Back in the Cold War, this was one of the most secure sites in the world, bristling with anti-aircraft defences against a nuclear first strike. Now it’s a dry hill beside an alfalfa field.
It was protecting the site where the Yakama chief Kamiakin …
…and his braves fled the genocidal sociopaths of the U.S. Army during the Yakima War in November 1855. They were fleeing from Gabriel J. Rains…. ..the man [arguable] who went on to invent the torpedo and the anti-personnel mine, which he put to the service of protecting slavery. The rocket emplacements were not protecting Kamiakin here, though. They were protecting the machine that created the plutonium that killed 40,000 people in 1 second in Nagasaki in 1945, much like, well, a torpedo or an anti-personnel mine.
This machine is called B Reactor. It is a humbling thing to stand before it and listen to the tour guides mock the Russian nuclear disarmament inspectors who come very year to check that it is not being used any more. All this, though, is not why there is a spirit mountain here. This is:
This is the Wanapum people’s river, the mid-Columbia, across and a little to the south from B Reactor. For two generations it was off limits, but we can go there again, to the heart of the people of the river. These were their islands. What does that have to do with a mountain? Well, if you’re a mountain man, you’re going to go to a river for a power. It works the other way, too: a river man goes to the mountain. The mountain is called Rattlesnake Ridge. It is a 20 mile long rattlesnake of stone and grass, with a big fat rattlesnake head pointing to the prophet Smohalla’s ….
…camp at Priest Rapids, and a striped rattle pointing to Kamiakin’s camp at Horn Rapids on the Yakima River, far to the south. The snake has also just had lunch, a nice fat rodent or something. This was the mountain that Smohalla went to for visions: a place with no water at all, but with that rodent lunch thing going on under its diamond back skin….
… and with this going on, too, if you look closer:
OK, so not a rodent. More like a … what? A lizard?
A man? Spillyay the trickster? A fish? All of them at once? I tell you, if I were going to the dry mountain for visions, I’d go there, to talk with an ancestor like that, in a snake like that, even if I knew it was a slope of basaltic breccia, with a military service road cutting the slope below it. Wouldn’t you? What dreams we would have! Especially with the military road, and that horrible machine below. Smohalla was insistent that if his people would just ignore the Whites, who were rushing (violently) into his country, and stick to old ways of living, they would be reunited with their ancestors. Followers of this religion are called Dreamers. They include Joseph, chief of the Wallowa Nez Perce …
… (note the Dreamer hair style). Joseph and his people fled the depredations of the sociopaths attached to the U.S. Army in the Nez Perce War of 1877. When the war chiefs were all dead, out in the Buffalo Country, he became chief by default. His first act was to surrender. His faith is still alive among his people in their ongoing exile, and in the Yakama country, both on the reservation and off of it, where the sun shines from the earth. Here’s a view 20 miles west of Rattlesnake Ridge, looking over the U.S. Army’s Yakima Firing Range.
Rattlesnake Ridge is in the background, behind the high hills which you can see. The high valley of Selah Creek in the foreground is the flight path of Kamiakin’s friend, Father Charles Marie Pandosy…
…whose mission was torched by Rains and his men for his attempts to stop the Yakima War. He fled through here late at night in a snowstorm in November, 1855. Many women and children died in the dark in the ice and rapids of the river, at Priest Rapids, that night. History records that the rapids are named after Smohalla, who lived there. That’s just a guess, though. No one knows. Perhaps the name secretly honours Pandosy, whatever happened that night.
Heart mysteries here. History hasn’t decided who had the power here, Smohalla, Kamiakin, Pandosy or Rains, but I think it’s fair to say that their fates are bound together for a long time to come. A powerful part of the U.S. Civil War was forged on this grassland, at the feet of this spirit mountain. It will not be resolved without Smohalla’s Dreamers.