Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Legend ... Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, Oregon"
Includes ... Bridge of the Gods ...
Image, 2010, South Support, Bridge of the Gods, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
South Support, Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Image taken October 18, 2010.

Bridge of the Gods ...
On the south support structure of the Bridge of the Gods is a wonderful large mural showing the legend, local wildlife, and historical events of the Bonneville Landslide and the Cascade Rapids, the Cascade Locks, and the Bridge of the Gods area. The mural was completed in May 2002. The artist was Larry Kangas. There is a legend behind the "Bridge of the Gods".

The Legend ...
Various versions of the "Bridge of the Gods" legend exist, all with a common theme of volcanoes and a land bridge. The most common version given has it that the sons of Old Coyote, Wy’east (Mount Hood) and Pahto (Mount Adams), were powerful braves both in love with a maiden (Mount St. Helens). Because they crossed the “Bridge of the Gods” to fight over their love for her, Old Coyote collapsed the land bridge to keep his sons from fighting.

Image, 2010, South Support, Bridge of the Gods, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Legend, South Support, Bridge of the Gods, Cascade Locks, Oregon. Image taken October 18, 2010.

1912 ...
One version of the legend is given in Katharine Berry Judson's Myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest, especially of Washington and Oregon, published in 1912.

The Bridge of the Gods

"... Long ago, when the world was new, Tyhee Sahale with his two sons, came down Great River. They came near where the Dalles now are. The land was very beautiful and each son wanted it. Therefore they quarrelled. Then Sahale took his bow and shot two arrows. One he shot to the north; the other he shot to the west. Then Sahale said to his sons, "Go. Find the arrows. Where they lie, you shall have the land."

One son went north over the plain to the country of the Klickitats. He was the first grandfather of the Klickitats. The other son followed the arrow to the Willamette Valley. He was the first grandfather of the Multnomahs.

Then Sahale raised great mountains between the country of the Klickitats and the country of the Multnomahs. This he did that the tribes might not quarrel. White men call them the Cascade Mountains. But Great River was deep and broad. The river was a sign of peace between the tribes. Therefore Sahale made a great stone bridge over the river, that the tribews might be friends. This was called the Bridge of the Tomanowos.

The tribes grew, but they did evil things. They displeased Tyhee Sahale. Therefore the sun ceased to shine, and cold and snow appeared. The people were unhappy for they had no fire. Only Loo-wit had fire. Therefore the people sought to steal the fire of Loo-wit. The Loo-wit fled and because the runners were stiff with cold, they could not catch her.

Then Loo-wit told Sahale of the need of the Indians. Loo-with said the Indians were cold. So Sahale gave fire to the people. Thus Sahale built a fire on the bridge of the gods, and there the people secured fire. Sahale also promised to Loo-wit eternal youth and beautry. Thus Loo-wit became a beautiful maiden.

Then began the chiefs to love Loo-wit. Many chiefs loved her because she was so beautiful. Then came two more chiefs, Klickitat from the north and Wiyeast from the west. To neither would Loo-wit give an answer. Therefore the chiefs fought, and their people also fought. Thus did they anger Sahale. Therefore, because blood was shed and because Great River was no longer a sign of peace, Sahale broke down the tomanowos illahee. Great rocks fell into the river. They are there even to this day. When the water is quiet, buried forests can be seen even to this day. Thus Sahale destroyed the bridge of the gods. Thus the tribes were separated by Great River.

Then Sahale made of Loo-wit, Klickitat, and Wiyeast snow peaks. Always they were to be cold and covered with ice and snow. White men call them Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood. ..."

Source:    Katharine Berry Judson, 1912, Myths and legends of the Pacific Northwest, especially of Washington and Oregon.

1885 ...
Another version of The Legend was given in the 1885 publication "History of Clarke County, Washington Territory", by B.F. Alley and J.P. Munro-Fraser, published in Portland, Oregon, 1885. This verson tells of how the "natural bridge" spanning the Columbia was collapsed to bring the salmon to the surface so the Indians might fish.

