Native Folklore

Mount St Helens is home to a rich history of native folklore.

Coyote Goes to the Land of the Dead to be With His Children

Told by Jim Yoke, 1927

There were a great many people dwelling there. The son of Coyote became ill, and died. After that, the daughter of Coyote was there, she wept because of her younger brother, and she became ill from crying, the shamans treated her, and then she died. Coyote wept because of his son and daughter, all day through Coyote stayed so, and then he thought, “I will follow them.” He went to a land far, far away.

He came to where there were great numbers of people, there were those people who had died. There his son and daughter gave him food, there he remained. This is what he said to them, “I will never go back home.” His daughter said to him, “You must go back home.” His son said to him, “Indeed you must go home.” He replied, “Oh no!” His daughter said to him, “No no! Indeed you must go home. Why should you remain?” His son spoke similarly to him. “Indeed you must go home. Why should you remain?”

Then he replied, “Very well. I will go back home.” So they filled his pack for him, they closed the top of it, they made it tight shut for him. “You are not to open it under any circumstances until you have arrived there.” He packed it, and then he went away.

He went far, far, far away. Then he became hungry, and that pack was heavy. He thought, “I wonder what sort of food they prepared in this pack for me.” He took off the pack, and there he opened it, he had it completely open. Then he went on, but he had left his son and daughter, they had placed spirits in it, that was what he had been carrying along.

Coyote had been thinking, “They prepared food for me.” He had been told, “You must never open it anywhere until you have arrived at home.” Coyote thought about it, but he had become hungry. “I wonder what sort of food my daughter and son prepared for me, I do wonder what food they prepared for me.” He did become hungry. “I will eat before going further.” He took down the pack, loosened it completely, opened it right up like that. They all started away, daughter, son, and other different persons. Hastily he covered it over, he cried out to them, “Come back, my son! come back, my daughter!” Then Coyote went away, and proceeded towards home.

“I will defecate before going further now. What was it that I just did?” He had his two younger sisters, he had defecated and asked the sisters, “You will explain to me what it was I did.” They told him, “Make up your mind about it yourself! You will be saying, that is exactly what I had been forgetting.” Coyote made “pt’pt’pt”‘ at them, “ta’miyu-ta’miyu-ta’miyu.”

“Don’t! don’t! older brother! we’ll explain. What had been packed in it for you was dead people, that was what you were carrying along, you were taking your daughter, and your son, and also a number of other people. Your daughter and your son had told you, ‘Not until you arrived home there.’ That is the way you had been told. When you were to reach home, there you were to loosen it. That was the way it had to be, for had you carried it home, then nevermore would there be death.”

So far now.


The veil between the realms of the living and the dead is very thin and transparent. Many have witnessed to having spirit visits from loved ones who have passed on, while others have visited the departed, i.e.: Saul visiting Samuel via the witch of Endor (Jewish tradition). In the Jewish story it appears to be an evil thing to attempt to conjure up the dead, but numerous other Jewish stories reveal it is a beautiful and wholesome experience when they return of their own free-will. Some desired to even build temples at such sites. The spirit world is all about us. People raised in a materialistic culture have more difficulty sensing the spirit world than do people who grow up in a more mystical culture. This Cowlitz legend is another way of dealing with the question of immortality.