Mythology Of Mt. St. Helens--Part 2A Picture



PREFACE--An Ancient Terror Comes Onto Land

--David J. Bruer

Shortly after the fall of the Bridge of the Gods in the Columbia River and the creation of the mountain spirits…an ancient horror entered the valleys and basins of the Salish Nation. There are many tells of how the demon, Seatco came into being.

When researching and collecting information on Seatco, I noticed that some articles described Seatco as a big hairy man, whereas some describe Seatco as a terrible phantom that lingers in the forest and swims under the lakes. The coastal tribes state that Seatco is an ancient spirit, neither good-nor-bad, that sleeps under the waves and kills when people venture into the ocean at night on a full moon. The Cascade Tribes also have a Seatco that is first described by Paul Kane, the first non-Native American to record the legend of Seatco and see the phantom. He called it by what the tribe folks called it: Seatco…the evil genii. He would explain that the demon is a ghost that has the ability to mimic sounds, terrible smells and controls the elements of wind and water.

According to legends throughout Oregon and Washington, Seatco has been terrorizing this landscape before the dawn of man. Each story places Seatco in an aquatic location or a place where there is great geologic upheaval, like Mount St. Helens.

To this day, there seems to be many variations of the name for the evil spirit. From names like Ka-u-get (Skagit), Sa-la-tik, Se-at-co (Lushootseed/Salishan), See-ah-tik (Upper Chehalis/Salishan), See-ah-tkch, See-ah-tlk (Clallam/Salishan), Se-lah-tik, Seh-la-tik and Si-at-coes (Stansfield), many different names, but one thing remains certain. Any tribe 100 miles circumference of Mount St. Helens call the spirit Seatco and fear it.

So where did the name Seatco come from? According to Franz Gnaedinger, Seatco originally came from Spirit Lake. The lake of spirits is a bad place due to the evil spirits that linger there. The spirits that reside at the lake are called Sal-ad-kal and Se-ad-ka and Se-at-co. The term Sal-ad-kal basically means: Sal (refers to a drowned cave on the shore of Spirit Lake in the watery valley where bad souls enter) Ad (refers to the underworld) Kal (a place on the slope of Mount St. Helens, now buried under pumice where good souls once climbed unto the heavens).

One of the darkest stories explains how the Seatco of Mount St. Helens isn’t the same Seatco of the ancient tales, but an example of dark magic casted by Loowit during her betrayal and might be the cause of the massive die-off of an entire tribe that once lived in the shadow of the volcano. As the story goes, after the fall of the bridge that once spanned across the mighty Columbia River, the Great Spirit was so angry that he made it rain so hard that every council fire was doused out and to be sure that the flames never could rise again, the Great Spirit flooded that lands.

When the Great Spirit heard the cries of his people, he took pity on them and searched for any pure soul who still had fire. This individual would have never participated in the war and did not take sides. The search was unsuccessful…so he turned northeast to a dark, undisturbed forest that has been forbidden to enter for so many years. There he found a woman tending a fire inside her dwelling. They made a pack that if she was granted beauty, she’d share her fire. Where the story gets interesting is when she fell with the bridge, she was given a mirror when she was turned into a mountain so she could look at herself, but she also used that mirror to control the evil spirits in the area to drive away the people and keep her lands protected…using the evil spirits to kill those who dwell too long in the land of the Saladkal.

Language of Loowit & Seatco

When first researching the term ‘Seatco’, the word itself did not have much explanation behind it. Derived from Chinook, a surviving language from Salish, Seatco is generally thought as a meaning of ‘evil spirit’. In the 1860s Webster sold his claim and sawmill to Oliver Shead who named the settlement “Seatco”, a native word meaning evil spirit or devil at the time. The Northern Pacific Railroad located a station at Seatco in 1872.

