Introduction Mt. Shasta is a large, imposing volcano in south?central Siskiyou County near the southern extremity of the Cascade Range. It rises some 14,380 feet above sea level and is visible over a wide area of northern California. For most of the year, often including the entire summer, the upper elevations are covered with snow. Because of its prominence, it has acquired special value to several Native Americans groups in the area.
The information in this report has been developed to better understand the historical value of Mt. Shasta to Native Americans. The information comes largely from ethnographic studies, although recent environmental impact statements have generated relevant data as well.
During the early historic period (i.e., early 1800’s), there were apparently five Native American groups whose territory included a portion of Mt. Shasta. Today, one of the five—the Okwanachu—apparently has no living descendents.
The Shasta Indians at the present time occupy territory to the northwest of Mt. Shasta. While there is some question about the historic boundaries of the Shasta (Heizer and Hester 1970:135), most ethnographers place Mt. Shasta as the southeast corner of their territory (Silver 1978:213; Dixon 1907:386; Kroeber 1925:318?319).
To the east of the Shasta are the Modoc Indians whose western boundary was the crest of the Cascade Range, extending northward from Mt. Shasta (Ray 1963). Kroeber, in discussing Modoc territory, stated the following: “on the map, the Modoc lands have been brought down to Mt. Shasta. Perhaps this great isolated peak only served them, as all tribes about, as a gigantic landmark. The matteris one that looms large on the map, but is of little actual significance, the mountain itself, and most of its near environs, having been uninhabited” (Kroeber 1925:3318?319).
The Achumawi (or Pit River Indians) lived to the south of the Modoc, with Mt. Shasta being the northwest corner of their territory (Olmsted and Stewart 1978:225). However, while others agree that Mt. Shasta was a cornerstone of Pit River territory, some are of the opinion that the mountain itself was little used historically by the Pit River peoples. For instance, Kniffen states that “it is likely that the whole of the country north of the Pit was visited but infrequently, only Glass Mountain being approached regularly” (1928:300). Kroeber agrees on this point, when he says (1925:305):
On the north, toward the Modoc, the Achomawi territorial limits are particularly vague and immaterial. We know merely that they hunted to Mount Shasta and Medicine Lake …. As to Mount Shasta, there were no Achomawi near it. That they hunted to it, and did so within their rights is likely. It was customary for great peaks to be regarded by Californian peoples as the starting points of their boundaries.
West of the Achumawi, and south of Mt. Shasta, are the Wintu. Their northern boundary, not unlike that of other tribes surrounding Mt. Shasta, has been a matter of some dispute. Both Kroeber (1925) and Du Bois (1935) place the northern boundary quite some distance south of Mt. Shasta itself, generally in the area of La Moine on the Sacramento River. However, LaPena (1978) indicates that their territory extended as far north as Black Butte and Mt. Shasta. The difference of opinion seems to revolve around the existence and territory of the “Okwanachu,” a Shastan?speaking group who supposedly occupied the uppermost reaches of the Sacramento River drainage. Kroeber and Du Bois, as cited above, as well as Silver (1978) all acknowledge the presence of the Okwanachu, while noting that they were apparently decimated in the 19th century. La Pena (1978) seems to not acknowledge the existence of the Okwanachu when describing Wintu territory.
Because of Mt. Shasta’s prominence and because it is a hub from which radiates several Native American territories, the mountain is mentioned frequently in various myths recorded by ethnographers. Typically, the myths involve a story wherein mythical people or animals visited the mountain. Only a few myths mention any specific place on the mountain. A brief summary of these myths is provided below.
Among the Shasta, myths were often told to children as instructional devices, and commonly included some anecdote about social relationships (Silver 1978). For instance, in “Coyote and the Yellow-jackets,” the Yellowjackets steal salmon from Coyote and take the salmon to Mt. Shasta, where they are followed. When Coyote, Turtle and others arrived at the top of the mountain, they tried to smoke the Yellow-jackets out, but failed. Similarly, in “Eagle and Wind’s Daughters,” Coyote and Eagle struggle against the Wind to reach the top of Mt. Shasta. Only Eagle succeeds and wins Wind’s daughters to marry. In another Shasta myth, “Coyote and the Flood,” Coyote and other animals run to the top of Mt. Shasta to avoid a flood. When the flood recedes, a swampy land is revealed where they all go to live (Dixon 1910:22-36).
