Oregon Focus: Native American Legends: Bridge of the Gods

About the Bridge of the Gods Legend

mountain as sun rises
Mt. Hood—known in Indian legend as Wyeast. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
According to Puyallup tribal lore*, "long ago a huge landslide of rocks roared into the Columbia River near Cascade Locks and eventually formed a natural stone bridge that spanned the river. The bridge came to be called Tamanawas Bridge, or Bridge of the Gods. In the center of the arch burned the only fire in the world, so of course the site was sacred to Native Americans. They came from north, south, west, and east to get embers for their own fires from the sacred fire.

A wrinkled old woman, Loowitlatkla, 'Lady of Fire,' lived in the center of the arch, tending the fire. Loowit, as she was called, was so faithful in her task, and so kind to the Indians who came for fire, that she was noticed by the great chief Tyee Sahale. He had a gift he had given to very few others—among them his sons Klickitat and Wyeast—and he decided to offer this gift to Loowit as well. The gift he bestowed on Loowit was eternal life. But Loowit wept, because she did not want to live forever as an old woman. Sahale could not take back the gift, but he told Loowit he could grant her one wish. Her wish, to be young and beautiful, was granted, and the fame of her wondrous beauty spread far and wide.

One day Wyeast came from the land of the Multnomahs in the south to see Loowit. Just as he arrived at Tamanawas Bridge, his brother Klickitat came thundering down from the north. Both brothers fell in love with Loowit, but she could not choose between them. Klickitat and Wyeast had a tremendous fight. They burned villages. Whole forests disappeared in flames.

Sahale watched all of this fury and became very angry. He frowned. He smote Tamanawas Bridge, and it fell in the river where it still boils in angry protest. He smote the three lovers, too; but, even as he punished them, he loved them. So, where each lover fell, he raised up a mighty mountain. Because Loowit was beautiful her mountain (St. Helens) was a symmetrical cone, dazzling white. Wyeast's mountain (Mount Hood) still lifts his head in pride. Klickitat , for all his rough ways, had a tender heart. As Mount Adams, he bends his head in sorrow, weeping to see the beautiful maiden Loowit wrapped in snow."

Suggestions for Teachers

mountain with yellow, orange, pink, purple, and blue sunset
Mt. Adams–known in Indian legend as Klickitat. (Oregon State Archives Photo)
Ask students to:
Make a topographical map of Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, and the Columbia River area.
Make a relief map of the area of the mountains. (Modeling mixture: 2 cups salt, 1 cup flour, 1 cup water. Mix until smooth and pliable. Form on a piece of plywood. Paint when dry.)
Discuss the formation of the Cascade Mountains.
Consider how the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 fits in with the Native American legend.
Study scientific explanations related to the Bridge of the Gods.
Learn how legends vary. Choose a short story. Select 3 or 4 children. The first child reads the story or has the story read to him/her. He/she tells the story to a second student while the class listens [the selected student does not hear the story until his/her turn comes]. The second student repeats the story to the third, the third to the fourth. The teacher reads the story and the class discusses how it has changed by being retold.
Make up a legend about something in their own community. For example:

  • Pacific Ocean -- Why the waves never stop
  • Snake River -- Why the river is called the Snake
  • Why it rains so much in the Willamette Valley


*Tribal lore information courtesy of LaVerne Kearns.

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