Myths and Legends of the Cascade Range

The range has been populated for at least 11,000 years, and Native Americans helped spread many of the volcano myths and legends that still survive today

by Lorenzo Ciotti
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Myths and Legends of the Cascade Range

The Cascade Range is a mountain range of North America, extending in a vertical direction, from southern British Columbia to northern California, through the states of Washington and Oregon, for a total development of about 1,100 km. The Columbia River forms the main topographic discontinuity of the range, crossing it from east to west, with its basin covering much of its slopes.

The range has been populated for at least 11,000 years, and Native Americans helped spread many of the volcano myths and legends that still survive today. A myth of the Lummi tribe states that the female incarnation of Mount Baker was once married to her male counterpart, the Mount Rainier, and that the two lived more or less where they are now.

Later, due to a quarrel, the Rainier rose and moved north, positioning itself on its present position. In the Lushootseed languages, the Rainier was called Tahoma. In the past, this would have housed vast hidden caves, within which sleeping giants would have lived.

In this place it was also not unusual for extraordinary events and fantastic apparitions of all sorts to take place. Mount Shasta was once known for its many alleged fantastic creatures, a tale developed from the New Age subcultural movement: it involved Lemuria, extraterrestrials, elves and bigfoot.

The watersheds formed by the crests of the Cascade range constitute, together with the geographical separation, the linguistic one between the idioms of the Inland and Coastal Salish tribes. On a mythological level, the dividing line placed the domain of the coyote as the supreme image in popular beliefs and the world of legends linked to spirits and the transformations of nature on two sides.

Many traditional Indian tales are about the Falls and its volcanoes. According to some accounts, Mounts Baker, Jefferson and Shasta were used as shelter during a great flood. Among the legends inherent to the Bridge of Gods, a landslide whose dating is uncertain, the most famous is that of the Klickitat.

This tells that Tyhee Saghalie, the ruler of all gods, and his two sons Pahto and Wy'east traveled from the north to the Columbia River region, seeking a place to live. Amazed by the beauty of the landscape, the children began to fight for possession of the place.

To resolve the dispute, the father shot two arrows from his powerful bow: one to the north and the other to the south. Pahto followed the first, while Wy'east the second. Tyhee Saghalie then forged the Tanmahawis, the Bridge of the Gods, so that his family could meet again more easily.

When the two sons fell in love with the same woman, named Loowit, she found herself in trouble and she didn't know who to choose between the two. Her sons fought for her heart by destroying the forests and villages where the fighting had taken place with arrows and stones.

The entire area was destroyed and the earth shook so hard that the Bridge of the Gods fell into the Columbia River. To punish them, Tyhee Saghalie decided to turn them into huge mountains. Wy'east became the Hood Volcano, towering imperiously in his pride, and Pahto the Adams Volcano, who appears with bowed head because he is continually thoughtful of his lost love of him.

Loowit was transformed into the then pretty-looking Saint Helens, known among the Klickitat as Louwala-Clough, while this was known among the Shahaptin as Mount Loowit.