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How the Columbia River Came to Be

An excerpt from ‘How the Columbia River Came to Be’ by Marilyn James, Sinixt elder and storyteller.

This story is about a time long ago, so long ago that there was no Columbia River and next to nothing alive on the landscape.

Sin-ka-lip (Coyote) was wandering around looking for something to eat, but all he could find was a Coyote’s Breakfast: a drink of water and a look around. Then, his radar indicated that there was a beautiful woman in the vicinity.

Now, Coyote was a real scoundrel and a scamp, especially when it came to women. He believed himself to be quite debonair but was actually creepy and repulsive. His hair stood on end, he had an uncontrollable thumping of the hind leg and he drooled heavily.

So when he saw a beautiful woman named Rain, it was hard to imagine that he had a chance in the world to get her attention. But for all his flaws, Coyote had a way about him. He began to sing a magical love song to Rain. And in spite of herself, Rain fell deeply, head-over-heels in love with the despicable Coyote. As he sang his love song, Coyote promised Rain a gift if she shared her own gift with him.

Knowing that she was irrevocably in love with Coyote and that there was nothing she could do about it, Rain reached into her chest, tore her heart from her breast and cast it down. Where her heart landed and her heart’s blood seeped became the headwaters of the Columbia River.

As Coyote continued to sing his love song, Rain cradled him in a warm,wet embrace and together, they began to travel across the landscape. Eventually, the two of them found their way into the land of Rain’s cousin, Ocean.

“To me Coyote actually embodies the human condition,” says Marilyn James. “We are capable of some pretty miraculous behaviour, but we can rarely get beyond ourselves to perform at anything other than our most mundane capacities. We almost wouldn’t be human if we weren’t fallible, frustrating and endearing. Like Coyote.”

 

Ol’ Wooden Head

In 1940, while working at a tent construction camp at Mile 80, Peter Fuoco noticed a large cedar stump with an unusual facial shape. The stump intrigued him so much that he visualized that it could carve it into a useful character with a pensive personality and rugged features. In his evenings and other spare time roughed it out with a sharp double-bitted axe and finally finished it using shaped wood chisels. He even had to perform “plastic surgery” to replace some rotten sections with carefully fitted wood inserts. A sign was posted beside it warning drivers:
“DON’T BE WOODEN HEADED, DRIVE CAREFULLY, YOU’LL LOVE TO ENJOY THE SCENERY MORE AND LONGER”
The supervising engineer was so impressed with the sculpture that he ordered it be moved 18 miles to Boat Encampment for the Opening Ceremony of the New Big Bend Highway. Upon completion of the trans-Canada highway the “head” was moved to Revelstoke. It now rests in a gazebo on the south side of the highway on the east side of the river near the trans-Canada highway bridge

The S.S. Revelstoke from a 1903 Tourist Brochure

“One of the finest holiday trips that can be obtained is that by steamer “Revelstoke” into the heart of the Big
Bend. Four miles above the city the steamer enters the Columbia River Canyon, one of the grandest scenes to be found in inland navigable waters. The pretty little steamer which makes the trip walled in by rocks on every side, their horizon canopied by beautiful trees – fir, cedar, hemlock. The rushing waters of the river boil and surge between the rocky walls, as if defying the steamer in her efforts to pass through the gates that Vulcan has here forged to guard the vaults of Nature in the beyond.”
“Passengers sleep the night on board the steamer, which furnishes first class bedding and state-room accommodation at a charge of $1.00 per berth. The steamer also provides an excellent cuisine, the charge for meals being 50 cents. The fare for the round trip to Laporte below Death Rapids is $5.00.”