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Wishpoosh


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According to the Nez Percé Indians of Washington, the beaver monster Wishpoosh refused to allow anyone to fish. Whenever a person came to the lake where he dwelt, he seized the fisherman with his giant claws and dragged him to the bottom. So it was that the Nez Percés asked the trickster god Coyote for help. Coyote fashioned a huge spear with a long, strong handle, and fastened it to his wrist with a flaxen cord. Then he went to the lake to catch some fish.

Wishpoosh seized the trickster god but received a lunge from the long spear. At the bottom of the lake Wishpoosh and Coyote fought so fiercely that the surrounding mountains drew themselves back. When the beaver monster strove to escape downstream Coyote speared him firmly enough to be borne along with him. Their titanic struggle widened rivers, tore through hillsides, and created immense gorges. Having gained the Pacific shore, Wishpoosh plunged into the waves, seizing whales and eating them to renew his strength, while Coyote paused for a rest. Cunning and change assisted the tired champion. He turned himself into a branch of fir and floated out to Wishpoosh, who inadvertently swallowed him. Inside the beaver monster's stomach, Coyote changed himself back into his animal shape and assaulted the heart with a sharp knife. He hacked and hacked till Wishpoosh was dead.

Out of the enormous corpse Coyote created a new race of people. They were the Indians of the north-western coast and forest: the Chinook, the Klickitat, the Yakima, and the Nez Percé. What Coyote forgot to do in this flurry of creation was to give these tribes eyes and mouths. Later he realized his error and put it right, but his knife had become so dull that he made some of the mouths crooked and some too large. This accounts, say the Nez Percé Indians, for their ugly mouths.

Subjects: Religion.


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