Pacific NW: Origin of the Tribes

This story is part of the Pacific Northwest unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Pacific Northwest, especially of Washington and Oregon, by Katharine Berry Judson (1910).


Origin of the Tribes
Chinook

LONG ago, in Lake Cle-el-lum, lived Wishpoosh, the monster beaver.

Cle-el-lum was beautiful. It was also full of fish. The animal people wanted to fish there but Wishpoosh killed them. Wishpoosh dragged them into the water and drowned them. Wishpoosh also killed and ate the animal people.

At last Coyote tried to kill him. Coyote fastened a spear to his wrist with a strong cord. Then he began to fish in the lake. Soon Wishpoosh attacked him. Coyote speared the beaver. Then Wishpoosh plunged to the bottom of Cle-el-lum and dragged Coyote with him. But Coyote fought hard with Wishpoosh.

They fought so hard, they tore out the banks of Cle-el-lum. The waters rushed through the break, then through the mountains and down the canyon. They rushed into Kittitas Valley. The water formed another lake in Kittitas Valley.

Coyote and Wishpoosh fought so hard they tore out the banks of the new lake. The waters rushed down into the basin of the Cowiche, Nachess, and Atahnum. The water formed a larger lake. Yakima was flooded and a very great lake formed at Toppenish.

Coyote and Wishpoosh fought so hard that they tore out the banks of this very great lake. The waters rushed to the meeting-place of the Yakima, the Snake, and the Columbia Rivers. The waters here formed a very, very great lake.

Coyote and Wishpoosh fought so hard that even the banks of this lake were torn out.

Then Wishpoosh dashed down the Great River. Coyote was out of breath. Coyote wanted to stop Wishpoosh. He caught at the trees and stones along the banks of Great River. Nothing could stop Wishpoosh.

At last Coyote and the beaver reached the breakers at the mouth of Great River, reached the breakers of the Bitter Waters. Wishpoosh was very angry. He killed salmon and swallowed them. He killed whales and swallowed them.

Coyote saw that Wishpoosh was very strong. Then he remembered that he was Coyote, the wisest and cunningest of all the animals. So Coyote changed himself into a branch, a tree branch. He drifted toward Wishpoosh. Wishpoosh swallowed him. Then Coyote changed himself back into Coyote again. He took his stone knife. He cut the sinews inside of Wishpoosh. Thus Wishpoosh died.

Now Coyote was very tired. Therefore he asked Muskrat to help him. Together Coyote and Muskrat pulled the great beaver to land. Then they cut up Wishpoosh. They threw the pieces over the land.

From the head of Wishpoosh, Coyote made the Nez Perces, great in council.

From the arms he made the Cayuses, powerful with the bow and war-club.

From the legs he made the Klickitats, famous runners.

From the ribs he made the Yakimas.

From the belly he made the Chinooks, short, fat people, with big stomachs.

Coyote at last had only the hair and blood of Wishpoosh. These he flung far up the valley to the east. They became the Snake River Indians, a tribe of war and blood. Thus Coyote created the tribes. Then he returned up the Columbia.

Now in making the Chinooks and the coast tribes, Coyote forgot to give them any mouth. The god Ecahni, travelling along, noticed this. Then Ecahni called the tribes to him and with a stone knife gave each one a mouth. But for fun Ecahni cut them crooked. He made some mouths very big. Thus the coast tribes have not perfect mouths.



(600 words)





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