east, the smaller mountain-god, but liked to make him jealous by flirting with good-natured Pah-toe. Soon both brothers fell madly in love with her and began to quarrel with each other over matters of little importance. At first they only growled at each other and stamped their feet, shaking the ground. Coyote tried to reason with the once-close brothers, but to no avail. The brothers then threw fire and rocks at each other, and the black smoke from their terrifying battle hid Sun, bringing darkness to Earth. Finally they stopped to rest. When the smoke cleared away, their beautiful white coats had disappeared—and the landscape was devastated. The forest and the plants the people ate had burned; the animals had fled or been killed. The villages were also burned, and the people had fled or hid in caves. Worst of all, the brothers had shaken the ground so hard that a hole was broken through the mountain range between them. The great inland sea escaped through the hole, and the torrent enlarged it into a huge tunnel. During the darkness, the Beautiful Woman Mountain had hidden in a cave.

Coyote fetched the Great Spirit, who arrived just in time to stop the brothers from fighting again, this time over who was to blame for the disappearance of the woman mountain they had been so noisily courting. The Great Spirit was furious with them and decreed that the Beautiful Woman Mountain would remain hidden in the cave. He left the natural bridge that spanned what had become a huge river as a symbol of peace and so that the humans and the animals could still visit each other easily. The Great Spirit warned that if the brothers ever fought again, the Bridge of the Gods would be destroyed and the brothers forever separated. He also placed an old woman mountain, Loo-wit (Mount St. Helens), the keeper of the fire, by the bridge to guard it and remind the brothers of how transitory youthful beauty is.

Slowly the people returned to their homes, but there were only mud flats where the inland sea had been. Ash covered everything, making breathing difficult. The people were on the edge of starvation, so they looked for Coyote to help. When Coyote came up the river, they blamed him for their troubles. Coyote became angry and threatened to remove their mouths and to return them to their original condition. Like most people, however, they wanted to keep their blessings while blaming those who had blessed them. They finally apologized to Coyote.

The only solution, Coyote said, was to journey down the river to the sea and brings fish back to feed the people. Coyote chose six of the ablest men, and they set off in the best war-canoe, not knowing what to expect. When they approached the Bridge of the Gods, Coyote, who was sitting in the prow of the canoe, gave them a last chance to back out. They were all afraid of what evil spirit might await them in that dark tunnel, but they did not want to show fear before Coyote. The river, too, evidently was scared; it sped up as it entered the hole in the mountains. No sooner had the group entered total darkness than the canoe crashed into an island, and they were thrown onto a pile of driftwood. The canoe was safe, but the paddles, their provisions and one man were gone. Coyote was still with them, though. He took a fire starter from his hair and started a fire on the island. Soon the men were warm and new paddles were carved from driftwood.

The group swept on downstream aided by the light from the big fire. The tunnel was so large that they couldn’t see the top. They could barely see one shoreline, where they found their missing companion clinging to a piece of driftwood. When he climbed into the canoe, it began to fill with water from a hole incurred in the wreck. Coyote came to the rescue again; he changed into a beaver and towed the canoe out of the tunnel and into the welcome sunlight so it could be patched.

The devastation was even worse on the west side of the Cascades. The Multnomah (Willamette) River had already carved a narrow course to the sea, but it could not accommodate the floodwaters of the Columbia; another inland sea had formed. The canoe drifted as darkness set in, and the men, exhausted from their ordeal, fell asleep. They awoke at dawn to find themselves being swept into the great salt sea. They landed, and Coyote built a fire to warm them. They saw smoke rising far to the north; thinking it a village where food could be obtained, the men walked up the beach, which was covered with dead fish, trees, canoes and even parts of houses from their homeland. Too exhausted to take normal precautions, they were captured by hostile villagers and taken prisoners. Even Coyote was too weary to use his special powers; this shook the faith of his companions, but they were too tired to think about it very much. But when the men were brought before the village chief, he jumped to his feet and embraced Coyote. It seems that Coyote in his distant travels had once saved the chief from a giant bear, so the exhausted men were freed; they feasted on salmon, clams, cranberries, venison and roots until they fell asleep.

