Coyote and the Introduction of Salmon

- Thompson -

Formerly there were no salmon in the interior, because they- were prevented from ascending by dams which the people of the coast had erected near the mouths of Columbia and Fraser Rivers. The Indians of the interior lived principally on meat, while those of the coast had all the salmon. The Coyote intended to remedy this, for he knew the salmon were kept prisoners by the coast people. He thought the people of the interior should have salmon too. The dam across the mouth of Fraser River was owned by four witch women. When Coyote had finished traveling through the Shuswap country, he descended Fraser River to the canyon, and there changing himself into a piece of wood, he floated down the stream until stopped by the fish-dam.

From here the story is exactly the same as in the "Traditions of the Thompson River Indians," p. 27, from the 6th line to the end of the 36th. Coyote first led the salmon up to the head waters of the Fraser River, and then up all the tributary streams. He traveled along the river-banks, and they followed him. On his way up the Thompson River, about four miles above Spences Bridge, he sat down to have a rest, and saw four women bathing on the opposite side of the river. The story continues as in the "Traditions of the Thompson River Indians." from line from the foot of p. 27; to the end of line from the top of p. 28 in the full version.

Coyote continued his journey, and led the salmon to the head waters of the North Thompson River, then, returning to Kamloops Lake, he conducted them up the South Thompson to Shuswap Lake. From the latter place he went south through the Spallumcheen and Okanagan to take the salmon up Columbia River. Four women had a dam across the latter stream, near its mouth, and all the coast people caught salmon at this place. Coyote changed himself into a piece of wood, as he had done at the mouth of Eraser River, and floated down against the dam. The women noticed the piece of wood next morning, and picked it up, saying it would make a fine dish. They fashioned it into a dish to eat salmon out of, but soon found there was some magic about it, for hardly had they put a salmon on the dish, before it would disappear.

They thought the dish uncanny, and threw it into the fire. Thereupon Coyote changed himself into a baby, and cried from the middle of the fire. The women were all unmarried, and, desiring a baby very much, they -snatched him out of the fire. They reared him, and he grew rapidly. Within four days he could walk, in four days more he could speak, and likewise in a short time he became half grown. In the house were four baskets, with lids, made of cottonwood-bark, which the women told Coyote not to open. One day the women were out gathering firewood, and, when they came home, Coyote was crying. They asked him why he cried, and he answered, "I am always cold at nights. I should be warm if you would take me to sleep with you." That night they took him to bed with them. Next morning when the women went to bathe, they discovered some loose hair on their thighs, and wondered how it could have got there. They said it looked like Coyote's hair, but they thought it impossible that Coyote could have been in bed with them. That night, before going to bed, they all put pitch on their thighs. Again Coyote had connection with them, and the following morning, when they went to wash, they discovered very much of Coyote's hair sticking to the pitch. They said, "Our enemy, Coyote, must be around; but how could he be in bed with us without our knowing it?" Now the women went out to gather firewood, and when they had got out of sight, Coyote opened the lids of the four baskets. A cloud of blow-flies issued from the first, sand-flies from the second, horse-flies from the third, and wasps from the fourth. Then Coyote broke the dam, and let the salmon ascend the river. He said. "Henceforth there shall be no dam here, and the salmon will always ascend the river at this time of year without obstruction. They shall always be accompanied by blow-flies, sand-flies, horse-flies, and wasps, all of which shall appear, and continue to be numerous, during the salmon season." Now Coyote kept in advance of the salmon, and conducted them up the river and its tributaries. He had as his companion the Seal, who was a native of the coast. When he was yet some way below the falls of Columbia River. he pushed the Seal into the water, and transformed him, saying, `Henceforth you will be a common seal, and sometimes will come as far as this place." At the Falls of Columbia, Coyote remained a considerable time. Here he married the daughter of the Elk, who bore him a daughter. The latter grew very fast, like all the ancients, and soon became pubescent. About that time the mother found out that her husband was really Coyote, and made up her mind to leave him. Coyote knew this, and, taking his daughter, he said, "Henceforth this place will be called Nsu´pEh, and salmon will be caught here in great numbers." Coyote's daughter may still be seen just as she fell into the river. She sits there, half reclining, with legs outspread and knees above water. The water runs over her thighs. With a freshet, her head only can be seen. Below this place the river is very still, and salmon congregate here in large numbers. Now Coyote conducted the salmon up to the head waters of the Columbia, making many fishing-places on the way. He found many places where the river was so obstructed that the salmon could not ascend. These barriers he kicked down, leaving only canyons in their place.

When ascending Similkameen River, he found a barrier on that stream. Here he saw four girls bathing across the river, and called to them, asking if they desired any back of the humpback salmon. They said to one another, "He addresses us in the NLak.a´pamux language. What does he ask us?" Four times he asked them, and at last one of them answered, "No; we desire the back of the head of the mountain sheep." If she had answered, "Yes," he would have thrown his penis into the girl, as he had done on the Thompson River. Coyote was angry, and said, "Very well! You shall have your wish. I will not remove this barrier, and you will have to wear out your moccasins traveling to Thompson or Okanagan River before you get salmon to eat." This is the reason why salmon cannot be got in Similka-meen: and why mountain sheep are very numerous in that country. The Similkameen people had to go to Okanagan River, Columbia River, and Thompson and Fraser Rivers to get salmon. Afterwards Coyote traveled into Montana and Idaho, and all through the Kootenai country, where he performed many wonderful feats. Returning, he took up his abode in the Kalispelm country, where he lived several years. He tried to get a wife there, but did not succeed.

The following variants were obtained from an old NLak.a´pamux'o´e of Lytton: Long ago all the tribes throughout the interior had no salmon in their respective countries. Only the Coast people had salmon. They kept them for themselves by means of dams or weirs across the streams. Coyote broke the dams of these people on the Columbia and Fraser Rivers, and conducted the salmon up all the larger streams of the interior. He ordained that hence-forth salmon should ascend into the interior each year; and the broken dams he transformed into rocks, which at the present day form canyons on the Fraser and Columbia Rivers.

The four boxes of the women who owned the dam across Fraser River contained flies, wasps, smoke, and wind. The wind blew the smoke, flies, and wasps up after the salmon and Coyote. This is the reason why flies, wasps, and smoke appear during the salmon season, and why the winds at that season always blow up-river.

Some people say the locality where the great dam preventing salmon from coming up, which was broken by Coyote, was not near the mouth of Fraser River, but in the Canyon at Hell's Gate (between North Bend and Spuzzum). Others place it a little above Yale.

Taken from: Myths and Tales from Nicola Valley and Fraser River collected by James Alexander Teit, 1911

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