John Keane, owner of the C.A. Butt Building at 6805 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue in Westmoreland, just north of Bybee Boulevard, last year commissioned an 11 foot by 60 foot mural, facing south on the building's second story, to commemorate an Indian legend about how Willamette Falls was created.The mural is colorful, but is easily overlooked, since it is set well back from the roofline of Kay's Bar and Nectar Frozen Yogurt Lounge – and only fragments of it are visible, until you put some distance southward between the intersection and yourself to bring more of it into view.
Keane hired artist Andrew Young to create the mural, which was coordinated through the Portland Street Art Alliance; it was completed last November. Young is a lifelong artist who owns a multi-media product company called Splint Media. He enjoys conceiving each project holistically, he explains – to understand how people interact with his art.
Among the historic local tribes are the Kalapuya and Chinook Indians, who each have legends of how the Willamette Falls at Oregon City were created by "Coyote", a traditional "trickster" character. Such a legend forms the basis for this mural.
The Kalapuya legend is as follows: "Let's make a waterfall across the Willamette River," said Meadowlark to Coyote. So they made a rope by twisting together young hazel shoots, and each went to opposite sides of the river near where Salem now lies. Meadowlark said, "Let's make it here." But she spoke in the Clackamas language, and Coyote only knew the Kalapuya language. He did not understand her, and instead of making waterfalls, he turned some animals into rock.
Meadowlark and Coyote then walked down the river to where Oregon City is today. "Let's make the waterfall here," said Meadowlark – and this time she used sign language that Coyote understood. So they stretched the rope tight, and Coyote called on his great powers and turned the rope into rock. The river poured over the rock, and created the Willamette Falls at Oregon City.
The Chinook legend is somewhat different. In it, Coyote arrived at a place near Oregon City where there were lots of salmon, but the people had no way to spear them in the deep water. Coyote decided to build a big waterfall there with his friend Meadowlark, so salmon would come to the surface for spearing.
Many artists have created other local artworks during the COVID-19 pandemic – on walls, sidewalks, and even trash bins; we've brought some of them to you in these pages in recent months.
Murals are an attractive way to learn historical details of our area. As a point of interest, the Willamette River is tidal all the way from the ocean up to Willamette Falls, which is the second-largest waterfall by volume in North America – in fact, second only to Niagara Falls.
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