Over the winter, VIP Eve Dumovich researched and compiled stories of the Pacific Northwest, and wanted to share this traditional Cowlitz tale.
Among the most romantic Native American legends about Mount Rainier is from the Cowlitz tradition and tells a love story between Lawiswis, Queen of the Fairies, and the Great Spirit Nekahni. This story is told in the “Brief History Of Mount Rainier National Park” in the park archives and in “Echoes of the Forest” a collection of poems inspired by Northwest Native American tales by William Edgar Brown, as well as in other historical documents.
Nekahni, the Great Spirit, lived on the slopes of Mount Rainier in the upper portion of Paradise Valley. There he kept his flocks of wild goats, and from there, he watched and ruled the earth spread out below him. He only left the mountain when he had to meet with Colésnass Cold Wind, with Skamson Thunder Bird, or with Yootch, Thunder Chief,
The lovely Queen Lawiswis lived in the lower part of the Nisqually Valley and ruled over everything beautiful. When she went to the seashore, the seashells worshiped her and caught the morning dew as nectar for her to drink.
When Lawiswis was up in the Paradise Valley, she was served by the roses, who in those days were pure white and had no thorns. They captured the morning dew for her in their cupped flowers.
Nekahni fell in love with Lawiswis and so that he could be with her, built her a bower in Paradise made out of the snow-white gentle roses. When he was not busy with his goats, or visiting his weather chiefs, he stayed with Lawiswis and love blossomed with the high alpine flowers.
At the same time, deep in the dark gorge of the Nisqually River, a terrible, ugly and angry witch called Memelek developed a hatred for Lawiswis. Memelek wore strips of cougar skins tied together with skins of fairies she murdered. Poisonous snakes clustered around her neck and waist. Whenever she wanted to kill anything, she sent her army of snakes to do the job.
So one day, while Nekahni was busy with his goats high on the massive and square-cut Gibraltar Rock on the southeastern side of the mountain, Memelek decided to take care of the unsuspecting Lawiswis.
Memelek left her home in the canyon, climbed the mountain and crept through the morning mist to the rose bower where the Queen lay sleeping. Once there, Memelek would let her snakes loose so they could kill her target.
Luckily, the mountain mist is everywhere at once so it warned the roses about the danger to their mistress. What could they do? The roses used the mist to send a message to Nekahni who sent a spell back.
Just as the snakes reached the bower, the roses turned red and sprouted sharp thorns that pierced the snakes and made them rush back to their mistress.
So it was that the Queen of all that is Beautiful was saved and the evil Memelek was banished to the deepest darkest gorge of the Nisqually where she has remained ever since. To this day, there are thorns on the red roses and snakes on the Paradise side of mountain are not poisonous.