The masters of the tale “The Bridge of the Gods” were the Klickitats, passing the story down from parent to child for surprisingly few generations. Most tales explaining the world date back to time immemorial, but a survey from the Department of Natural resources dated the landslide that inspired this tale to about 700 years ago.(1) This may seem like a long time, but as Columbus set foot in the Bahamas, the tale was young as legends determine time; only a scant two hundred years had passed by.
The Klickitats were a fierce people, adept hunters, and master basket weavers. A Shahaptian tribe, they spoke a dialect very close to that of their neighbors, the Yakamas and the Chinook. It was believed that they migrated from the Rocky mountains, pressured by the Cayuse people into leaving their lands, and inhabited areas of South Central Washington, in the deep shadows of the Eastern Cascades. Trade was common with their Eastern neighbors, the Yakamas, but it took some time for such activities to commence with the white settlers. (2) They intermarried often, and a few of the tribal leaders of the Yakama were in fact part Klickitat. Soon, they became culturally similar to the Yakama people. In 1805, Lewis and Clark first encountered and documented the tribe. Soon it was discoved that they were one of the trading intermediaries of the Columbia Plateau, connecting the trade from the coast to the interior mountains. Early in the 1850's, they crossed the river and raided Fort Jackson in North Central Oregon and settled the land. But it was not long until June 9, 1855. Along with fourteen other tribes, they signed the Yakima Treaty and ceded all of their lands to the government. As a result, they are so very entwined with the Yakama people that it is near impossible to determine how many Klickitat are still alive. (3)
They were master basket weavers, with fine examples of their art on display in several museums. In fact, the baskets, made from coiled cedar root, were so common in the Columbia River basin that they were called “Klickitat Baskets.” (4) Though they were indeed made by the Klickitats, such baskets were also created by other Plateau tribes.
Although the story can be traced back to Klickitat origins, many variations have been uncovered over time. In the course of my research, I encountered no less than four different versions of the story, and though not my favorite version, the story that was chosen to be illustrated can be attributed to Lulu Crandall. She was a historian of the Dalles area and was very close to the Klickitat people.
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