Later the town was renamed Bucoda using the first two letters of three principal investors in local industries—Buckley, Coulter, and David. In the 1880s investors began operations to mine coal in the area, but the coal was of poor quality and operations were sporadic. From 1874 to 1888 Bucoda was the site of Washington's first territorial prison—“Seatco”. It garnered a reputation as a harsh institution as the inmates were used for dangerous and brutal manual labor in local industry. It was discontinued when the state opened the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Bucoda was officially incorporated on June 7, 1910. The town had a water tower that was scrapped in the early 1980s. The Mutual Lumber Mill was so productive the town was once billed as the “Town with the Million Dollar Payroll.” The mill however burned down and was rebuilt only to have demand wane and once again it was consumed by flames.

Inmate George France wrote about his first day in the Seatco prison: “When the prisoners came in from work, the sight and clatter of chains was deafening and damnable, nearly all being in heavy double irons, riveted to their legs, wearing them day and night, sick or well, all the time.”

--Franz Gnaedinger

The long name of Mount Saint Helens would have been a double formula combining Ca-las inverse Las-ca and the snow cap on top of the former cone as abode of the moon Ca-lun (meaning ‘sky of the full round form’), indicating a place from where the moon, twice a year, passed just above the top of the cone and seemed to rest for a while on the snow cap. As for the Spirit Lake Basin that rest at the foot of Las-ca it was known as Ad-las-las-ca-ca-lun-ad-las wherefrom the easily pronounceable double formula Las-ca-ca-lun—Ad-las-ca-lun abbreviated to Las-ca-ca-lun-ad-las—la ca l ad la—La-we-l-at-la

Lawelatla is the name of Mount St. Helens in the language of the local Cowlitz people, a Salishan tribe, and may also be an over forming - if hypothetical Ca-lun shortened to Ca-l and turned into we-l was overtaken by wel (retracted, darkened vowel meaning ‘to burn, bright, shine' ) in reference to a minor eruption of the volcano in earlier times.

The hypothetical hummingbird calendar sanctuary and lunisolar observatory on the southern shore of Lake Spirit may be dated to somewhere between, say, 8 000 and 5 000 BP. Then a minor eruption combined with a drought and a social crisis…the region too remote for a cultural seed having taken root? Exceptional leaders followed by bad ones? The era of that sanctuary would have come to an end, and the shore of Lake Spirit turned into a haunted place. Beginning of a legend told by Roy Wilson of the Cowlitz people:

"Spirit Lake was always a bad place. My ancestors feared going there because that was where the evil spirits of the departed bad Indians went. You might hear the sound of things that were not really there, or you might see things that were not really there." The evil spirits are called Seatco, perhaps from Sal-ad-kal – Se-ad-ka –Se-at-co as name of a now drowned cave on the shore of the lake of the watery ground of the valley Sal where bad souls entered and went toward Ad the Underworld Kal. A complementary place on the slope of Mount Saint Helens, now buried under pumice, may have been the place from where good souls climbed the heavens.

The Demons In Spirit Lake

One of the best stories about Spirit Lake and Seatco is the story of Paul Kane, 1847. His adventures to the Cascade Tribe record the stories associated with the volcano and the lake. Coming from Canada, his arrival to the tribe took him through the forbidden Toutle River valley and along the Cowlitz River channel. When they first saw him, they thought he was a ghost and hid.

Ella Clark describes the Seatco as not one entity but as a group of entities. She calls them the souls of the wicked who band together. The Seatco is just one of many evil spirits. The other spirits don’t have names as we would understand; they are simply called the Genii.

The most powerful, also known as ‘Seatco’ is described as a demon that was so huge that its own hand could stretch out to 12 miles and seize any people who venture to close to the shore. Beside demonic watery hands and mimicking noises, there were ghost waterfalls, fish with the heads of bears and a hypnotizing ghost elk that was used by Seatco to drown its victims.

--Ella E. Clark

Pg. 63-64

Spirit Lake lies at the base of Mount St. Helens. Because of the Indians’ fear of the lake, Paul Kane, a Canadian artist wandering through the Northwest in 1847, could not hire anyone to accompany him to the lake and the mountain. There were several traditions about it. At certain spots, it was said; the sound of waterfalls could be heard from places where there were no waterfalls. Hunters and fishermen and women picking berries stayed away from Spirit Lake, and they warned their children and grandchildren to stay away from the home of demons and the lake of strange noises.

