The Shasta nation probably acquired its name from a long ago chief named Sasti. They are located in California and Oregon, on the Klamath River from Indian and Thompson Creeks to the mouth of Fall Creek; in the drainage areas of two Klamath River tributaries, the Scott and Shasta rivers; and on the north side of the Siskiyou Mountains in Oregon on affluents of the Rogue River. All of these waterways are rich sources of fish for many tribes. Mount Shasta and Shasta County perpetuate the name of the Shasta Indians.
Eagle, the supreme spirit of all flying creatures, wanted to create people. So he sent two children to earth, a boy and a girl. They created more children, and in time there were many, many people everywhere on earth. It seems that no one ever died. More and more people were created, and soon the world was becoming much too crowded.
Everyone pondered the question of what could be done about the crowded conditions on earth? Then a boy died! His people were very sad to lose him, and friends gathered to comfort the family of the lost boy. They said to each other, “Let us not die, let us not die!”
Buy Coyote replied, “People must die, people must die!”
Soon thereafter the parents buried the little boy. But in their hearts, they were disturbed about what Coyote kept saying. Now they secretly wished that Coyote’s child might die. Perhaps then he would understand somewhat of how they felt about losing their son.
A few moons passed, when Coyote’s child became ill and he died. Coyote wanted so much to bring him back to life. He even followed his child’s spirit to the land where the Ghosts danced about a fire. There he watched the spectacular cavortings of the Ghosts dancing continuously, enjoying their frolic.
Coyote built his own fire of wild parsnips to attract his child’s ghost. When the Ghost clan smelled the burning parsnips, they could not stand the aroma and gave Coyote’s child back to him. They returned happily to their homeland.
On their way, Coyote was so very delighted to have his child with him. Coyote asked, “What wish would you like to have me grant you?”
“Father, for ten years you must never scold me,” replied the child.
All was happiness for five years, no one scolded Coyote’s child. Then someone forgot and scolded him, and he died a second time. Again Coyote went to the Land of the Ghost Dance. Again the Ghosts saw Coyote return and said, “Go back, go back to your home and return the day after tomorrow to see your child.”
Joyous at the future prospect of seeing his child again, Coyote practically danced all the way home. Because he was tired from the excitement of his journey, Coyote lay down to rest when he reached his home. The very next day, his friends found Coyote dead in his own bed. Coyote’s spirit returned for the third time to the Land of the Ghost Dance, and for the third time was welcomed by his child and the other dancing Ghosts.
Shasta Indians used to say that no one should follow the dead to the Land of the Ghost Dance, or soon they, too, would become a new Ghost in the Land of the Ghost Dance!
by Joaquin Miller
Before people were on the Earth, the Chief of the Great Sky Spirits grew tired of his home in the Above World because it was always cold. So he made a hole in the sky by turning a stone around and around. Through the hole he pushed snow and ice until he made a big mound. This mound was Mount Shasta.
Then Sky Spirit stepped from the sky to the mountain and walked down. When he got about halfway down, he thought: “On this mountain there should be trees.” So he put his finger down and eveywhere he touched, up sprang trees. Everywhere he stepped, the snow melted and became rivers.
The Sky Spirit broke off the end of his big walking stick he had carried from the sky and threw the pieces in the water. The long pieces became Beaver and Otter. The smaller pieces became fish. From the other end of his stick he made the animals.
Biggest of all was Grizzly Bear. They were covered with fur and had sharp claws just like today, but they could walk on their hind feet and talk. They were so fierce looking that the Sky Spirit sent them to live at the bottom of the mountain.
When the leaves fell from the trees, Sky Spirit blew on them and made the birds.
Then Sky Spirit decided to stay on the Earth and sent for his family. Mount Shasta became their lodge. He made a BIG fire in the middle of the mountain and a hole in the top for the smoke and sparks. Every time he threw a really big log on the fire, the Earth would tremble and sparks would fly from the top of the mountain.
Late one spring, Wind Spirit was blowing so hard that it blew the smoke back down the hole and burned the eyes of Sky Spirit’s family. Sky Spirit told his youngest daughter to go tell Wind Spirit not to blow so hard.
Sky Spirit warned his daughter: “When you get to the top, don’t poke your head out. The wind might catch your hair and pull you out. Just put your arm through and make a sign and then speak to Wind Spirit.”