When they awoke the next morning, they again saw many dead fish floating in the salty water. Their new friend, the chief, offered some of his salmon since they could also live in fresh water. Enough salmon were rounded up to fill the river from bank to bank and, with the help of seagulls and sea-dogs (seals), they were driven upstream through the Bridge of the Gods to the starving people. On the advice of the Great Spirit, Coyote and the people escorted salmon up the river twice a year until the salmon learned the way; after five years, the salmon came upriver on their own. Happiness returned. It was again peaceful on Earth for many years, and the scars of the battle healed. But the Beautiful Woman Mountain got lonely in her cave; everyone was living a good life, but she was not allowed to join them. The Great Spirit had sent a tribe of beautiful birds, the Bats, to keep her company and to bring her news from the outside—and to make sure she didn’t leave the cave. She was so beautiful and goodhearted that the Bats, too, came to love her. They pleaded for her freedom, but the Great Spirit was afraid that her appearance above ground would cause another major battle.

Wy-east, who was ashamed of the damage caused by his jealousy, found out that the Bats were her guardians; and through them, he began secret correspondence with the Beautiful Woman Mountain. Together, they finally persuaded the Bats to let her slip out at night—for some healthy, fresh air. Wy-east played on the sympathies of Loo-wit, the elderly guardian of the Bridge of the Gods; and she allowed him to sneak across the bridge at night to see his loved one.

The couple met happily for many moons, but—as lovers so often do—one night they stayed too long. Wy-east ran back to the bridge as it was getting light, but he was so gigantic that he shook Earth; a huge boulder fell and blocked his lover’s cave. The Sun came up, and the Great Spirit caught the lovers. He was furious, but mainly with the Bats since the Beautiful Woman Mountain had only done what anyone would have in her situation. He punished the Bats by transforming them into an ugly combination of bird and beast and decreed that they would forever have to spend their days hanging upside down from the roofs of caves and could go out only at night.

The Great Spirit allowed the Beautiful Woman Mountain to remain outside her cave, and the lovers requested permission to marry; but the Great Spirit was afraid that their marriage would spark another battle between the brothers. She was very discreet and dressed only in dull colors, but she still seemed to excite the brothers. They were held back by the Great Spirit who promised to find a mate for Pah-toe, but with all of the work it never got done. Then one day when the Great Spirit was away from the Earth, the brothers suddenly threw off their white robes and began another terrifying fight. They threw rocks and liquid fire at each other and shook the Earth so hard that the Bridge of the Gods fell into the river. Many of the rocks they threw fell short and squeezed the river, forming the Narrows. Ignoring the pleas of their friends, the brothers fought until Pah-toe, who was larger, finally won. The Beautiful Woman Mountain dutifully took her place next to Pah-toe, but she was so heartbroken because she loved Wy-east that she fell into a deep sleep. She can still be seen in her drab clothes next to Pah-toe; she is now called Sleeping Beauty. Once, Pah-toe held his head high as Wy-east still does, but when he saw what happened to the mountain he loved, he dropped his head in sadness.

Loo-wit, the elderly mountain, had valiantly tried to stop the war and to protect the Bridge of the Gods; but she was badly battered and fell into the river with the arch. When the Great Spirit finally arrived, it was too late to stop the disaster. But hearing Loo-wit’s moans, the Great Spirit decided to reward her bravery by giving her one wish. She replied that she would like to be young and beautiful again. The Great Spirit smiled and replied that while she could become physically young again; her memory and her mind could not be altered. She replied that she preferred it that way, so her wish was granted. Since her old friends and relatives had passed on and was content by herself, aloof Loo-wit moved west, away from the other mountains. She can still be seen today, the youngest-looking and most beautiful of the snow mountains; but some people claim she is restless.

Link To: Mythology Of Mount St. Helens--Part 1D (The Great Flood Stories)

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