The lake at the foot of the beautiful mountain Loo-wit was the home of many evil spirits. They were the spirits of people from different tribes, who had been cast out because of their wickedness. Banding themselves together, these demons called themselves Seatco, and gave themselves up to wrongdoing.

The Seatco were neither men nor animals. They could imitate the call of any bird, the sound of the wind in the trees, the cries of wild beasts. They could make these sounds seem to be near or seem to be far away. So they were often able to trick the Indians. A few times, Indians fought them. But whenever one of the Seatco was killed, the others took twelve lives from whatever band dared to fight against them.

In Spirit Lake, other Indians said, lived a demon so huge that its hand could stretch across the entire lake. If a fisherman dared to go out from shore, the demon’s hand would reach out, seize his canoe, and drag fisherman and canoe to the bottom of the lake.

In the lake also was a strange fish with a head like a bear. One Indian had seen it, in the long-ago time. He had gone to the mountain with a friend. The demons that lived in the lake ate the friend, but he himself escaped, running in terror from the demons and from the fish with the head of a bear. After that, no Indian of his tribe would go near Spirit Lake

An Indian hunter, seeking food for his starving tribe, once followed a giant elk to the edge of the lake. The elk plunged into the water, and the hunter followed him. At once the demons stretched out their long arms and drew him to the bottom of the lake. The elk was only a ghost, which the demons had sent out to lure the man to his death. On a certain night each year, the elk and the Indian hunter appear in the mists over the lake.

In the snow on the mountaintop above the lake, other Indians used to say, a race of man-stealing giants lived. At night the giants would come to the lodges when people were asleep, put the people under their skins, and take them to the mountaintop without waking them. When the people awoke in the morning, they would be entirely lost, not knowing in what direction their home was.

Frequently the giants came in the night and stole all the salmon. If people were awake they knew the giants were near when they smelled their strong, unpleasant odor. Sometimes people would hear three whistles, and soon stones would begin to hit their lodges. Then they knew that the giants were coming again.

Seatco Of The Salish Sea

--Ella E. Clark

Pg. 124-126

This legend was told many years ago by Old Indian Mary, a Coquille. It explains some curious rock formations along the Oregon Coast, near Bandon, at the mouth of the Coquille River.

The word potlatch, coming from a Nootka word meaning “giving,” passed from the Chinook Jargon into the speech of all tribes of the Pacific Northwest.

Seatco, evil spirit of the ocean, caused the storms that blew up and down the coast. He killed fish and threw them on the beach. Sometimes he swallowed canoes and fishermen. The coast people feared him and tried not to anger him.

The mountain tribes did not know Seatco, and so did not fear him. Whenever they came down to the coast to trade or to attend potlatches, they brought with them their families, horses, and dogs; the children brought their pets.

One summer, four chiefs of the coast Indians held a big potlatch in honor of Siskiyou, powerful chief of a mountain tribe. The four tribes planned a big feast, for they wanted to show their guest how prosperous the coast tribes were. The potlatch would be held on the beach, near the mouth of the Coquille River.

For days, the people were busy preparing the feast. The women and girls dug great numbers of clams and mussels and prepared them for steaming beneath sea moss and myrtle leaves. Hunters brought in a dozen elk and several deer. Many salmon were made ready for roasting on spits over driftwood fires. Huckleberries were heaped on cedar-bark trays. When runners announced that Chief Siskiyou and his people were a day’s journey away, the roasting and steaming were begun.

The chief brought with him his beautiful young daughter, and they camped on the potlatch grounds. The daughter, Ewauna, had her pets with her—her dog and a basket of baby raccoons. The girl had never before seen the ocean. All day long, she and her dog, Komax, raced along the beach, excited by the breaking of the waves.

