Myths and Legends
This is the myths section of our Native American Web site. Myths are stories that are passed down from generation to generation.

The Historical Legend of Spokane

Many, many years ago the Spokane area was a large lake which took several days to cross. There were great villages around the lake and also on the various islands. The woods abounded in game and the water was full of fish. There was plenty for all.

One bright morning tragedy struck. The earth started rumbling and shaking. The startled Indians fled as huge waves pitched into the air, overturning boats and engulfing villages. The game suffocated as they tried to escape to higher ground. Many died of starvation and thirst. Mount Spokane, the Little Mountain that grew big overnight, gathered some to her care. Then the earth sucked the whole lake into the "Below World." The lake was gone.

When the sun shone again, the few people that remained alive came down from the "Little Sun Mountain," and followed a tiny trickle of water to what is now Spokane.

The earth reeked with the smell of dead fish and game. Too weak to flee, and not knowing where to go, the Indians eked out a meager existence until spring. When spring came the mountains looked kindly upon the suffering people. The winter snows melted and soon a roaring river cut its way over the rocks, bringing new life to the country. The river made a falls and the spray of the waters held a rainbow. The people said, "This will be our home." Ever since that time, there has been a rainbow in the spray of the rushing water. Some say, "It is a promise of blessing as long as we are a blessing to others ... in the Friendly City, Spokane."

Why Coyote Changed the Course of The Colombia River

Coyote had a tepee near the Sanpoil River. Kingfisher had a tepee there too. Four brothers, the Wolves, had a tepee there. So there were three tepees. Kingfisher was having a hard time getting his fish. He could get little fishes, but not enough. They didn't suit Coyote, who expected Kingfisher to do his fishing for him. The four brothers could get all the meat they wanted because they could kill a deer any time they wanted to. They had plenty of meat, and they gave Coyote plenty of meat. The four brothers, the Wolves, were Coyote's nephews. But Kingfisher ate no meat. He was having a hard time getting his fish.

Down at Celilo on the Columbia, four sisters had a fish trap. They wouldn't let any big fish come up the river. Finally Coyote said, "That won't do. I've got to get busy and see into that, so that everybody can have fish. Not just the sisters. I'll have to take a trip down there and see what I can do." It took him a long time to walk down to Celilo. Before he came to the house where the fish trap was, he tried to think how he would break the dam and bring the fish up without hurting the girls any and without fighting with them. How he was going to fool them! Then he made [called upon] his powers. He asked his powers, "What can I do to get the fish up the river?" His powers said to him, "Well, that's too much work. You can't do it." "I can work all right," said Coyote, "if you will tell me what to do." One of his powers said to him, "Go down a ways and get in the water and float down. You'll be a little wooden bowl. Go down on the trap. Then the sisters will see you and pick you up and take you back to the house."

