Why The Indian Fears Golden Hair.
Occasionally, while on his round of visitation for provisions, he could be induced to speak of his race; but of their folk lore not a word would he say until he saw one day what he believed to be an apparition from the legend past.
It seems that one of the settlers of the "district of Champoeg," upon whom the Indian sometimes called for charity, had a daughter blessed with long, luxuriant, golden hair; few there were so endowed among the pioneers, and she was the first the old Indian had looked upon. As she stepped out upon the sward in front of the cabin, a look of consternation came over the face of the Indian, and for a moment his hunger was forgotten, and supplanted by a desire to propitiate the will of the spirit he believed her to be - Wah-se-ak-li, the sorceress; and, with as rapid and active a dance as his aged limbs could perform, accompanied by a low and weird chant, began to circle around her. It was now the turn of the young lady to think of evil, and that "the devil" had become possessed of the Indian; and she hurriedly fled within the cabin for safety. The commotion brought the practical mother upon the scene, who, in the course of the Indian's explanation of his conduct, induced him to relate some "society happenings" antedating the advent of the paleface.
His story was to the effect that in the long, long ago, or "Wee-tee-tash" age, the earth was peopled by beings possessing the powers known to the mythological deities of the ancients. The greatest of these gods was Speelyia, and to him was attributed the creation of the Indians, one of whom so captivated him by her graces that he took her to wife, the result of the union being two sons. These, after arriving at man's estate, became enamored of the same woman, the goddess referred to.
The elder of the sons was proud, cold and cruel, his highest aspiration being to lead his fellows upon the warpath against the people of neighboring nations; ever fomenting trouble, where Speelyia endeavored to plant the seed of amity and good-will.
The younger lived a life of ease by captivating his listeners through his suavity of manners, coupled with songs of praise of their prowess, virtues and what joy the future had in store for them.
As each in their turn pressed his suit, it was in keeping with the bent of his mind. One related the heroisms of the warrior, the perils of successful chase; yea, how he would the very gods defy. As his flow of language portrayed martial action, the flash of fire in his listener's eye seemed to kindle for the fray; the look of determination, and the hand almost ready to clasp the arm of the speaker, would indicate that bravery had won the cause. But no; her changeful mood would make her bid him wait, and, with fleetness of foot, she was soon far up the mountain-side, turning only to smile on the disconcerted lover, and then she is lost to view behind the rugged cliffs. In her look at vanishing the warrior believed he saw cause for the picturing of "hope" in the river sands at his feet.
The younger brother sought by his praises and gift of flattery to win the prize; well-rounded sentences caused pleasure to make merry with each throb of heart, and send its blood to suffuse breast and brow with blushes; still, the wearer of the golden hair would make no promises, nor yet linger for continuing plea, but was away, leaving the echoes of sweetest laughter to beguile him into belief that his happy hour was not far distant. To drive dull care away did she appear to each in turn, only to prove their longings vain as oft as their vows were spoken.
A knowledge of the matter was brought to the notice of Speelyia, who sought to bring about the release of his sons from her influence, but he found that all efforts in such direction were frustrated through the faith they entertained of their ultimate success in winning her. At last he induced them to go with him, when he would demand from her a settlement of the issue, each son agreeing to abide by the decision obtained with the best of good-will. At this time Speelyia was living far up the Chuck-a-lil-um - the Indian name of the Columbia - and, in order to make sure that the goddess, who lived further down, would be at home on his arrival, he caused a violent wind and rain to gather and sent it down-stream, knowing that at its coming she would seek and remain under cover during its continuance, for to allow her hair to get wet would deprive her of her power of enchantment. Following the storm, echoing from cliff to cliff in its mad flight through the gorges, came the yet more angry god, intent upon requiring Wah-se-ak-li to marry one or the other of his sons, or pronounce the doom of both of them.
On arriving at her habitation, Speelyia commanded the storm to stand aloof, and in its stead bathed the scene with sunshine. Thinking this was done to honor her, and that the young men had brought their father, the greatest god of all, to admire and perchance fall victim to her wiles, she ventured forth as though already a conqueror; but the illusion was quickly dispelled by Speelyia's demanding in a voice of thunder that she put an end to past actions and plainly state her preferment between her suitors and go with the favored one to his lodge, or decline a union with either of them. Woman was ever given to delay when such a question arises, and she was no exception to the rule; so, with the consent of Speelyia, she went for a ride in her canoe to deliberate, as she told him, but in reality with hope of escaping. As the waves rose high before her to bar further progress, and the clouds gathering darkness and threatening rain, she saw it was useless to put off the inevitable, and returned to the shore.
Being again pressed for definite answer, and in language unsuited to her tastes, she forgot prudence, and in scorn replied: "My ancestors were of the gods, your sons of earth; the eagle mates not with a dog."
Seeing that her reply had aroused the ire of Speelyia to such an extent that he was likely to harm her, she sought to evade its infliction by flight; but he proved to be on the alert and quicker of movement than herself, and before she had reached more than half the distance to the mountain's crest she was seized by him, and with a determination on his part that such hour should be her last; but voices on the river bank caused him to stop, and upon finding that his sons left behind had, through jealousy of each other, begun to fight, he felt he must first go to them. The rolling of a stone upon the hair of the goddess which she could not remove was but the work of a moment, and he returned to the contest below. Upon separating his sons, imagine his feelings to hear them accuse him of being the author of all their sorrows and curse him for his treatment of the object of their affections, swearing to be avenged upon him by inciting rebellion among the people, one to gather and convince by flattery, the other to lead to battle. This unfilial language so enraged Speelyia that the solicitude of the father was blotted out by the god's judgment upon such conduct, and through the powers he possessed pronounced the punishment he deemed as just.
The boaster he willed should become a towering rock, standing alone and with sides so abrupt that his spirit could not descend from its peak, and so lofty that assistance could not reach from below; that the only voices to allure should be the roar of the storm overhead and the sound of the river beneath in its rush to the sea.
The flatterer was condemned to inhabit a rock some distance away, on the opposite shore, and the only diversion allowed him was power to imbue those passing with a feeling that good or ill would cross their trail in the future. During the time of Speelyia's absence the goddess had tried to escape, but in vain; in her endeavors to free herself she had loosened the earth and rocks beneath her so that they had fallen far away, leaving her suspended to the top of the cliff thus formed. On the return of the god, she plead for mercy; but to her cries he gave no heed. Still, as he looked upon her golden tresses falling in graceful, waving folds, the idea that they should be preserved could not be put out of mind, and with his stone knife he severed them from her head and fastened them to the top of the bluff, at the same time willing that they should become a cataract, to burst forth and lend luster to the grandeur around, and also serve as a warning to future generations to have some regard for constancy and for the feelings of others. Behind the fall he imprisoned the sorceress, and in the roar and splash of the waters can be heard the moan of a soul bewailing a fate enduring forever.
As tourists are borne along by Columbia's unsurpassed scenery, little do they know or dream that their eyes rest upon the links of the Indian's story; that the golden tresses which gave Wah-se-ak-li the power of enchantment are preserved to them in Multnomah's falls; not as they were at first, a continuous fall; time and the wear of the water having worn the bluff away so that now into two it is divided; that high on Castle Rock dwells the spirit of the mighty warrior of the long-dead past; not yet will they imagine that there is confined in Rooster Rock below a spirit which could their future foretell. The Indians, however, will relate the story as told as a true one, and a whole drove of "white horses" will not banish from their belief that in golden hair dwells enchantment such as is the gift of the sorceress.