People of the village warned her, “Don’t go alone on the bluff. Seatco might see you and take you.”

But Ewauna laughed at their warning.

By the morning of the second day all the guests had arrived, and the great feast began. The four chiefs, dressed in their ceremonial robes, welcomed their guest and spoke in praise of the great Chief Siskiyou. All day the host and guest feasted. That night they slept where they had eaten.

When all was quiet in the camp, the great chief’s daughter, taking her dog and her basket of raccoons with her, slipped away to the beach. She ran and danced along the shore, singing a song to the moon, which hung low over the ocean. She danced nearer and nearer the water, into the silver path. Then she dropped her basket on the beach, told her dog to guard her little pets, and ran into the surf.

She would swim towards the moon, following the silver trail. Her dog barked a warning, but she swam on and on, far from shore. Suddenly a black hand passed across the moon, and she was seized by a creature that came out of the water. Seatco claimed her as his own and started towards his cliff with her.

The dog rushed to rescue her, carrying the basket of raccoons with him. He dropped the basket and sank his teeth into the demon’s hand. Roaring with pain and anger, Seatco grabbed the dog and the basket and hurled them down the beach. He held the girl close to him, trying to make her look into his eyes. But she turned her face away and looked at the moon. She remembered that Seatco’s power lay in his eyes.

Next morning the chief missed his daughter. He and his hosts rushed to the beach. The tide was out. The girl was lying on the wet sand, her beautiful face looking up at the sky. Nearby, her dog stood as if barking. A little west of them were the scattered raccoons and the empty basket. All had been turned to stone.

On a large rock near the shore sits Seatco, still trying to catch the eye of the maiden. He too has been changed to stone.

Seatco, The Evil One

--James Wickersham

In James Wickersham’s story, he bridges off the story of Ella Clarks ‘The Demons In Spirit Lake’ with a new character, Doquebulth. According to ‘Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier’, Doquebulth was the spirit of good forces, Seatco the spirit of darkness and evil. Most spirits were a little bit Doquebulth, a little bit Seatco. Wha-quoddie, the storm spirit, blew ferocious weather in from the coast, but also brought the rain that nourished the camas fields and fed the salmon filled rivers. In this version, James portrays his Seatco as Big Foot.

Doquebulth, the spirit of life, finds his opposite in Seatco, the evil one, the demon of the dark forests. Seatco is a malicious demon having the form of an Indian, but larger, quick and stealthy. He inhabits the dark recesses of the woods, where his campfires are often seen; he sleeps by day but sallies forth at dusk for a "...night of it."

He robs traps, breaks canoes, steals food and other portable property; he waylays the belated traveler and is said to kill all those whose bodies are found dead. To his wicked and malicious cunning is credited all the unfortunate and malicious acts which cannot be otherwise explained. He steals children and brings them up as slaves in his dark retreats; he is a constant menace to the disobedient child and is an object of fear and terror to all.

The Seatco Of Spirit Lake

This next story was presented by Roy Wilson of the Cowlitz Tribe. His story comes from his own people. He notes that Spirit Lake is an evil place as many stories note. This information was passed on through generations in order to protect them from the spirits that linger at the base of Mount St. Helens.

--M. Terry Thompson & Steven M. Egesdal (Told By Roy Wilson ~ Cowlitz Tribal Chairman)

Spirit Lake was always a bad place. My ancestors feared going there because that was where the evil spirits of the departed bad Indians went. These evil spirits were known as the Seatco. If you should get too close to the lake, you may strange sounds or see strange things because these evil spirits could change themselves into any form they wanted to. You might hear sounds of things that were not really there, or you might see things that were not really there.

There are many of these stories. One of the favorites told when I was young was about a hunter whose family was hungry, and he was determined to bring home some food for them. He saw an elk, but it was always a little too far in front for him to shoot his arrow at it. He knew that it was leading him closer and closer to the lake, and he was afraid. But his family was hungry and he continued to follow the elk. The elk led him to the shore of the lake and then walked out into the lake and disappeared. The hunter walked around to the other side of the lake looking for where the elk might have come out of the water, but he found nothing.

