THE STORY OF SYMYEM AND THE CHEHALIS RIVER
In a time beyond memory, it was told by Sts’ailes elder Ed Leon that some of his ancestors lived and fished at Telcho:leqtel (Chehalis Lake). They were unaware of the ancestors of Alex Joseph who lived at Sts’ailes near Chehalis River mouth on the Shuqwe’ma (Harrison River). One day, Alex Joseph’s family built a fish-trap near the river mouth.
They used split cedar pickets to make a weir with a small opening for salmon to enter, and scattered white rocks on the bottom to illuminate the dark waters for easy spearing. But poor salmon fishing upstream that year alarmed the families who depended on the same salmon fishery at the lake. So, they sent a runner named qw’emxetel to find out what was wrong. He was told by his village to break the weir so his people would have fish to eat again. After several attempts, Alex Joseph’s family laid in wait and saw a glimpse of the culprit escaping upstream, thinking at first it was Sa:sq’ets (Sasquatch). They chased the runner until they got to the canyon which is named Palaxel (“your feet-running”), but then got left behind because their runners were trained for flat ground running. But, next time his family surrounded and caught him. He said don’t kill me! I came here because your brothers are starving for salmon. Alex Joseph’s people were surprised to hear there were people living up the Chehalis lake and released the runner to go tell their chief to meet them halfway at a place called ‘ts’amxwelqs’ on the Chehalis River.
This is how our villages from the mountains met the villages from the river. Both chiefs decided the two groups of people should join together. The chief of Alex Joseph’s people became the chief of all the tribe. A man named Symyem, who was the richest, put up a big potlatch to celebrate the joining of the two villages.