In a recent interview for the proposed Mt. Shasta Wildernesss Plan, Shasta informants mentioned that Mt. Shasta is an important feature in their creation myths, and the springs on the mountain represent the creator’s footsteps (Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Mt. Shasta Wilderness Plan, p. III-33).
According to Olmsted and Stewart, Achumawi myths have no religious import, they are stories only: ” ‘old time stories’ are told, primarily by old people, when all are lying down in the earth lodge. . . .Much time is consumed in this way, especially on cold winter days, when all are huddled together for warmth, amidst the smoke, while outside, the grim lava-bed landscape was swept by snowy winds from off Mt. Shasta” (1978:234).
Like the Shasta, Pit River or Achumawi myths often involve creatures of some kind. For instance, in “the Fury of Loon Woman,” Loon Woman, in a fit of revenge, burns several creatures such as Coyote, Wildcat, Lizard, etc. As they burn in the fire, their hearts pop out and are caught by Loon Woman in a basket. One heart escaped and landed on Mt. Shasta. The next morning, Bluejay was hunting on Mt. Shasta and heard a beautiful song. After digging on top of Mt. Shasta he found Lizard’s heart. He took him home and raised him as a boy. Later, the boy got his revenge and killed Loon Woman (de Angulo and Freeland 1931:130).
In Merriam’s An-nik-a-del, the History of the Universe there are several tales that involve Mt. Shasta. For instance, in the chapter entitled “The Kidnapping of Yahtch, the Weasel-Man.” Yahtch’s older brother Edechewe (the “Fisher-Man”) enlists the help of several others to find his brother, and they all meet on the top of Mt. Shasta (Merriam 1928:127-144). In another chapter, “Jamul Stories,” Jamul (the “Coyote-man”) was told by people he was Chief and should go to Mt. Shasta where there was lots to eat. However, once there, he began to starve until he was rescued by “Kwahn,” his son-in-law. When he finally got off the mountain, the people told him he was now just Coyote (Merriam 1928:145-148).
The Yana live south of the Pit River peoples, in the foothills east of the Sacramento River. In one Yana tale, “The Visit of the Geese People to Mount Shasta,” the “Geese People” are invited to a dance on Mt. Shasta. “Coyote” warns them not to go, but they go anyway. After reaching the mountain, the Geese People are trapped in a sweat lodge, but manage to escape (Sapir 1910:45-50).
According to Demetracopoulou and Du Bois, myths among the Wintu were originally told only at night and during the winter, whereas in the 1930’s (the time of their field research) the stories were told anytime. They also state that Wintu mythology had no religious or ceremonial function (1932: 376-377).
Mt. Shasta, or “waydal buli” (Bauman 1979:40) figures prominently in Wintu mythology. For instance, in “Mole and Mount Shasta,” Mole wanted to make Mt. Shasta higher then any other mountain, but twisted his wrist in the process. That is why, until this day, Mole has a broken wrist (Dubois and Demetracopoulou 1931:395). In “Theft of Obsidian,” a man steals obsidian from “Adder,” the first to have real obsidian arrows. The obsidian is given to Ground Squirrel to carry away from Adder, who in a fit of rage is setting the world on fire. Ground Squirrel carries the obsidian past Mt. Shasta, until he reached Glass Mountain, where he left it (Dubois and Demetracopoulou 1931:305-306).
In Du Bois’ “Wintu Ethnography” (1935), mention is made several times of myths involving Mt. Shasta. For instance, “when the first tooth was lost, it might be thrown toward Mt. Shasta, that is, northward. At this time the child raised its right hand and prayed for more teeth” (1935:47). Du Bois also relates a Wintu creation myth, “he [Wintu supreme being] drew his finger down from Mt. Shasta, forming the McCloud River. . .Then he made fish and deer and all kinds of food.” (1935:74).
