Native American Legends
Why Mt. Shasta Erupted
A Shasta Legend
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 neighboring 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
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
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 center 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."
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