Sharon Seal guest blogs again: Big John Kitsap & See Oh See Oh
Reader Sharon Seal has contributed more great Chinook Jargon material to share with you all. These are newspaper articles from Kittitas County, WA. (Non-Washingtonians: it’s pronounced KITT-ih-tass.)
1) “Big John Kitsap, Kittitas Indian, is Prize Dancer” from Ellensburg Daily Record, Tuesday, February 11, 1913, page 1, column 7. It reports on a “potlatch of central Washington Indians near Beverly” in present-day Grant County. “Potlatch” here seems to refer to what’s elsewhere called a Chinook dance. (Stay tuned for more on that; this is the time of year for it.)
Worth a read for excellent local historical details! Let me just excerpt here Big John’s quoted Chinook Jargon words to his friend the white harnessmaker T.W. Farrell. The article implies these words actually came from his “squaw’s” mouth:
” ‘Nika halo mummuk dance all same Siwash copa head yawa. Nika mummuk dance all same Bostonman all same nika nanitch copa New Year’s copa Hall copa yawa.’
(I won. I didn’t dance like the rest of the Indians, with my head down. I danced like the white people do, just as I saw them there at the hall on New Year’s Day.)”
There’s also a reference to “old chief Snow-t-Jacks” who in the 1870s brought the chinook wind by biting a piece out of his forearm. And the article concludes with Big John and his wife saying they’re returning to their ranch after 4 days of dancing, not to visit Ellensburg again until they’ve had a ” ‘skookum sleep‘ (big sleep)”.
Some notable points about this Chinook Jargon are–
- Chinese Pidgin English-style “all same”.
- standard English “head”, “hall”, “New Year’s” and “sleep”.
Both traits can be seen elsewhere in CJ spoken in the WA-BC interior at the time.
The following page of the newspaper, incidentally, has an article “Reminiscences of the Early Days in Kittitas County”, mentioning two Native people with the “Boston names” Toby and Nancy who “mitlighted” here until they died. There’s also a reminiscence of having the Okanogan Chief Moses over for dinner and, in Chinook reported in English translation, working out a technically legal plan for the chief to steal a flask of whiskey from the host!
2) “See Oh See Oh, Aged Indian Warrior, is a Kittitas Visitor”: Ellensburg Daily Record, January 2, 1913.
He is a member of the So-Happy (Sohappy) tribe. This man’s age is estimated at 93 years; he is known as “the tlko-pe” (cutter) for his having cut off an Okanogan man’s (“Wild Bill” Anische’s) nose in a street fight in the fall of 1880. Stanley, the 19-year-old son of W.T. Farrell–see above–speaks “Chinook” and greeted this man and his “klootchman” at the family’s harness shop. When W.T. got back to the shop he greeted them too with “Klahaium, syx“. Some of their conversation is reported verbatim:
Mrs. S.: ” ‘Okook nanitch all same tenas copa tatlum pe quinum snow, pe okok nanitch pe all same ne nika cum tux‘
(Why I remember him when he was a little chap, 15 years ago. His face is just the same as now, and I remembered him at once.)” [What does “ne” mean? — DDR]
When the pioneer J.L. Vaughn, Ellensburg’s first postmaster, came by, Mr. S. remarked ” ‘Ookook ole-man Vaughn delate nica close tillicum‘ (Why that’s old man Vaughn, he’s a good friend of mine).”
” ‘Spose o-kook Vaughan cum tux nika mam ook sol-leks copa Anisiche Bill‘ (Wonder if Vaughn remembers that fight I had with Anisiche Bill).”
An English translation of S.’s narrative of the fight follows, including the phrases “Ellensburg was a great ilahee for all of the Indians” (great place) and “close tillicum” (good friend).
Then there is another reminiscence by S.:
” ‘Mika cum tux illihee yawa copa Chinaman copa muka muk house in-i-ti yawa copa nika tickee smoke?’ (Do you remember the houses there on the next street, belonging to the Chinamen, where we smoked [opium]?)”
The following commentary talks about S. “dreaming” under the influence of opium that he was the socklee tyee or the big chief of all the Indians in the northwest”. Cayuses (ponies) and camas are mentioned as well.
Thanks so much, Sharon! I encourage the rest of you to contribute your Chinook Jargon finds, too!
Wonderful excerpts. I believe muckmuck house means restaurant. I thought year is ‘cole’ but here it is ‘snow’. I suppose the winter is the most important marker when one doesnt have good insulation and central heating.
I am reading the journal of William Fraser Tolmie. The newly arrived man of letters wasn’t impressed with ‘the Gibberish’ as he called it “… Have begun making a vocabulary of the Chenooke gibberish, by which we communicate with the indians”. I understand his assessment softened with advancing years.