When he returned, he could still see the tracks of the elk where it entered the water. Suddenly, a long arm reached out of the lake and dragged the hunter into the lake. It was the elk, and yet today you can still see the elk and the hunter in the mists above the water of the lake.

Seatco Terrorizes The ‘Valley of Peace

Leaving Mount St. Helens, we travel northwest to the Olympic Mountains. Most of the tribe folk who resided in the shadow of the mountains never mixed with the tribes that lived in the mountains. The coastal tribes and the Puget Sound tribes were always at war with one another and shared a bloody relationship. Peace was far and in-between, but when the Salish Tribes of the North Coast declared peace, a sleeping giant was angered.

Seatco was spreading throughout the land, from Mount St. Helens; its influence was felt in Oregon and now at the foothills of the Olympics. Feeding off fear and anger, the ceasefire between the tribes angered the spirit and it knew where to strike…at the heart of the peace meetings…the Valley Of Peace, which was located in the geologically unstable Olympic Mountains.

Just one day of peace was enough to anger Seatco to the point where he visited the valley and with a terrible surge of water and falling mountains…he buried the many nations and left only a few alive to warn their people of the tragedy that unfolded in the Valley of Peace.

The tribes, now unable to meet in a neutral place began to fight with one another and the wars began once more…peace was undone and the Seatco went back to sleep.

Looking at the story, it is safe to generalize that this story might have been the result of the collapse of Storm King Mountain that crashed into a long valley. This landslide was a mix of mud and rock that would have pushed the air through the valley…making a horrific wind. The valley later filled with water from the small creek and formed Crescent Lake.

--Ella E. Clark's

Olympic National Park is located in the U.S. state of Washington, in the Olympic Peninsula. The park can be divided into three basic regions: the Pacific coastline, the Olympic Mountains, and the temperate rainforest.

A great-grandmother of Clarence Pickernell (he is Quinault-Chehalis-Cowlitz) told him she was sure that the following story is a genuine Indian legend. She had not heard this version before, but she had heard a similar one. Eugene Semple, who recorded the version given here, was governor of Washington Territory in the 1880's.

In the days long gone by, the Indians had a sacred place in the heart of the Olympic Mountains. It was a valley wide and level, with peaks high on every side. The base of the mountains was covered with cedar, fir and pine, which stayed green throughout the year. A small stream murmured through the valley and flowers of many kinds grow on its banks and spread through the meadows.

It was a place of peace, for it was held sacred by all the neighboring tribes. Once every year, all the Indian nations, even those that at other times made war upon each other, gathered in the "Valley of Peace." Coming from all directions, they climbed the trails to the summits of the mountains and gazed upon the beautiful valley below them.

Then they put away their weapons of war, went down into the valley and greeted their former enemies with signs of peace. There they traded with each other and enjoyed games and contests of strength and skill.

These friendly gatherings were held for many years in the “Valley of Peace.”

But “Seatco, Chief of all the Evil Spirits,” became angry with the people who gathered there. Seatco was a giant who could trample whole tribes under his feet. He was taller than the tallest fir trees. His voice was louder than the roar of the ocean and his face was more terrible to look upon than the face of the fiercest wild beast. He could travel by land, in the water and in the air. He was so strong that he could tear up a whole forest by the roots and heap rocks into mountains; by just blowing his breath, he could change the course of rivers.

This demon became angry without reason at all the nations that gathered in the "Valley of Peace." One year when they were there for trading and for contests of peace, Seatco came along with them. He caused the earth and water to swallow the people.

Not many Indians escaped. A few rushed away in time to save themselves from the anger of Seatco. They returned to their villages to warn their people to stay away from the valley.

The Indians never went there again…

Link To: Mythology Of Mount St. Helens -- Part 2B (Seatco--The Great Demon)

Continue Reading: Old Man of the Sea