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A coulee legend of Sammy the salmon: part one


Sammy the salmon, full grown and standing tall. But now he's gone. – file photo

Did Sammy leave his park site?

Not so long ago in the summer of 2012, possibly 100 or more trees, many planted when the town was in its infancy, were toppled or uprooted in that weird storm, including two evergreens, towering spruce, that stood in the Mason City Park in Coulee Dam.

After the storm was long gone and the MCP cleanup a done deal, the park's leftover tree trunks took on lives of their own when a chainsaw artist, hired by the town, went to work on them, grinding away bark and into each trunk's core until, chunk-by-chunk, two spiritual images emerged, first from one log, a collage of eagles and a bear and then along came Sammy.

Sammy the salmon, that is. He's without a doubt the biggest salmon anyone in these parts has ever seen; he's possibly 14 to 20 feet long, and his unusual color, not a fishy shade, sets him off. At his park spot, he posed as a statue, but he appeared to be swimming skyward. As time went by, something went wrong at his location - Sammy started leaning. He was on the move. And finally he was gone.

Time passed until last spring when several townsfolk called the Coulee Dam Town Hall, asking about Sammy's whereabouts. And, The Star newspaper checked up on Sammy, too. After he went missing from the park, the official town report said he was put into storage, where he remains today, carefully covered up on a trailer, waiting there quietly until he goes back out on display.

Hold on. Is Sammy the salmon hanging out undercover in Coulee Dam these days or is he the big one seen swimming in Banks Lake, Lake Roosevelt, and the Columbia River for the past few weeks?

Where did Sammy come from?

The legend of Sammy the salmon has a back story, mentioned briefly by Coulee Dam Mayor Greg Wilder last week, who talked about a story attributed to an old fisherman, who fished for salmon for many years at Celilo Falls, the famous native American fishing site, once located on the mighty, free-flowing Columbia River.

The story goes that this elderly fellow fished for many seasons with his dad, granddad and uncles from a site at the falls where his ancestors fished for 100 years or so, and when he was old enough to keep his footing safely on the handmade scaffolding extending over a section of the falls, he went out and helped with netting the catch.

One day, he had his first Sammy sighting. He saw a long, log-length, salmon swimming in the churning water. He blinked his eyes in the watery mist and yelled out above the noise to his granddad, is there a big salmon bobbing up and down, pointing to it, as it swam around among hundreds of salmon there in the spring spawning run. His granddad who was catching a salmon on his long, handmade pole, yelled over his shoulder, watch your step, Sonny, and look quick before the big one dives and hides from us.

So he knew he'd seen a fish like no other and that fish, came and went for a swim with his brethren until the the time when the falls disappeared underwater. When the free swims ended for the salmon, the story goes that the spirit of the salmon lived on. And maybe, just maybe, the spirit of Sammy the salmon has left that trailer in Coulee Dam and he's out and about, swimming and bobbing along. He's one heck of a swimmer. He's not afraid to show off, either.

Next week, part 2

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