Among the various Wintu tales published in Masson’s “A Bag of Bones,” are several about Mt. Shasta. These tales are all from one informant, Grant Towendolly. In “First Destroying of Earth by Fire,” Adder gets mad because others are killing more deer. Adder decides to start a fire, and while he is doing that, other animals decide to take Adder’s flint, and hide it. So Ground Squirrel travelled north until he reached a place a little east of Mt. Shasta. There he left the flint, and to the southwest he left a guardian woman called Tho-uk (Masson 1966: 27-28). This tale is very much like “Theft of Obsidian” described above. In another tale, “Norwanchakas and His Brother Keriha Traveling Upward,” one of the brother’s decides to play a trick on the other. The former goes to the tunnel of Supchet, a monster, hoping to smoke him out and scare his brother (Masson 1966:116):
He took his shield of hardened elk skin and fanned the smoke into the hole in great clouds. The brother, watching on the trail, suddenly saw a great cloud of smoke rise from Mt. Shasta. “What can that be?” he thought, not knowing it was from the Supchet’s hole. It puffed out again and again and then one great cloud, larger than any other, rushed out and went floating and wavering up into the sky and then no more. Norwanchakas had killed the Supchet. He dragged him out and took off his skin and put it in his quiver and went to join his brother. “I am out of luck; I speared no salmon,” he said. “Did you see anything?”
“Oh, yes,” said Keriha, “I have been calling for you. I saw a great cloud of smoke puff out of Bohem Puyuik (Mt. Shasta). I watched it until no more came.”
“You are always seeing things,” said his brother, “where I see nothing.”
Later, in th same tale, they travel up the McCloud River where they meet an Indian who tells them that on the east side of Mt. Shasta live a bad people. But the two brothers decide to visit the sweat lodge of these bad people. Once there, they set the sweat lodge on fire, burning all the bad people or “Bedits” inside. As the souls of the Bedits escape through the smoke hole, the two brothers struck each one so that they would not escape and take shape elsewhere. However, one did escape and went to the top of the mountain (i.e., Mt. Shasta). The two brothers climbed to the top and imprisoned the Bedit’s soul in a cleft of rock. One can still hear the Bedit trying to escape among the rocks on top of the mountain, while on the east side of Mt. Shasta, there is a blackened area [presumably, Mud Creek] where the sweat lodge burned (Masson 1966: 123).
The Chilula lived along Redwood Creek in Trinity County. Among their recorded myths is one titled “Love Medicine–The Mt. Shasta Women.” The tale involves a man who goes to the mountain and finds some women in a “house;” they then return home with him (Goddard 1914:355-356).
Sacred Places and Shamanistic Practices
Today, the Wintu, the Achumawi, the Shasta and other Indians consider Mt. Shasta, or places thereon, to be sacred. Several ceremonies are conducted on or near the mountain each year. In order to understand the traditional nature of today’s spiritual activities and manner in which landscape has been of importance historically, it is useful to summarize the ethnographic and historic record as it relates to shamanism, sacred places, and religion.
Among the Wintu, “sacred places were sources of surpernatural power” (DuBois 1935:80). Such places were visited by shamans in pursuit of spirits, although others visited such places as well. “Sometimes a man traveled from one place to another for two or three days in quest of dreams and supernatural rapport … if he gained a guardian spirit at any place, …he might become a shaman” (Du Bois 1935:80). ?In Wintu Ethnography. Du Bois relates the following account of how one important Wintu shaman, Charles Klutchie, acquired his shamanistic powers (1935:94?95):
Charlie had a boy. He was about eleven years old. Once he got into a fight and was stabbed, but was cured. One day he came home. Charlie was going to town. Before he went the boy said: “Papa, you had better come back soon. Don’t stay too long.” Charlie did not understand what the boy meant. He stayed in town a long while and when he came back the boy was dead. Charlie felt so bad he just went crazy. He felt bad because he hadn’t understood what the boy meant. He was living at Sisson then. He went out and spent the night on Mt. Shasta. He didn’t eat anything. He traveled around Mount Shasta for a month. crying and singing and not eating anything. He didn’t know how long he was gone. He tried doctoring [i.e., going into a trance] several times. He was half crazy.
