“Legends of the Columbia”


edited by Ed and Megan Berwick

Stories/Poems of the Snake River/Shoshone Indians

“To awaken in a forest in Oregon is a sensation never to be forgotten. There is the spicy fragrance of the pines, the drumming of the pheasants, the murmur of the mountain stream, where tender green ferns and trailing vines swing and nod gently to the nibbling, silvery trout.”

Eda-co-cha’s Spirit Smiles

In Oregon, land of the rain and sun,
Where rivers flow
And snowy mountains glow
In summer’s sunset light,
Lived Tuala,
Chief of all the sunny plains,
Where grass is plenty
And sweet berries hide
And redden in the sun,
Until their blood like water runs
And stains the hoofs of deer
And feet of men.
Tuala wearied of summer’s heat,
And with his tribe
Sought the forest shade.
His braves speared salmon
In waters where
Cool, rocky walls look down.
And here the old chief’s daughter came
And brought her grasses,
And on yon rock sat down to weave.
As morning sun rose up
Each day she came.

Down with the waters came Pa-hoo-ly,
Son of the rocky river gorge,
Guiding his light canoe.
His spear was long
And ever in his hand.
His sight was keen,
And on his spear
The writhing salmon hung.
Tall was his form
And strong his arm.
Brave and undaunted, great river’s son,
Speed on thy way!

With morning light Eda-coo-cha came
To the high rocky wall
Where the fast flowing waters
Sang to her a wild wailing song.
And on the rushing river,
Where fishes played,
Pa-hoo-ly, with his spear upraised,
Rode in his canoe.
Then down from where the rocks are bare
A branch of berries fell
Into his boat.

Pa-hoo-ly looked and saw the maid.
He frowned and turned away,
And the currents of the river
Bore him along his rippling way
To where deep waters, darkening,
Received, on their cool floods,
Pa-hoo-ly, in his own swift, light canoe,
Without one murmur at the load
Upon their surface calm.

Other suns arose,
And to the river came
Each morn the dark-eyed Indian girl.
Then once again
The tall strong man
Like an arrow flew
Down the stream
In his light canoe.
And from where the maiden sat
Some camas, sweet,
Were thrown into his boat.

In morrow’s mist
The chieftain’s daughter stood
And watched for the river brave’s return.
And like a flash he came;
And heeded Eda-coo-cha not,
As o’er the rocks was flung,
A fishing net,
Of woven grass roots,
Young and strong and light.

Tuala wearied of mountain glen
And spoke of his sunny Tualitan plains.
He called his braves.
His daughter heard her chief’s commands
And sighed and murmured not,
But once more sought the river bank
And waited long
For the light canoe.

When like the fish hawk
Down the stream
The fearless boatman flew along,
Down from rocky heights
Tualitan chieftain’s daughter fell.
The waters opened wide their arms
To receive her in her flight.
Yon misty cloud arose, remains!
And in its soft, swelling bosom,
Touched by light,
Eda-coo-cha’s spirit smiles.

Legend of the Mountain and the Great Water Spirits

Ka-ou-whit-can (Tualitan)

“Nanage okoe moos moos! Hiuc mammuck tillicum! Wake, nica six.”

The trees that rise above us
Were only slender then,
Not half as high as these
That cast their cones
And prickly leaves
Down on the mountainside.
In illa-hee a spirit dwelt,
Great and wide and tall,
With antlers, on his tawny head,
That towered above the tallest trees.
Long hung his hair, like moss.
His arms were long,
And in his hand he held a bow
Whose arrows flew above the trees
And mountain snow
And were lost above the glistening stars,
Above the moon and rolling clouds.
When he called the forest shook
And trembled with his breath.
Old Ty-hee ruled the mountain men
Who camped within his glens.

Far within the rushing waters
That flow through illa-hee
A spirit lives who rules all waters.
As they flow through rocky walls,
He bids them murmur softly
And creep around the rocks,
Or dash and foam and madly rush
Through the canyons misty gloom.
And the waters all obey him;
And the salmon in great shoals
Go rushing up the river,
To leap the rapid’s foam
And stem the river’s flow.
They go on through waters deep and shallow
Old Scoo-cum to obey.
To Great River Indians
He is a chief and friend.

Scoo-cum never left his waters
To roam through forest shade,
But received with loud rejoicing
Each musical cascade
That rushed down from the mountains
To swell his river’s flood.
But once when the sun was setting
There came from illa-hee,
With the tramp of a mighty chieftain,
Down to the river’s brink,

Now, called the old wood spirit,
Rush down, old Scoo-cum’s floods,
That I may reach your waters
At their own chief’s command
Rippled and laughed in their ebb and flow
And with the salmon played.
Who is chieftain of these waters,
And whom do they obey?
Called old Scoo-cum of the river.

Then Ty-hees spirit burned.
He called upon the mountain fire,
Where it rose in leaping flames,
He bade the forest bow its head.
He called upon the rocks
To help fill up the channel
Where old Scoo-cum laughed at him.
Down rolled the mighty boulders
Into the river bed;
Then down came half the mountain
Upon old Ty-hee’s head!
In vain were all his struggles;
His voice no longer rolled
From his home upon the summit
Down the mountain gorge.
Where the waters had laughed and rippled
A deeper channel flowed,
Claiming as new heritage
Old Ty-hees mountain gorge.
Then Scoo-cum called ice-spirit,
And cold and white it came
To cut from the great old forest trees
Limbs, needles and the cones.
And Scoo-cums waters bore away
And cleared old Ty-hees vast domain
To claim it for their own.