So he went down to the water and turned into a little wooden bowl. When he got to the trap, he couldn't float any longer. So he stopped right there. When the sisters came down from the hills where they had been picking berries, they went to look at the trap and to get some water. They got down there and saw the little wooden bowl on the trap. One of them said, "O sisters, see this little wooden bowl! Now we can have a nice little dish to put our salmon in." Two of her sisters ran up and said, "Isn't it pretty! Isn't it lovely!" But the youngest sister stood off at one side and said, "I don't think that wooden bowl is good for us. Better leave it alone. It might be something that will harm us." "Oh, you)re always suspicious," said one of her sisters. "What is the little bowl going to do! Someone must have tipped over in a canoe up above, and this is part of their stuff. It can't harm anyone. Let's take the wooden bowl to the house." That's what they did. So they cooked their salmon, ate all they wanted, and after supper put what was left into the little wooden bowl for breakfast. Then they put it behind their little pantry and went to bed. The next morning when they got up, the wooden bowl was empty. There wasn't a thing in it. "I wonder what's happened to our salmon!" asked one of the sisters. "There isn't a thing in here." The youngest sister said, "I told you that wooden bowl isn't good for us. You wouldn't listen. We'd better throw it away." But the others said, "There must have been a rat or something that came and ate all the salmon. I don't think the dish had anything to do with it." The youngest couldn't do anything with her sisters. There were three against one. So they cooked some more salmon, ate their fill, put what was left into the wooden bowl, and put it behind the pantry. Then they went up into the hills after more berries. When they came back about one o'clock, they went to their house and looked at the little wooden bowl. But there wasn't anything in it. The youngest said, "I told you that bowl is no good for us." The others began to believe her and walked out of the house. The youngest had the bowl in her hand. She threw it against a big rock. Celilo was pretty rocky. The girl found a big rock and threw the bowl against it, to break it. When the bowl hit the rock, it dropped down on the ground and sat up as a little baby. One of the sisters ran over and picked it up. A little baby was staring at her. "Oh, it's a little boy baby. Sisters, we'll have a brother now. We'll take care of him, and he'll grow up, and then he can get all the salmon for us. We won't have to get the salmon. All we'll have to do is to dry it and take care of it." But the youngest sister said, "You'd better leave him alone. We don't want him in the house at all." But they were three against one. They took the baby up to the house. It was a cute little baby, full of smiles. It was always smiling. "Isn't he a cute little baby!" said the sisters. "Now we have a little brother." So they fed it, put it in the bed in the tepee, and went back into the hills to pick berries.

As soon as they were out of sight, Coyote changed himself from the baby into a man. The man went down and began digging and digging, to break the dam that they had worked so hard to make. When it was about time for the sisters to come back, he would go into the tepee, get into bed, and change himself into a baby. Well, that went on for quite a few days. Every day he went on digging and digging. One day he said to himself, "Today I think I'll be able to break through this dam." He was working as hard as he could. "It's about time for them to come home, but I'll stay here and finish breaking the dam. They can't harm me." He had a wooden bowl which he put on top of his head. He kept on digging away and digging away. The sisters got back and went down after water. They saw him there, digging. "Oh, he's a great big man, and he's breaking our trap!" cried one of the sisters. The youngest sister said, "You think you know it all. I told you that baby was no good for us." They picked up a stick and ran over to him. They tried to hit him over the head. But he had on that wooden bowl, so they couldn't hurt him. He gave the dam a few more licks and it was broken through. Then he started running away from the girls. He laughed at them. "You women never will put it over on us men. Men always will put it over on you." When he walked away from them, the salmon followed him. When the dam was broken, the salmon went through the hole he had made. Coyote walked along the shore. Whenever he got hungry or tired, he would stop and call to some of the salmon in the river. A big salmon would jump out. He would catch it, roast it, eat it, and rest awhile. Whenever he stopped, the salmon stopped. So he kept coming up the river that way.

On the way down, he had stopped at the place where Dry Falls are now. At the time, the Columbia River flowed there. He had seen a family camping there and catching little fish to eat. They had two nice-looking girls. They looked good to him. He made up his mind that he would camp there and see what he could do. He came there that evening and went to their tepee. The girls were out picking berries, so he talked to the old folks awhile. He said to the old man, "You'd better come down to the river with me. I saw a couple of salmon down there that you can have. So they went down there and caught one and brought it back and cooked it. The girls came home. They all had a big feed on the salmon. He talked with them and then stayed over night. Next morning he went down and caught two more and brought them up to the old man. After breakfast Coyote asked the old folks if he could have the girls, to marry them. "Well, I'll have to ask the girls," the old man said. So he asked them. "No," the girls said, "we don't want to be married yet. We want to be free for a while." That made Coyote so angry that he broke up the river. "All right. If you girls won't have me, you can go hungry the rest of your days. I'll just take the river away from you." So he changed the channel and made the river run down this other way, where it's running now. He said to the old man, "Some day there'll be some smart man who will run the river through here again. Years from now there will be one man who will make the water run this way again."