During the last several years it has become well known that the Panther Meadows area of Mt. Shasta, near the terminus of Everitt Memorial Highway, is site of ceremonies by several Native Americans individuals and organizations. The spiritual use of the meadows and springs in that area has apparently been ongoing for several generations, although such use is not specifically mentioned in the ethnographic literature.
Like the Wintu, the Achumawi consider many places in their tribal area to be sacred. According to Theodoratus Cultural Research, sacred places among the Achumawi can be described as follows (1984:70): Places where spiritual experiences have taken place, or those with associated guardian spirits, are accorded special deference… Consultants mentioned as sacred those places which figure in myths, places associated with spiritual quests for ‘power’ or luck, those inhabited by spirits, places where ceremonial observances were/are held, and cemeteries.
Mountains and springs are particularly important. Olmsted and Stewart (1978:226) indicate that Mt. Shasta was a Achumawi “power place.” In recent interviews with Pit River Indians, a spring near the summit of Mt. Shasta has been identified as sacred (Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Mt. Shasta Wilderness Plan, p. 111?33).
Sacred places were an important component of Achumawi religious life. Individuals sought “guardian spirits” or “tinihowi.” often in visits to mountains (Olmsted and Stewart 1978:232). Such spirits or “medicine” were useful in hunting, war, gambling, etc. Additionally, such medicine was important to shamans or “doctors.” According again to Olmsted and Stewart, “the shaman derived his … power from his tamakomi, which was like a tinihowi, except more powerful” (1978:232).
The Shasta are not unlike either the Achumawi or Wintu with regards to the importance or prevalence of sacred places. “Shasta territory abounded in axeki? ‘pains’ , spiritual forces that were the cause of all disease, death, and trouble but from which doctors also received curing powers; axeki? existed in rocks and mountains….” (Silver 1978:219). Topographic features of the landscape, such as lakes, rocks. cliffs, mountains, etc. were dwelling places of these “Pains” (Theodoratus Cultural Research 1984:51,56) Furthermore, the shamans or doctors who used these pains and sacred places were important members of society. As Holt has written, “shamans were persons of great importance ‘and in them and their ceremonies almost the whole ritual of the people is included'” (1946:328).
Places such as Mt. Shasta continue to be important spiritually to the Shasta. For example, the Shasta have recently stated that the area above treeline on Mt. Shasta is sacred to them, and only the dead go there. They have also mentioned a location near North Gate as a place of spiritual importance (Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Mt. Shasta Wilderness Plan, p. 111?33).
Among the Modoc, certain features of the landscape were an important part of prayers. Ray states. “parts of the earth were frequently addressed … most often called upon were mountains and bodies of water… for example, a prayer to the mountain where hunting was to be done for luck on that particular venture…” (1963:21). Through dreams and vision quests, shamans acquired power from spirits that were associated with sacred places, such as “former gathering places of mythological beings” (Ray 1963:32).
During consultations with Native Americans for the proposed Mt. Shasta Wilderness plan, a Karok informant mentioned several places on Mt. Shasta that are spiritually important to him. They include Panther Meadows, Hidden Valley and Red Butte. Spiritual ceremonies are currently being conducted at Panther Meadows by this individual (Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Mt. Shasta Wilderness Plan, p. 111?33).
The foregoing information documents how Mt. Shasta is culturally relevant to Native Americans of North Central California. The presentation focuses specifically on several areas of importance — tribal boundaries, myths, sacred areas, and shamanism — largely because those concerns figure prominently among present day Native Americans. The following is a summary and interpretation of that information.
While there is not unanimity on the boundaries of the tribal groups that live in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta, it is obvious that the mountain is a landmark of considerable importance. Although Kroeber seems to suggest that the mountain itself was little used or actually visited, other sources suggest that the lower slopes, at least, were used more regularly. For instance in Bauman’s (1979) study of John Peabody Harrington’s ethnographic notes, there are several placenames for the southeast side of the mountain, such as names for Ash Creek Valley, Mud Creek, Squaw Valley Creek, Elk Flat, etc. Both Wintu and Pit River Indian placenames are represented. On the southwest side of Mt. Shasta are placenames for Black Butte and Big Canyon Creek that are a Wintu derivation (Bauman 1979:119). So, while there are no village names for the mountain, the presence of placenames ocurring on the lower slopes suggests that Kroeber may have underestimated Native American presence on the mountain.