The little girl hurried to the top of the mountain and spoke to Wind Spirit. As she started back down, she remembered that her father had told her that the ocean could be seen from the top of the mountain. He had made the ocean since moving his family to the mountain and his daughter had never seen it.
She put her head out of the hole and looked to the west. The Wind Spirit caught her hair and pulled her out of the mountain. She flew over the ice and snow and landed in the scrubby fir trees at the timberline, her long red hair flowing over the snow.
There Grizzly Bear found her. He carried the little girl home with him wondering who she was. Mother Grizzly Bear took care of her and brought her up with her cubs. The little girl and the cubs grew up together.
When she bacame a young woman, she and the eldest son of Gizzly Bear were married. In the years that followed they had many children. The children didn’t look like their father or their mother.
All the grizzly bears throughout the forest were proud of these new creatures. They were so pleased, they made a new lodge for the red-haired mother and her strange looking children. They called the Lodge – Little Mount Shasta.
Ater many years had passed, Mother Grizzly Bear knew that she would soon die. Fearing that she had done wrong in keeping the little girl, she felt she should send word to the Chief of the Sky Spirits and ask his forgiveness. So she gathered all the grizzlies at Little Mount Shasta and sent her oldest grandson to the top of Mount Shasta, in a cloud, to tell the Spirit Chief where he could find his daughter.
The father was very glad. He came down the mountain in great strides. He hurried so fast the snow melted. His tracks can be seen to this day.
As he neared the lodge, he called out for his daughter.
He expected to see a little girl exactly as he saw her last. When he saw the strange creatures his daughter was taking care of, he was surprised to learn that they were his grandchildren and he was very angry. He looked so sternly at the old grandmother that she died at once. Then he cursed all the grizzlies.
“Get down on your hands and knees. From this moment on all grizzlies shall walk on four feet. And you shall never talk again. You have wronged me.”
He drove his grandchildren out of the lodge, threw his daughter over his shoulder and climbed back up the mountain. Never again did he come to the forest. Some say he put out the fire in the center of his lodge and returned to the sky with his daughter.
Those strange grandchildren scattered and wandered over the earth. They were the first Indians, the ancestors of all the Indian Tribes.
That is why the Indians living around Mount Shasta never kill Grizzly Bear. Whenever one of them was killed by a grizzly bear, his body was burned on the spot. And for many years all who passed that way cast a stone there until a great pile of stones marked the place of his death.
Coyote, a universal and mischievous spirit, lived near Mount Shasta in what is now California. Coyote’s village had little fish and no salmon. His neighbouring village of Shasta Indians always had more than they could use.
Shasta Indians had built a dam that served as a trap for fish, especially the wonderful salmon. They ate it raw, baked it over hot coals, and dried large quantities for their winter food supply. Other tribes came to Shasta Village to trade for salmon, which created wealth and respect for the Shasta tribe.
One day Coyote was dreaming of a delicious meal of salmon. His mouth watered at the thought of a nice freshly cooked, juicy salmon.
“I am so terribly hungry,” he said to himself upon waking. “If I visit the Shasteans, maybe I can have a salmon dinner.”
Coyote washed and brushed himself to look neat and clean, then started for Shasta Village with visions of fresh salmon swimming behind his eyes. He found the Shasteans at the dam hauling in big catches of salmon. They welcomed him and said that he could have all the fish he could catch and carry.
Hunger and greed caused Coyote to take more fish than was good for him. Finally, he lifted his big load onto his back and began his homeward journey, after thanking the Shasta Indians for their generosity.
Because his load was extra heavy and he still had a long way to go Coyote soon tired.
“I think I had better rest for a while,” he thought. “A short nap will do me good.”
He stretched himself full length upon the ground, lying on his stomach, with his pack still on his back. While Coyote slept, swarms and swarms of Yellow Jackets dived down and scooped up his salmon. What was left were bare salmon bones.
Coyote waked very hungry. His first thought was how good a bite of salmon would taste at that moment. Still half-asleep, he turned his head and took a large bite. To his great surprise and anger, his mouth was full of fish bones! His salmon meat was gone. Coyote jumped up and down in a rage shouting, “Who has stolen my salmon? Who has stolen my salmon?”
