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


Ancient Stories --Part 1B

The Bridge Of The Gods—Klickitat Tribe Version

One of the best stories about the fall of the Bridge of the Gods and the creation of the Cascade Volcanoes was written down in E. Clark’s book ‘Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest’.

She tells about the tribes of Oregon and Washington and about a terrible event that plunge the young Salish Nation into darkness and water.

Like the legendary tales of Noah and the great flood that wiped out most of humanity, the young Salish Nation experienced a great darkness in the form of a rain that extinguished every fire in the land. The deluge was sent by the Great Spirit Tahmahnnawis to wipe out all the wicked people who killed one another by the command of their great chiefs.

When humanity hung in the balance, the Great Spirit took pity on the humans…but had one problem…he alone could not create fire. Only a fire keeper would be able to bring life back.

--Ella E. Clark

Pg. 20-23

Tribes from central Oregon to northeastern Washington related traditions about a legendary rock “bridge” that spanned the Columbia River “one sleep” below the site of The Dalles. When it fell, old Indians said to early travelers, its rocks formed the Cascades in the river; its fall, two Indian explained to travelers in 1854, was accompanied by quarrels between Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, who threw fire at one another.

The most familiar version of the myth about the stone arch has been altered so freely that no one now can determine the original tradition, even in the variant written by a Puyallup-Nisqually Indian. The source of the story given here, Lulu Crandall, seems to have been the one closet to the Klickitat’s, who had this tradition. Mrs. Crandall, who had known those Indian from her pioneer childhood, was a historian of The Dalles area.

Long ago, when the world was young, al people were happy. The Great Spirit, whose home is in the sun, gave them all they needed. No one was hungry, no one was cold.

But after a while, two brothers quarreled over the land. The older one wanted most of it, and the younger one wanted most of it. The Great Spirit decided to stop the quarrel. One night while the brothers were asleep he took them to a new land, to a country with high mountains. Between the mountains flowed a big river.

The Great Spirit took the two brothers to the top of the high mountains and wakened them. They saw that the new country was rich and beautiful.

“Each of you will shoot an arrow in opposite directions,” he said to them. “Then you will follow your arrow. Where your arrow falls, that will be your country. There you will become a great chief. The river will separate your lands.

One brother shot his arrow south into the valley of the Willamette River. He became the father and the high chief of the Multnomah people. The other brother shot his arrow north into the Klickitat country. He became the father and high chief of the Klickitat people.

Then the Great Spirit built a bridge over the big river. To each brother he said, “I have built a bridge over the river, so that you and your people may visit those on the other side. It will be a sign of peace between you. As long as you and your people are good and are friendly with each other, this bridge of the Tahmahnnawis will remain.”

It was a broad bridge, wide enough for many people and many ponies to walk across at one time. For many snows the people were at peace and crossed the river for friendly visits. But after a time they did wicked things. They were selfish and greedy, and they quarreled. The Great Spirit, displeased again, punished them by keeping the sun from shinning. The people had no fire, and when the winter rains came, they were cold.

Then they began to be sorry for what they had done, and they begged the Great Spirit for fire. “Give us fire, or we will die from the cold,” they prayed. The heart of the Great Spirit was softened by their prayer. He went to an old woman who had kept herself from the wrongdoing of her people and so still had some fire in her lodge.

“If you will share your fire, I will grant you anything you wish,” the Great Spirit promised her, “What do you want most?”

“Youth and beauty,” answered the old woman promptly. “I wish to be young again, and to be beautiful.”

“You shall be young and beautiful tomorrow morning.” promised the Great Spirit. “Take your fire to the bridge, so that the people on both sides of the river can get it easily. Keep it burning there always as a reminder of the goodness and kindness of the Great Spirit.”

The old woman, whose name was Loo-wit, did as he said. Then the Great Spirit commanded the sun to shine again. When it rose the next morning, it was surprised to see a young and beautiful maiden sitting beside a fire on the Bridge of the Gods. The people, too, saw the fire, and soon their lodges were warm again. For many moons all was peaceful on both sides of the great river and the bridge.

The young men also saw the fire—and the beautiful young woman who attended it. They visited her often. Loo-wit’s heart was stirred by two of them—a handsome young chief from south of the river, whose name was Wyeast, and a handsome young chief from north of the river, whose name was Klickitat. She could not decide which of the two she liked better.

Wyeast and Klickitat grew jealous of each other and soon began to quarrel. They became so angry that they fought. Their people also took up the quarrel, so that there was much fighting on both side of the river. Many warriors were killed.

This time the Great Spirit was made angry by the wickedness of the people. He broke down the Bridge of the Gods, the sign of peace between the two tribes, and its rocks fell into the river. He changed the two chiefs into mountains. Some say that they continue to quarrel over Loo-wit even after they were mountain peaks. They caused sheets of flame to burst forth, and they hurled hot rocks at each other. Not thrown far enough, many fell into the river and blocked it. That is why the Columbia is very narrow and the water very swift at The Dalles.

Loo-wit was changed into a snow-capped peak which still has the youth and beauty promised by the Great Spirit. She is now called Mount St. Helens. Wyeast is known as Mount Hood, and Klickitat as Mount Adams. The rocks and whiter water where the Bridge of the Gods fell are known as the Cascades of the Columbia.


On the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge, in communities where Sleeping Beauty Mountain is a familiar landmark, a somewhat different version of the legend is told. It was used as the prologue of a centennial pageant, “The Mount Adams Story,” given at White Salmon in 1952. Sleeping Beauty Mountain, back in the days when the mountains were people, was loved by Wyeast (Mount Hood) and Pahto (Mount Adams), sons of the Great Spirit. In a volcanic struggle between the jealous brothers, the terrified waters of a vast lake east of the mountains tore a hole through the range and thus formed both a tunnel and the Columbia River. In a second battle between the peaks, the bridge over the tunnel crashed. The ugly old guardian of the bridge, Loo-wit, was granted her wish to become young and beautiful again. She is now known as Mount St. Helens.

For several other versions of the legend, and a modern scientist’s explanation of the probable cataclysm in which it originated, see the author’s “The Bridge of the Gods in Fact and Fancy,” in the Oregon Historical Quarterly of March, 1952.

Link To Mythology Of Mt. St. Helens Part--1C

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