Then he came on up the river. He kept coming up, coming up, coming up the river till he reached the mouth of the Sanpoil River. A girl there looked good to him. He put in Hell Gate dam to hold the salmon back for her people. The salmon couldn't get over Hell Gate dam. It was too high; they couldn't get over it, the way he had it fixed. But that girl wouldn't have him. So Coyote said, "Four or five kinds of salmon will come up the big river. King salmon will go up the big river, but no big ones will come up the Sanpoil River. Steelheads first, chinooks, then silver salmon, those little salmon smaller than the silver and red on the outside - those four kinds will go up the Sanpoil. But no king salmon - no big ones." Then he broke up the dam he had made at Hell Gate. Ever since then, there have been rocks and rapids at Hell Gate.

He went on up the river and took his salmon with him. He went and went and went and went. He got as far as Kettle Falls. Of course there were no falls there, but people were living on both sides of the river. And he saw a nice-looking girl there. She was one of the Beaver family, and she looked good to him in spite of her big teeth. "I'm going to see what I can do here," Coyote said to himself.

He caught salmon for the old folks and was good to them. Next morning he asked the old man for his daughter. The old man said, "Yes, you can have her. Then I can have all the salmon I want to eat as long as I'm alive." So that's where Coyote got his woman - at Kettle Falls. He made the falls there. That's as far as the salmon could go. He would not break those falls. He left them there. So all these years that is as far as the salmon would go up the river. Coyote was very good to Beaver's daughter. He gave her a beautiful fur coat, the softest and most priceless of furs. He gave her the right to live under the falls. "Whenever you see people or hear them coming," he told her, "you can hide under the falls. There you will be safe." Coyote piled rocks across the river and cut them, so that there would always be a waterfall. He made three levels of rocks, so that there would be a waterfall whether the river was high or low. When the salmon tried to jump the falls, they could be easily caught by people fishing from the rocks. Coyote broke down all the dams from the mouth of the river all the way to Kettle Falls. Soon the salmon were so thick that Beaver could not throw a stick into the water without hitting the back of a fish. Then Coyote made Beaver the salmon chief. "The people of many tribes will come here to fish," Coyote said to Beaver. "You will be chief over all of them. You must share the salmon with everyone who comes. There will always be enough for everyone. You must never be greedy with it, and you must see to it that no one else is greedy."

How Cayote Got His Special Power

In the beginning of the world, Spirit Chief called a meeting of all the animal people. "Some of you do not have names yet," he said when they had gathered together. "And some of you do not like the names you have now. Tomorrow, before the sun rises I will give a name to everyone. And I will give each an arrow also. "Come to my lodge as soon as the darkness is gone. The one who gets there first may choose any name he wants, and I will give him the longest arrow. The longest arrow will mean that he will have the most power. As the people left the meeting, Coyote said to his friend Fox, "I'm going to be there first. I don't like my name. I want to be called Grizzly Bear or Eagle." Fox laughed. "No one wants your name. You may have to keep it." "I'II be there first," repeated Coyote. "I won't go to sleep tonight." That night he sat by his fire and stayed awake for a long time. Owl hooted at him. Frog croaked in the marshes. Coyote heard them all. But after the stars had closed their eyes, he became very sleepy. His eyelids grew heavy. "I will have to prop my eyes open." So he took two small sticks and propped his eyelids apart. "Now I can stay awake." But soon he was fast asleep, and when he awoke, the sun was making shadows. His eyes were dry from being propped open, but he ran to the lodge of the Spirit Chief. "I want to be Grizzly Bear," he said, thinking he was the first one there. The lodge was empty except for Spirit Chief. "That name is taken, and Grizzly Bear has the longest arrow. He will be chief of the animals on the earth." "Then I will be Eagle." "That name is taken, and Eagle has the second arrow. Eagle will be the chief of the birds." "Then I will be Salmon." "That name is taken, and Salmon has the third arrow. Salmon will be the chief of all the fish. Only the shortest arrow is left, and only one name--Coyote." And the Spirit Chief gave Coyote the shortest arrow. Coyote sank down beside the fire of the Spirit Chief. His eyes were still dry. The Spirit Chief felt sorry and put water in his eyes. Then Coyote had an idea. "I will ask Grizzly Bear to change with me." "No," said Grizzly, "I cannot. Spirit Chief gave my name to me." Coyote came back and sank down again beside the fire in the big lodge. Then Spirit Chief spoke to him. "I have special power for you. I wanted you to be the last one to come. I have work for you to do, and you will need this special power. With it you can change yourself into any form. When you need help, call on your power. "Fox will be your brother. He will help you when you need help. If you die, he will have the power to bring you to life again. "Go to the lake and get four tules. Your power is in the rules. Then do well the work I will give you to do." So that is how Coyote got his special power.