Legend of the Boiling Springs

Mo-sho-ne’s Medicine

Sho-sho-ne land was scorched with heat
From rising of the summer sun
Until the sun went down.
No cooling cloud sailed in the sky
Between the earth and sun,
No cooling breeze swept o’er the land
With healing on its wings.
The waters in the river bed
Sank down into the sand,
And heat and drought reigned everywhere
Throughout Sho-sho-ne land.

The brave who hunted on the plain
Grew faint and ne’er returned,
And he who sought the river bank
Grew dizzy and fell down.
Within Sho-sho-ne lodges
Sho-sho-ne women lay;
Hot arrows pierced their burning heads.
There was no draught to quench or stay
The children’s raging thirst.
More swiftly whirled the medicine men
No clouds appeared that day.

Then up rose from her sleeping-mat
Mo-sho-ne, from whose thinning hair
The snows of many winters
Would never melt away.
She wrapped no robe about her form;
She took no meat nor fish.
To the temple rock she went alone
To cry to Him who heals the sick.
For seven days and nights she stood
Or fainting lay
Upon sun-heated stone.

For seven days and nights she cried,
Great Spirit, hear Sho-sho-ne’s cry:

Send down thy cooling rain!
Then at her feet the rock gave way
Pure waters bubbled up.
She stopped to drink, but not of them
For they were boiling hot.
To the stream she brought the sick
And bade them bathe therein.
They bathed and drank
And all were cured
By Mo-sho-ne’s medicine.

Union of Two Tribes – Willamette and Tualitan

Pe-noc-ene-towus (The Man Who Sees Your Thoughts), the Tualitan chief, was a wise man. In his lodge lived his son Scocum-tum-tum (Brave Heart) and Tenis-mowich (Startled Fawn) his daughter. Pe-noc-ene-towus had sent Brave Heart as a scout to see that no hunter of the Willamette tribe was killing the deer on our hunting ground or catching fish from our streams. Following up a deep ravine, looking for enemies or game, Brave Heart grew thirsty. He started down along the ravine to find water. Hearing a sound of breaking brush, he looked up and saw, on the opposite side of the ravine, two objects, a Willamette brave with an arrow aimed at him and a great black bear.

Brave Heart sprang with a whoop down into the bushes. The arrow from the enemy’s bow grazed his head. His leap and whoop frightened the bear, which turned and started up the mountainside. A moment more and she met the Willamette brave, who was fitting another arrow to his bow. With wide open mouth the bear rushed upon the Indian. He raised his bow and struck her, breaking the bow and rendering it useless. As the bear seized him, he drew his long knife and struck out, but his foot caught on a protruding root of a tree and he fell. Bear and brave, fighting with teeth, claws and deadly knife, rolled down the mountainside. Brave Heart, watching the struggle, soon saw that the bear would be the victor unless he interposed. He raised his bow and took careful aim. His arrow pierced the bear’s brain. He then dispatched her with a knife and dragged his wounded and bleeding enemy from underneath her. Now take Was-co-pum’s (Strong Man’s) scalp. It will hang in your chief’s lodge and make glad his heart.

Was-co-pum is brave! Brave Heart would feel no joy to scalp him now. Brave Heart bathed and bound up the deep, bleeding wounds of his enemy, made a couch for him of leaves and grass and sat down beside him. Does Was-co-pum remember? Moons and moons have rolled since Brave Heart, a little brave, wandered away from his lodge on the mountainside, crossed the ridge and was found by Was-co-pum, then a little brave who led Brave Heart away to the chief’s lodge. Your chief told you I should not be a prisoner, neither should my scalp hang in his lodge. When you had given me berries and fish, you led me back in sight of my father’s lodge. Now I shall give you bear’s meat and cool water. You will rest and return to your tribe. Another day Brave Heart will take your scalp to hand in his father’s lodge.

Suns rose and set and Brave Heart still watched beside Was-co-pum. Each had a sister, Startled Fawn and Caninr-charoo (Gliding Canoe). The two braves talked; they formed a scheme for uniting the tribes: Strong Man should have Startled Fawn for a wife and Brave Heart the Gliding Canoe. They buried their hatchets and smoked the pipe of peace. The sun was low. As dark shadows crept out, there was heard the howl of a wolf. An owl hooted: Strong Man had answered. Nearer came the Howling Wolf. Where is the chief’s son? Where the shadows lie dark and heavy. A friend has bound up his wounds, made by black man of the mountains, whose teeth were long and sharp. Raise not your arrow nor unsheathe your knife.

A third Indian brave sat in the darkness. The pipe of peace was passed to him. Roasted meat refreshed him. Then the young chiefs told him of their plans. Howling Wolf meditated. Then he spoke:

My friends, he said, Howling Wolf joins in the wish of your hearts. Why should our tribes keep their hatchets sharp for Willamette and Tualitan braves? Let them smoke the pipe of peace. Our braves can fight the big chiefs and the black men of the mountains. Our women can gather berries on either side of the mountain; there are plenty for all. Our children can fish in any stream. There is, in Tualitan tribe, a woman who pleases the heart of Howling Wolf. Once when the sun was low, O-lal-la was far in the woods. Her basket was full of berries. A black man came out of the brush to take them from her. She fled and climbed a tree. Black man sat down to eat from her basket. An arrow from Howling Wolf’s bow found his heart. Now his skin is in O-lal-la’s lodge. Why should our hatchets be sharp for Willamette and Tualitan braves?

Strong Man’s wounds were healed. When the moon was full and round, Willamette and Tualitan chiefs met in council. There was a big feast. Gliding Canoe, Startled Dove, O-lal-la and many other women prepared it. The hatchet was buried, the pipe of peace went round, the tribes were united.

Excerpted from the book:

“Child of the Sun”

(reprinted with permission of the authors:)

For more information please contact:

Ed/Megan Berwick
P.O. Box 1466
Los Altos, CA 94023

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