Native American Legends
A Sanpoils Legend
Long ago on the Sanpoil River that flows southward into the Columbia
River, Old Man and old Woman lived with their tribe, the Sanpoils.
They were so stooped that it appeared they were walking on their
knees and their elbows. Their very pretty granddaughter lived with
One day Coyote came along and saw the old couple with the beautiful
girl. Immediately, he decided that he wanted the girl for his wife.
But he knew better than to ask for her then. He thought he would
wait until evening. So during the day he sat around, becoming better
acquainted with the family.
The old couple watched him, noting that his long hair was braided
neatly and his forelocks were carefully combed back. They noticed
too that he was tall and strong. Old Man and Old Woman talked between
themselves about Coyote, wondering if he could be a Chief.
In the late afternoon, Coyote asked Old Man, "What is that
thing down in the stream?"
"Why, that is my fish trap," Old Man replied.
"A fish trap? What is that? What do you do with it?"
asked Coyote, pretending he did not know.
"Oh, occasionally I catch a few bullheads and sunfish,"
Old Man said.
"Is that what you eat? I never heard of them. Are they big
enough for a meal?" asked Coyote.
"They are not much, but what else can we eat?" replied
"I think I will go up the hill and look around," said
Coyote. It was then about an hour before sunset.
On top of the hill, Coyote saw some grouse roosting in a tree.
He threw some stones at them, killing five. He carried the grouse
back to Old Man and said, "Let's eat these for supper."
After removing the feathers, Old Man roasted the game over the
fire and when they were done, everyone sat down to eat the wonderful
meal. To Old Man and his family, it seemed like a feast.
"Is this the kind of food you eat every day?" the Old
Man asked Coyote.
"Sometimes I eat berries, roots, and I catch some real big
fish, as long as your arm," Coyote said.
Later, Coyote announced that he would like to stay there if they
wanted him, otherwise he would move on.
"What do you mean?" asked Old Man.
"Well, it is like this. I would like to marry your granddaughter,"
Old Man and Old Woman looked at each other but said nothing. Coyote
went for a little walk to allow the old couple to talk privately.
While Coyote was gone Old Man said to his wife, "What do you
think of this fellow? You saw what he did, bringing good food for
our supper. If we let him marry our granddaughter, maybe they will
stay here and we will have such good food always. Surely our girl
will marry someone soon, perhaps some man not as good as this young
"Well, husband, I'll leave it entirely up to you."
Soon Coyote returned. He decided to let Old Man open the conversation.
Old Man held his pipe in one hand and said, "How I wish I had
a smoke. My tobacco ran out some time ago."
"Have some of mine," said Coyote, reaching into his jacket
pocket. He pulled out a large bunch of tobacco and gave it to Old
Man, who filled his pipe, feeling very much surprised that Coyote
would have real tobacco.
After a while Old Man spoke, "My wife and I have talked over
your proposal and she left the decision up to me. I have decided
to let you marry our granddaughter and live here. If you go away,
we want you to take her with you. How are we to know that you will
"You need not worry," said Coyote. "I am tired of
traveling. I want to settle down here for the rest of my life, if
Old Man was pleased with Coyote and believed what he said. So Coyote
took the pretty granddaughter for his wife.
Early that evening Coyote stayed with his wife and later said,
"I am going out for a few minutes and when I return we will
go to bed."
"All right," answered his wife.
Coyote went downstream to where Old Man had his fish trap. He changed
it into a basket-type trap, piling rows of rocks to guide fish into
the basket. When finished he called out, "Salmon, I want two
of you in the basket trap tomorrow morning, one male and one female."
Then he returned to his bride.
Next morning Coyote asked Old Man to go to his fish trap early.
"I think I heard a noise in the night that sounded like fish
caught in a trap," he said.
Old Man went downstream to see his fish trap. Sure enough, he saw
two big fish in the trap. Old Man was so excited, he stumbled up
the trail toward Coyote.
"You were right, there are two great fish in the trap bigger
than I have ever seen," reported Old Man.
"You must be dreaming," said Coyote.
"Come down with me and see for yourself," Old Man said.
When the two reached the trap, Coyote exclaimed, "You are
so right. These are salmon, chief among all fish. Let us take them
over to that flat place, and I will show you what to do with them."
When they reached the open field, Coyote sent Old Man up the hill
to gather sunflower stems and leaves.
"Those are salmon plants," Coyote explained. "Salmon
must always be laid on sunflower stems and leaves."
Old Man spread the sunflower plants upon the ground. Coyote placed
the salmon on them, and proceeded to show Old Man how to prepare
"First, put a stick in the salmon's mouth and bend it back
to break off the head. Second, place long sharp poles inside the
salmon lengthwise to hold for roasting over your campfire,"
"Now remember this," he continued. "The first week
go down to the trap and take out the salmon every day. But when
fixing it, never use a knife to cut it in any way. Always roast
the fish over the fire on sticks, the way I have shown you. Never
boil salmon the first week. After the salmon is roasted, open it
carefully and take out the backbone without breaking it. Also, save
the back part of the head for the sacred bundle-never eat that.
"If you do not do these things as I have told you, either
a big storm will come up and you will be drowned, or you will be
bitten by a rattlesnake and you will die.
"After you have taken out the salmon's backbone, wrap it and
the back of the head carefully in tules, the marsh grasses, to make
a sacred bundle, then place it somewhere in a tree, where it will
not be bothered. If you do as I tell you, you will always have plenty
of salmon in your trap.
"I am telling you these sacred things about the salmon because
I am going to die sometime. I want you and your tribe to know of
the best way to care for and use your salmon. After this, your men
will always place their fish traps up and down the river to catch
salmon. The man having the first trap will be Chief of the Salmon,
and the others should always do anything he tells them to do.
"After the first week of the salmon season, you can boil your
salmon or cook it any way you wish. But remember to always take
care of the bones, wrapping them in a sacred bundle--never leaving
them where they can be stepped upon or stepped over."
For the next few days each time Old Man went down to his fish trap
in the morning, he found twice as many salmon as on the day before.
Coyote showed him how to dry fish to prepare them for winter use.
Before long they had a large scaffold covered with drying fish.
People of the Sanpoil tribe saw the fish and noticed how well Old
Man and Old Woman were doing. They went to their hogans and told
others about the big red fish called salmon, and about the tall
young stranger who taught Old Man about caring for the salmon.
Soon thereafter, all the people came to see for themselves. Old
Man and Old Woman invited them to feast on their roasted salmon.
The old couple explained how their new grandson-in-law had shown
them how to trap the salmon and dry them for winter food.
To this day, the Sanpoils say their tribe harvests the salmon in
exactly the way that Coyote taught their ancestors long, long ago.
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