How the Spokane River was Formed

Ages ago the land was devastated by a monstrous dragon of fetid, reeking breath and claws that uprooted in a single stroke the largest pine trees. The people everywhere stood in constant dread and awe of it.

An Indian girl, who was gathering berries on a summer day, discovered the monster sleeping in the sunshine on a hillside near the present mouth of the Spokane. Slipping away, she ran to the village of her tribe and reported the scene that had burst upon her astonished vision.

Instantly the chief assembled his warriors, and gathering every cord and thong in the village, they stole upon the sleeping dragon and stealthily bound it to many an adjacent tree and crag. This accomplished, the tribe fell upon the drowsy mammoth with all their implements of chase and war.

Under this rude reveille the dragon bestirred himself, and by a single mighty lunge broke all his bonds, and vanished like the wind, tearing as he went a deep gorge and channel to Lake Coeur d' Alene.

The imprisoned waters of the lake rolled down the dragon's course, and ever since the pleasant Spokane has gone fretting to the sea.

The Great Flood

In ancient times, there were so many people in the land that they lived everywhere. Soon hunting became bad and food scarce, so that the people quarrelled over hunting territories.

Even in those days, the people were skilled in making fine canoes and paddles from cedars, and clothing and baskets from their bark. In dreams their wise old men could see the future, and there came a time when they all had similar bad dreams that kept coming to them over and over again. The dreams warned of a great flood. This troubled the wise men who told each other about their dreams. They found that they all had dreamed that rain fell for such a long time, or that the river rose, causing a great flood so that all of the people were drowned. They were much afraid and called a council to hear their dreams and decide what should be done. One said that they should build a great raft by tying many canoes together. Some of the people agreed, but others laughed at the old men and their dreams.

The people who believed in the dreams worked hard building the raft. It took many moons of hard work, lashing huge cedar log canoes together with strong ropes of cedar bark. When it was completed, they tied the raft with a great rope of cedar bark to the top of Mount Cowichan by passing one end of the rope through the centre of a huge stone which can still be seen there.

During the time the people were working on the raft, those who did not believe in the dreams were idle and still laughed, but they did admire the fine, solid raft when it was at last finished and floated in Cowichan Bay.

Soon after the raft was ready, huge raindrops started falling, rivers overflowed, and the valleys were flooded. Although people climbed Mount Cowichan to avoid the great flood, it too was soon under water. But those who had believed the dreams took food to the raft and they and their families climbed into it as the waters rose. They lived on the raft many days and could see nothing but water. Even the mountain tops had disappeared beneath the flood. The people became much afraid when their canoes began to flood and they prayed for help. Nothing happened for a long time; then the rain stopped.

The waters began to go down after a time, and finally the raft was grounded on top of Mount Cowichan. The huge stone anchor and heavy rope had held it safe. As the water gradually sank lower and lower, the people could see their lands, but their homes had all been swept away. The valleys and forests had been destroyed. The people went back to their old land and started to rebuild their homes.

After a long time the number of people increased, until once again the land was filled and the people started to quarrel again. This time they separated into tribes and clans, all going to different places. The storytellers say this is how people spread all over the earth.

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