Nez Perce - Introduction of Salmon
Now, there was a large river, and Coyote floated along in it. After drifting a long time, he regained consciousness. When he discovered himself in the middle of a large, swift-running river, he became afraid, and changed himself into a small canoe. Now, away down below, somewhere above the place where Portland is now, and where there is a fall in the river, there lived the two We'lwel sisters, who owned a weir that extended across the stream. Below the weir the river was full of salmon; while above it, in the interior, there were none. The Indians above the weir knew nothing of salmon at that time. They lived on game, roots, and berries. Coyote, who still had the form of a canoe bottom up, struck the weir and remained there. In the morning the two sisters came out to clean the weir of driftwood which had floated against it, for the river was very high.
They saw the small canoe bottom up; and the younger one said, "We must save it. It will make a fine dish for us to hold our salmon in." The elder sister said, "Do not touch it. It has been made by some one. Possibly it is Coyote." The younger sister took it home and put boiled salmon into it. Then the sisters went out root- digging; and when they returned, the salmon in the dish had disappeared, and also some of the fish that they had been drying. The elder sister said, "I told you!" The younger sister became angry, and tried to break the dish on a rock. As she was about to do so, the dish in her hands assumed the shape of a baby, which began to cry.6 She took pity on it, and said, "Oh, he will make a nice younger brother for us!"
Coyote grew fast; and when the women went root-digging, they tied him up in the house. When they were out of sight, he unfastened himself, and ate their roots and their dried salmon. On their return he tied himself up, and appeared quiet and meek. The women would say, "How good our younger brother is!"
Coyote planned to break the women's weir and to let the salmon pass up river. The fourth day, when they were out digging roots, the root- digger of the elder sister broke. She was surprised, and said, "There is something wrong. My root-digger should not have broken. It was made of very strong wood. Let us go home! Something has happened. Perhaps our younger brother has fallen into the water." They hastened home.
Meanwhile Coyote had put a sheep's-horn spoon on his head and was breaking the weir. It was nearly broken when the women arrived. The elder one said, "I told you so! We have been fooled by Coyote."
They rushed at him, and beat him over the head with sticks; but he kept on working faster than ever. The horn spoon protected him from their blows. When the weir was broken, he ran up the opposite bank, and the king-salmon were ascending the river in great numbers. The sisters sat down on the bank and wept. They cried, "You have stolen our salmon for your Coyote people! You people of Coyotes! You are all Coyote people! You are bad people!" He answered, "You thought you had a little boy, a little brother. You thought he knew nothing, but he was greater than you!" Then he transformed them into birds (sandpipers), saying, "Henceforth you shall be we'lwel birds, and shall run by the water's edge. You shall no longer have control over salmon. Salmon shall henceforth run up the river." The place where the weir was is now a fall in the river.
Coyote walked along the river-bank, and the salmon followed him. He became hungry, and wanted to eat salmon. He said, "I wish the king- salmon to jump ashore!" A king-salmon jumped out; but it was a rocky place, and smooth, and the fish was so slimy that he could not hold it. Thus it slipped back into the water. Again he wished; but the shore was clayey, and the same happened. The fourth time the fish jumped on a sandy shore, and there he managed to catch it.
He cooked the salmon, and, after eating his fill, wrapped the rest up and carried it on his back. As he went along,2 he asked a young girl at every camp to marry him; but they all refused. Their mothers advised them to take him, because Coyote had plenty of the new, fine kind of food. Then Coyote thought, "The Similkameen girls will have me. They are rather poor." He left the salmon at the mouth of the Similkameen River, and went up alone. He met the people above, and asked one of their daughters in marriage. All the old people gathered together to consider his proposal. He told them, "If I marry a girl here, I shall always give you plenty of salmon." They asked the girls one after another, but all refused him because he was so ugly. The old people did not like to offend him by telling him what the girls said: so they said, "You know that salmon is not our food. The back of the head of the mountain-ram is our food. We are afraid of strange food." Coyote said, "Very well, you shall have plenty of that, sheep shall be numerous here, but salmon you shall not have. You will have to travel long distances to obtain your salmon."
He returned, and made small, poor fish, such as suckers, to run up the Similkameen River. He said, "No salmon shall run up this river." So he made a barrier to prevent them from passing. Then he led the salmon up the Okanagon River to the falls. Above this place he asked to marry a maiden, but the people did not want him: so he made a rock barrier there at the falls, that the salmon should not ascend to the people above. He returned to the mouth of the Okanagon River, and ascended the Columbia. The salmon followed wherever he went. He came to a place called Kali'tcamen. Here all the old people wanted to marry their daughters to him. He was glad, and made a fine salmon-fishing place by contracting the river so that the rocks almost met in the middle. He smoothed and flattened the tops of the rocks, so that the children could play there. He also made a salmon-weir. When he had finished, he learned that the girls would not have him. Then he became angry, and kicked the weir, so that it broke and drifted downstream. Then he thought, "The girl alone is bad. It is not the old people's fault. They were good to me." So he left the place as he had made it, and people have always been able to capture salmon there.
Then he went up Nespe'lim Creek. Here the same happened as before. The people accepted him, and the girl refused him. He had pity on the old people, and said, "They were good to me. There shall always be some salmon here." His little daughter was walking with him at this place, and he transformed her into a stone.
Then he went to Spoke'in. At a place called Hi'tcox the same happened. He made a canyon, saying, "The girl was bad; but the old people were kind, and thought much of me. People shall always get salmon here during part of the summer."
Then he went to Snuxami'na. Here he asked a salmon to jump ashore. After cooking it and eating half, he threw the rest into the river. It was transformed into a rock which looks like the side of a king- salmon. There are outer rocks there which were made from scraps of the salmon.
Coyote went on, and came to Ski'tco, where the town of Spokane now is. Here he found a barrier across the stream, and began to dig it away. He had dug a large hole, when he thought, "Perhaps the people above are bad and will not give me a wife. Why should I favor them?" He went there and saw the people who refused him. Then Coyote left the hole the way it was. It forms now Spokane falls, and not many salmon go up there. Therefore the Coeur d'Alene have no salmon.
He returned to a place called Tqemi'p. He was hungry, and asked a salmon to jump ashore.1 A king-salmon did so; and after catching and cooking it, and eating his fill, he threw the leavings into the water. The pieces of salmon became rocks, which form a circle at this place, and make an eddy. He said, "Henceforth people shall find king-salmon dead at this place. Some salmon of the first run will always die here."
He left the Spokane River, and journeyed up the Columbia until he reached Colville. Here a stream enters the Columbia, across which the people had a weir for catching fish. The latter were very small. The people expected Coyote to come, and had ordered two of their daughters to marry him. They said, "he has much fine food, which will do us good. We shall get fine large fish if you take him." They were the Wolverine people. Coyote had heard what they thought, so he hurried there as soon as he arrived. The old people met him, and said, "Come in and sit between your wives!" They made room for him, and he sat down between the girls, who thus accepted him as their husband. The people said, "We are very poor, and have no good fish to offer you." Coyote excused himself, saying he must defecate, and went outside. He went to the salmon, and caught two king-salmon, which he put into Wolverine's fish-trap or weir. The next morning, when Wolverine went to look at the weir, he found them, and was very glad. Each morning more king-salmon were in Wolverine's weir. The people wondered. They considered Coyote a great man, and the salmon fine food. All the people gathered there to fish. The other people said to Wolverine, "If you had not given your daughters to Coyote, we should have given him ours." They were lying.
Near this place Coyote made a dam across the river, and there he showed the people the methods of fishing with dip-nets and spears.