The Multnomah Falls is a waterfall situated not far from Portland in Oregon. It is a local beauty spot which many people visit to see torrents of cool, crystal clear, water cascade over the edge of a cliff to fall over 611 feet in a spectacular cascade. A legend is associated with its creation that tells a story of love, devotion, faith and sacrifice.
Many, many, years ago there was a Native American chief called Multnomah who had a beautiful daughter that he loved more than anything. Having lost his sons in wars he loved and cherished her even more and wanted to be sure when the time came she would have the best possible husband. To meet this goal he spent a lot of time looking over the young men of his own and neighbouring villages for the best possible match. At last he decided that the best husband for his daughter would be a young chief from the Clatsop people who were neighbours. It proved to be very good match and the two quickly developed a deep rapport and fell in love with one another.
Multnomah was pleased and planned to hold a great celebration in honour of the couple. He would invite people from miles around to wish the couple good luck, celebrate the match and take part in all kinds of activities that he would host. There would be singing and dancing, and the young men would compete against each other in contests of archery, wrestling, swimming, canoe racing and naturally there would be feasting. It would be a spectacular and happy event but it did not go as planned.
A terrible sickness came and laid many people low. The children and the old died first but soon even the young and strong were also succumbing to this terrible plague. The chief grew very worried. He called a great council of his elders and sent off for eldest and wisest medicine man in the tribe who lived as a hermit on the mountain. The old medicine man rarely left his mountain home but when a message arrived from Multnomah begging him to come down he knew an important time long prophesized had come. The old medicine man told Chief Multnomah and the council that what he had to say was very grave and troubling but there was no other way to put the situation to right.
He told Multnomah and the council of a prophecy that had been told to him when he was in his youth by his father just before he died at a very great age. His father told him that a time would come when he had lived to a great age when a plague would fall upon the people. There would be no survivors unless an innocent daughter of a chief of the people willingly sacrificed her life to the Great Spirit. This and only this, was the only thing way the people could be saved. The old medicine man then begged leave of the council saying that now the prophecy was revealed it was time for him to die and he went back to the mountain.
When the people heard of the prophecy many of the young maidens of the tribe presented themselves to Chief Multnomah, including his own beloved daughter, offering up themselves as sacrifices. Multnomah was appalled. He could not come to terms with any of the maidens losing their lives and he thought long and hard about what he should do. At last he made a decision and he called a general meeting of the people and explained the situation to them. He told them he would not ask any of the maidens to sacrifice their lives. Instead, he told the people they must be brave and prepare themselves as their forefathers would have done to meet with the inevitable end.
More and more people died and then Multnomah’s daughter again went to her father to ask his permission to sacrifice her life to save the people. Again, he refused and sadly she reluctantly obeyed her him. When the plague struck down the man she loved she knew what she had to do. After nursing and caring for him with all her love and tenderness she slipped out of the village and took the path to the highest cliff.
With her heart beating fast she walked resolutely to the cliff edge and stood looking down at the ragged rocks far, far below. Closing her eyes she called upon the Great Spirit to give her a sign as proof that her sacrifice would bring a halt to the plague. Then she cast her eyes to the skies looking all around for some kind of sign. She saw the sun and she saw the clouds and then she saw the full moon rise in broad daylight on the distant horizon. Accepting this as the sign she stepped off the cliff.
The following day in the village those who had been sick rose from their beds feeling hale, healthy and very happy to have fully recovered and great celebrations began. Then the people started to think and wondered how their sudden, surprise cure had come about.
Multnomah called all the maidens to him and they were all present with the exception of one, his daughter. Immediately the young Clatsop chief ran up the path to the cliff. Peering over the edge he was devastated to see her broken body lying twisted among the rocks below.
The Great Spirit
The people were sad and wept long and loudly, In gratitude they climbed to the bottom of the cliff and honored her in the tradition of their people and then raised a cairn over her body. Her grieving father called upon the Great Spirit for a sign that he had welcomed her into his care. Immediately they heard the sound of running water and a pure stream of crystal water cascaded over the cliff and has flowed continuously ever since.
Some say they have seen the spirit of the maiden all in white walking the path to the cliff top. There she would stand by the waterfall now called Multnomah Falls that was sent by the Great Spirit to show the people that she, who had sacrificed all for love, was in his care.
© 19/07/2017 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright July 19th, 2017 zteve t evans
- Native American Antiquity: The Legend of Multnomah Falls
- Multnomah people – Wikipedia
- The Legend Of The Multnomah Falls | Halfway To Heaven
- File:Lower Multnomah Falls, OR 8-13 (14733645874).jpg From Wikimedia Commons – inkknife_2000 (7.5 million views +) – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.