The Bridge of the Gods

"... One of the most remarkable tales which the old men along the Columbia told to the whites, was that in regard to a natural bridge across the river at the Cascades, and on this the evidence of all tribes is so clear that it leaves little doubt in the minds of those who have examined the matter, but that their story or prophecy is true. The legend is simply this -- In the days of the great-great-grandfathers of the old men of 1830 which would be somewhere in 1500, a natural bridge spanned the Columbia river at the Cascades where the "tumwater" now is. At that time the water flowed under the bridge undisturbed by the rapids, and there was no occasion for the salmon in their passage up the river to come to the surface or leap into the air. The consequence was that the fish remained down deep in the stream and the Indians could not catch them. Neighboring tribes came to this bridge and crossed over it, and it was so solidly arched that it seemed as if it would stand for ever. Disturbance, however, took place between the tribes both up and down the stream and the consequence was that the people at the Cascades being deprived of their salmon were on the point of starvation. They had always been faithful and obedient to the Great Spirit and in the day of their need He had forgotten them. He signified to the prophets of the great-great-grandfathers of the old men of 1830, that He would come to their aid and would bring the salmon to the surface and compel them to leap into the air that they might be speared and captured. Accordingly he stirred up enmity between Mounts Hood and St. Helens, and the two went to war. They showered ashes and hurled thunderbolts at each other. The sky was black with smoke and the heavens were pierced with lightnings that leaped between the warring mountains; the earth and river rose to an unatural height; the Indians fled to the hill-tops in dismay; the contest redoubled, and again the earth shook; a great crash was heard, the natural bridge fell down, and the whole disturbance was stopped. When the Indians returned to the Cascades they found that the deep fathomless channel which carried off the waters before and allowed the salmon to pass their camp scot-free, was filled with bowlders and great rocks and a magnificent " tumwater " was in this way formed, over which the salmon leaped, and never afterwards was there scarcity in the camp. ..."

Source:    Alley, B.F., and Munro-Fraser, J.P., 1885, "History of Clarke County, Washington Territory", Portland, Oregon.

1860 ...
Two versions of The Legend were found in the July 21, 1860 Scientific American, found online at the U.S. Library of Congress, American Memories website (2007). Both of these versions have Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood as a married couple. The Submerged Forest upstream of the Cascades Rapids is mentioned as possible proof.


The following interesting article is from the Des Moines (Iowa) Commonwealth: "Mount Baker and Mount St. Helens, in Washington territory, are active volcanoes; the former smokes considerably, and occasionally shows a red light at night. St. Helens smokes a very little, the smoke in the day-time resembling a thin column of white steam. There has been no eruption of St. Helens since 1842, at which time it covered the country with ashes to the Dalles, distant one hundred miles. Great streams of hardened lava are found in various places in Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams, and probably near the other sister volcanic peaks. Mount St. Helens and Mount Baker are the only active volcanoes on the American soil, unless Mount Shasta (which sometimes smokes a little, but not enough for the smoke to be seen from the foot of the mountain) be added to them. Mounts Hood, Rainer, Jefferson and Adams were undoubtedly volcanoes once, but they are now extinct. In a paper contributed by George Gibbs to the documents relating to the survey for a northern Pacific railroad, he says the Indians have a characteristic tale relating to Mounts Hood and St. Helens, that they were formerly man and wife, but they quarreled, and threw fire at each other, and that St. Helens was the victor, since when Mount Hood has been afraid, while Mount Helens, having a stout heart, still burns. There was still a further tradition among the Indians, when the writer was in Oregon, that Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, were connected by a continuous ridge or chain, and that the Columbia river, which runs between them, had a subterranean passage at the point known as the 'Cascades.' The Columbia then had a smooth, even course, under an immense arch of the mountain, but that unfortunate matrimonial difficulty above referred to did not end in throwing fire; they also broke down the conjugal arch, which fell with a thundering crash into the river, and formed the 'Cascades.' The 'Cascades' are from one to two miles in length, and have a fall of about twenty feet per mile. Their appearance would indicate that there might be some truth in the tradition, and that it occurred at no very distant period -- perhaps within the last century. The opinion is sustained by the geological formation above the 'Cascades,' where the river spreads out and becomes a lake, some twenty miles in length and several in breadth. The bottom of the lake in many places is covered with a heavy growth of timber standing upright, in the exact condition it grew, no doubt, and reaching to the top of the water, say from 20 to 30 feet. The tops of the trees have long since disappeared, making the surface of the lake, at low water, look like a clearing full of stumps. On examination, the wood was found to be quite sound below the water. An answer to the question, how long has the forest been submerged ? might also fix the period when these volcanoes became extinct."

Source:    Scientific American, July 21, 1860, courtesy U.S. Library of Congress, American Memories website, 2007.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 1, 1805 ...

Columbia River GorgeReturn to

*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    see Bridge of the Gods for sources;   

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
November 2018