Native American Legends
Coyote becomes Chief of the Salmon
A Sanpoils Legend
In the beginning Coyote had great power. He said to himself, "Why
remain in seclusion when I have so much power?" He became restless
and wanted to travel. He journeyed down the Columbia River, and
there he met Sparrow (Chis-ka-ka-nar).
Sparrow was a warrior, dressed in his beautiful beaded war head
dress, of which he was very proud. As soon as Coyote saw him, he
thought, "I will kill him and take his head dress."
So he killed Sparrow, and took his quiver of arrows and his beaded
head dress. He put them on, and felt very brave and proud. He thought
himself very handsome, -- much handsomer than Sparrow ever had been.
He stepped about, shaking his head from side to side, and resolved
to travel close to the river, that he might see his reflection.
As he came around a bend of the river, he saw blue smoke in the
distance rising from a tent which seemed warm and comfortable. He
thought, "I will call and see if there is a beautiful maiden
to admire me." To his disappointment, he saw only twelve children.
They all spoke at once in reply to his questions, and he could not
understand them. They were the Willow-Grouse (Sarsarwas) family,
who spoke their own language. They were trying to tell him that
their parents were gathering berries. Then Coyote became angry,
and thought they were calling him names. He went out, gathered pitch,
and put a piece on the eyes of the children. When their parents
returned, they were all blind.
Then the mother determined to have revenge. She suspected who had
done it, as they had seen Coyote tracks near by. She said to her
husband, "Do you remember the high cliff by the river? We will
hide behind some bushes and scare him as he comes along the edge
of the cliff."
As Coyote was going along the trail, he was singing his war-chant.
All at once there was a roar that scared him. He gave a jump and
fell over the cliff. He knew that he was in danger of death. Quickly
he turned himself into a basket, which floated lightly on the water
below. It drifted down with the current.
At that time there were two sisters who lived by the river. Near
by was a solid rock dam which they guarded with jealous care. No
one was allowed to come near. Silver-salmon were kept within the
dam as their food.
Coyote knew of these salmon, and made up his mind to release them.
He waited until morning. The younger sister (Steneechken) went down
to get a salmon for breakfast. She saw the basket-dish floating
on the water. She landed it, and took it to her tent. The elder
sister (Wiswiskin) said, "No, sister, do not keep the dish.
Throw it into the river. It may bring us misfortune." The younger
one would not give it up. She ate out of it. Each day after her
meal she left some salmon in it when she put it away.
Every day at this time of the year they went to pick berries. When
they returned, they would find the dish empty. The elder sister
became alarmed, and insisted that the dish be thrown into the fire.
When she did so, it made a loud report, and a little boy came out
of the fire. The younger sister was delighted, and kept him, although
the elder sister objected. They made a bow and arrows for him, so
that he could amuse himself while they were away.
Each morning after the sisters had left home, the boy worked at
the dam with a hard rock instrument he had made. After he had been
there one month, the girls did not find him when they came home
in the evening. They ran to the dam, and found that he had taken
the form of a man. He was digging at a hole that he had made in
the dam. They tried to crush him, but he had a piece of horn on
his head. Just then the water broke through and separated him from
them. He called to the girls, who were weeping on the bank, "Women
were never intended to guard salmon."
He started up the stream, and the salmon followed him. As he went
away, he turned one sister into a water-snipe, and the other into
a kildee. They always live near the water and eat fish.
Coyote traveled up the river with the salmon. Whenever Coyote met
people, he made a salmon jump out of the water into his arms. Then
he cooked it and asked the people to eat.
At one place he met a number of girls picking berries. They were
very beautiful, and he decided to select one of them for his wife.
He winked his eye, brought salmon from the water, and feasted the
girls. They were pleased, and their parents wanted him to take one
of the maidens, so that they might always have salmon to eat. He
fell in love with one of the girls, who had a fine voice, and who
was in the habit of using it to hear her words repeated by the echo.
When Coyote asked her to be his wife, she refused him with scorn.
He became angry, and started back down the river, taking the salmon
with him. He stopped at the Forks of the Similkameen, about five
miles from the Okanagan. There he formed falls to keep the salmon
from going up. Then he made falls in the Okanagan, Kettle, and Columbia
Rivers, because in all these places the maidens refused him.
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