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Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Pah-To, The White Eagle


In the days of our grandfathers' grandfathers, the peaks now called Mount Hood and Mount Adams stood much closer to the Columbia River than they do today. Mount Hood, called Wy-east, stood on the south bank, facing Mount Adams, Pah-To, on the north bank.

Between the two peaks was a bridge, where big rocks formed an arch. One base of the bridge rested on Wy-east, the other on Pah- To. For many years the rock bridge stood there. Beneath it, the waters of the great river flowed peacefully. Canoes went up and down the river without danger from the rocks and rapids that have been there in our time.

Some people in the canoes admired the big arch over their heads and were proud of the Great Power Above that had made it. Other people were afraid. When they were travelling up or down the river, all except the oarsmen would get out of the canoes when they neared the spot. They would walk to the opposite side of the bridge and reenter the canoes there. All would pray for the oarsmen, because the medicine men of the tribe prophesied that some day the bridge would fall.

Our grandfathers and our great-uncles tell us about the long, dark journey under the bridge. They tell us that the river used to be peaceful where we now see rapids and waterfalls.

But mountains did not let the river remain at peace. Each peak was the home of a powerful spirit, and the spirits were jealous of each other. Each was proud of its beautiful home, and each envied the beauty and grandeur of the other. Sometimes they became so jealous and so angry that they threw hot rocks at each other.

The Great Power Above was made unhappy by their frequent quarrels. But he thought that he would let them fight until they grew weary of fighting. Then they would become friends and would stay at peace with each other.

Instead, the mountain spirits became more and more quarrelsome. They became angry more and more often. They shook the earth. They sent forth fire and smoke, and they threw hot rocks across the river. At last the mountain peaks were set on fire, and a lake near the bridge was drained into the river.

Once more the fighting mountains made the earth tremble. This time they shook it so hard that the earth and the trees along the banks of the river slid into the water. The foundations of the bridge were loosened, the arch lost its balance, and the rocks fell into the river. There they made rapids and many waterfalls.

The Great Power Above was so angry that he determined to punish the mountain spirits. He came down from the sky and stood by the river. There he picked up Pah-To and hurled it as far as he could northeast of where he stood. Then he lifted Wy-east and hurled it as far as he could southwest of where he stood.

The mountain peaks stand there today, watching from a distance the Columbia River on its way to the sea.




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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.


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