“LONG TIME AGO in the beginning of the world, Honne came to earth. No one knows where he came from. And as the country was new and strange to him he decided to travel about and see what he could find.”
Thus begins the Chehalis Indian legend of Honne, the creator of people and animals, as related in “Honne: The Spirit of the Chehalis”, by Katherine Van Winkle Palmer, W.F. Humphrey Press, Geneva N.Y. 1925. The various species of salmon and trout were extremely important to the Chehalis people, and the legends of the tribe tell fascinating tales of how Honne created these fishes. Honne named the different kinds of salmon and told each the streams they would inhabit and the seasons of their lives. The following is an abbreviated account of the creation of the salmon from the legends of the Chehalis people.
Cowlitz First Salmon Ceremony, Photo Unknown
When Honne came to earth he found that the people were living like animals, so he decided to exchange the lives of people and animals. As Honne travels the banks of the Chehalis River, he meets several people who have caught a salmon. Honne changes each of these persons into a crane and takes the salmon. After cooking and eating the first salmon Honne said: “‘Now I will name the salmon.’ And he called it Thowsh or Thatssocub. He threw the salmon backbone in the river and told it to go up the river. Honne said to it ‘You will be food for the people. You will go up the river to the riffles and spawn and raise a thousand fish.’
Fresh Salmon Meal
The backbone of the fish said to Honne ‘After we spawn what shall we do?’
Honne replied ‘After you spawn, you will go back to the ocean where you will become fat and bright again. Once every year at a certain time you will go up the river. That is your work to do for the people.’”
Honne met another fisher with a salmon and after turning him into a crane:
“Honne picked up the salmon which had lain in the gravel. He built a fire from drift wood, fixed the salmon and cooked it. After it was cooked and he had eaten all he wanted, he took the backbone of the fish and said ‘Your name will be Twahtwat, the black salmon.’
From ashes rise.
backbone said ‘What time of the year will I come up the river?’
And Honne answered ‘You will come up in the fall. You will not stay long but will work fast while you are here for the other salmon will have come ahead of you. When you finish you will go back to the ocean and then you will be young again.’
Black salmon went in the river and Honne traveled on.”
Soon Honne took a third salmon from another crane:
“Then Honne built another fire and cooked the salmon which he ate and as before he took the backbone and said to it ‘Your name is Skawitz, silverside salmon. This is as far as you will come up the river, and you will work in the creeks and never in the river. When you are thru you will go back again to the ocean and become young again.’ Skawitz said ‘How will I work?’
Riffles of the Chehlis River.
Honne said ‘You will lay eggs and cover them on the gravel.’
The fish asked ‘Will any place do?’
Honne answered ‘No, you must put them on a riffle because there are many other fish who will eat them.’
Silverside said ‘But won’t the other fish eat them on the riffle?’ ‘No.’ Honne said, ‘because the other fish do not work on the riffles. They work up and down the river but they do not stay on the riffles.’
‘Won’t the eggs float downstream?’ asked the fish. ‘No.’ said Honne, ‘because grandmother* will take care of the eggs.’ (*Grandmother is a small creature who is supposed to hold the eggs between the rocks.)
Silverside could not understand how it was done so Honne got down on the gravel and dove under the water on the riffle. He kicked the gravel with his feet; each time that he kicked he dropped two or three eggs off his hands and as he laid the eggs he sang,
“Under the gravel,
Under the sand,
You lay, and
Grandmother will take care of you.’
The eggs went under the gravel and lay there. They were to lie there so many days before they would become fish. And Honne told the eggs that they must not leave the fish until they were able to swim. He told them that when the fish grew up they must come each year to the same place. After they were hatched they must go up the creeks and stay one year. In the spring of the year they must go to the ocean but each year they must come back again. Those that go to the creeks for the first year are akalade, mountain trout. They are one year old, and from three to four inches in length. After three years they are large and are then bull trout. The fourth year they are salmon.
Silverside said ‘My feet will wear out if I kick the gravel as hard as that.’
Honne answered ‘They will grow so long that you will have to wear them out anyway. And when you go down to the ocean they will grow out again.’ This satisfied Silversides and he started down the river.”
Honne obtained the fourth salmon from yet another crane:
“He went further up the river and cooked the salmon which he carried with him. He ate it and then took the backbone and said to it ‘You will be Squawahee, steelhead salmon. You will always go further up the river than any of the other salmon, and you will have a longer life than the other fishes.’
The fish asked ‘What time of year will I come up the river?’ Honne told him that he would come up in the fall of the year and stay all winter and that he would spawn in the spring of the year. When the pheasant began to drum then it would be time for the steelhead to spawn.
Honne started down the river. The first creek he came to he fished. In it he caught silverside salmon, but no other kind. He told the little creek that hereafter it must give up the silverside salmon. ‘But,’ said the Creek ‘when the fish come up, will they come only here? If they do I will call for rain and it will raise the waters so that the salmon can not tell one creek from another.’
To which Honne said ‘I have told them when and where they are to hatch and that is the way they must do it.’
Honne went on to another creek and fished. There he caught silversides, blacksalmon, steelhead and chinook. He was satisfied and went on to another creek. In that he did not catch anything. He went to the head of the creek and asked it why it did not give him any of the fish. The creek answered that it did not like to give up the fish because they would be killed and eaten.
Honne said he would give the creek another chance so he took a dip net and fished. After some time he caught a silverside, and he said ‘That is all that will ever be in this creek.’ So he continued on. He came to a slough near the river at Choshed* meaning the star that fell (*Grand Mound) He sat down by the slough and gazed for a long time in the clear water.
Cut Throat Trout.
After awhile he noticed a fish swimming in the water. He could not see what it was and tried to get closer but could not make it out. He then said to it ‘Come up I want to see you.’ The fish came up to Honne.
Honne said ‘Oh yes I know you now. I had forgotten. You will be the chief of the fish. Your name is Klahwhi, dog salmon. This is as far as you will go up the river. You will come up the river quickly and go back quickly. Your life will be short.’ And Honne gave the fish a striped blanket, which was made of cedar bark and dyed with alder. That is the coat of colors which the fish still wears.”