Coyote searched the ground around him but could not locate any visible tracks. He decided to return to Shasta Village and ask his good friends there if he could have more salmon.
“Whatever happened to you?” they asked when they saw his pack of bare salmon bones.
“I was tired and decided to take a nap,” replied Coyote. “While I slept, someone slightly stole all of the good salmon meat that you gave me. I feel very foolish to ask, but may I catch more fish at your dam?”
All of the friendly Shasteans invited him to spend the night and to fish with them in the morning. Again, Coyote caught salmon and made a second pack for his back and started homeward.
Strangely, Coyote tired at about the same place as he had on the day before. Again he stopped to rest, but he decided that he would not sleep today. With his eyes wide open, he saw swarms of hornets approaching. Because he never imagined they were the culprits who stole his salmon, he did nothing.
Quicker than he could blink his eyes, the Yellow Jackets again stripped the salmon meat from the bones and in a flash they disappeared!
Furious with himself, Coyote raged at the Yellow Jackets. Helpless, he ran back to Shasta Village, relating to his friends what he had seen with his own eyes. They listened to his story and they felt sorry for Coyote, losing his second batch of salmon.
“Please take a third pack of fish and go to the same place and rest. We will follow and hide in the bushes beside you and keep the Yellow Jackets from stealing your fish,” responded the Shasta Indians.
Coyote departed carrying this third pack of salmon. The Shasteans followed and hid according to plan. While all were waiting, who should come along but Grandfather Turtle.
“Whoever asked you to come here?” said Coyote, annoyed at Grandfather Turtle’s intrusion.
Turtle said nothing but just sat there by himself.
“Why did you come here to bother us,” taunted Coyote. “We are waiting for the robber Yellow Jackets who stole two packs of salmon. We’ll scare them away this time with all my Shasta friends surrounding this place. Why don’t you go on your way?”
But Turtle was not bothered by Coyote; he continued to sit there and rest himself. Coyote again mocked Grandfather Turtle and became so involved with him that he was completely unaware when the Yellow Jackets returned. In a flash, they stripped the salmon bones of the delicious meat and flew away!
Coyote and the Shasta Indians were stunned for a moment. But in the next instant, they took off in hot pursuit of the Yellow Jackets. They ran and ran as fast as they could, soon exhausting themselves and dropping out of the race. Not Grandfather Turtle, who plodded steadily along, seeming to know exactly how and where to trail them.
Yellow Jackets, too, knew where they were going, as they flew in a straight line for the top of Mount Shasta. There they took the salmon into the centre of the mountain through a hole in the top. Turtle saw where they went, and waited patiently for Coyote and the other stragglers to catch up to him. Finally, they all reached the top, where turtle showed them the hole through which the Yellow Jackets had disappeared.
Coyote directed all the good people to start a big fire on the top of Mount Shasta. They fanned the smoke into the top hole, thinking to smoke out the yellow jackets. But the culprits did not come out, because the smoke found other holes in the side of the mountain.
Frantically, Coyote and the Shasta Indians ran here, there, and everywhere, closing up the smaller smoke holes. They hoped to suffocate the Yellow Jackets within the mountain.
Furiously, they worked at their task while Grandfather Turtle crawled up to the very top of Mount Shasta. Gradually, he lifted himself onto the top hole and sat down, covering it completely with his massive shell, like a Mother Turtle sits on her nest. He succeeded in completely closing the top hole, so that no more smoke escaped.
Coyote and his friends closed all of the smaller holes.
“Surely the Yellow Jackets will soon be dead,” said Coyote as he sat down to rest.
What is that rumbling noise, everyone questioned? Louder and louder the noise rumbled from deep within Mount Shasta. Closer and closer to the top came the rumble. Grandfather Turtle decided it was time for him to move from his hot seat.
Suddenly, a terrific explosion occurred within the mountain, spewing smoke, fire, and gravel everywhere!
Then to Coyote’s delight, he saw his salmon miraculously pop out from the top hole of Mount Shasta–cooked and smoked, ready to eat!
Coyote, the Shasta Indians, and Grandfather Turtle sat down to a well-deserved meal of delicious salmon.
To this day, the Shasta Indian tribe likes to conclude this tale saying, “This is how volcanic eruptions began long, long ago on Mount Shasta.”