Ethnographic studies and more recent environmental studies have revealed several places on Mt. Shasta that were, and in some cases continue to be, of spiritual or mythological importance. Some places however, such as Tho?uk Rock or Spinx Rock in the Clear Creek drainage, or the darkened slopes of Mud Creek, are present in ethnographically recorded myths, but not mentioned in recent interviews with Native Americans. On the other hand, such areas as Panther Meadows, Hidden Valley, or the spring at the summit of Mt. Shasta have not been documented in the ethnographic literature, but clearly are of interest and importance to Native Americans today.
These documented places on Mt. Shasta, while not abundant, represent not just isolated places on the mountain, but are features of a cultural landscape that extends well beyond Mt. Shasta. The Shasta, the Modoc, the Wintu, etc. all consider unusual features of the landscapes, such as mountains and springs, to be culturally important, and for a variety of reasons. Theodoratus (n.d.), who has studied the Wintu extensively, summarizes this importance well when she states:
At the center of the Native American religious system is the affirmation that spiritual power is infused throughout the environment in general, as well as at interconnected places, and that knowledgeable persons are participating in that power. Thus some special locations are imbued with benevolent sacred qualities, which assist people, for example in having good health, good luck, and good energy. Other localities are imbued with malevolent forces capable of aiding in injurious acts … Specific types of features, such as mountains, rock outcroppings, caves and pools, possess qualities important for Wintu spiritual experience or veneration. These form the sacred domain which is integral to the maintenance of Wintu cultural tradition. Humans relate to topographical features (i.e., sacred sites), and these features, in?turn, give expression to conceptual life, and ethical considerations … For the Wintu, these localities are not discrete elements or cultural shards. They are combined and bonded into cultural domains and sacred realms which provide essential meaning to life.
While this was written specifically about the Wintu, it applies very well to all those Native American groups who live in the vicinity of Mt. Shasta.
Both mountains and springs, among other features of the landscape, figure prominently in myths, as sacred places, and in shamanistic pursuits. The ethnographic record demonstrates that Mt. Shasta was an important feature in the mythology of all groups whose territories bordered the mountain. Surprisingly, however, few specific places on the mountain are mentioned in myth. The ethnographic record also has little to reveal with regard to specific sacred places on the mountain, nor do the sources provide much on how the mountain was used historically by shamans or others in pursuit of “power.” Even several studies conducted in the early 1980’s by Theodoratus Cultural Research, Inc. (1980, 1984, 1985), while documenting that the mountain was spiritually and culturally important to Native Americans, did not list any specific places on the mountain that were used historically or contemporarily for shamanistic purposes or vision quests. It was not until several years later that information surfaced (Henn, 1985) that one area on the mountain in particular, Panther Meadows, was used for spiritual ceremonies.
Environmental studies prepared during the last five years for projects on Mt. Shasta have further substantiated that there are places of spiritual and cultural importance to Native Americans. In some cases, however, the specific locations of these places have yet to be identified.
The recent use of Mt. Shasta by the Wintu and others, while not well documented in the ethnographic or historic literature, is a continuation generally of such practices done traditionally. For instance, in discussing the Wintu, Theodoratus (n.d.) notes:
Shamans sought sacred energy at ‘Locations where they could acquire the skills necessary to serve as practitioners in the medical and religious aspects of Wintu life. A candidate would visit a?sacred place and invoke the spirits associated with that esoteric domicile. The Wintu revere a creator or omnipotent spirit, Olelbis, who plays an integral role in the mythology. and to whom prayers are addressed. Prayers are a part of daily life, associated with sojourns in sacred places. Topographical features such as caves, springs, and rock outcroppings serve as settings for these functions.
In summary, it can be said that Mt. Shasta was a very important feature of the mythological and cultural landscape and that today’s use of the mountain for spiritual purposes is rooted in traditional practices and values. There remains, however, some disjunction between those areas currently important ??? for example Panther Meadows, Hidden Valley etc. ???and the ethnographic evidence for those same places. Interview data may supply the aid in determining the historical depth of present day activities and use areas.
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