Mayne 1862: Chinook’ll get you to Yale, French to Kamloops

Four Years in British Columbia and Vancouver Island:

An Account of Their Forests, Rivers, Coasts, Gold Fields and Resources for Colonisation

By Richard C. Mayne.  London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1862.

More or less a promotional piece for the exploitation and settlement of Canada’s far West, this book is one of the classic great reads about BC.  It’s chock-full of sharp firsthand observations by a smart guy who was out here at a pivotal point in the region’s history.


Mayne explored BC in some detail, as a lieutenant on a survey ship, the HMS Plumper.  His book starts with a really useful historical survey of Northwest exploration, in particular the search for the Northwest Passage.  He notes the 1843 beginnings by the Hudsons Bay Company of Vancouver Island’s occupation with a fort at Victoria, and the 1849 conditional grant of the island by the home (i.e. British) government.  The Company, as he reports, failed to secure the settlement of the island, with its establishments limited to Victoria, Nanaimo and [Fort] Rupert [in Kwakwaka’waka territory].

The narrative of Mayne’s 1858-1861 journey doesn’t start with, but first focuses extensively on, the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i); this too is rich in useful detail.  The North American phase commences with the sighting of Cape Flattery, and is followed with an attentive discussion of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in particular of Victoria and the native Songhies (Songhees) village.  Nanaimo and its coal industry are described.  The survey launches in earnest with a look-see at the San Juan Islands.

Soon after this, in May of 1858, definite word of gold on the mainland triggers an excitement.  The word ‘cuteness is used to describe Americans 🙂  Countless “bogus cities”–American style, as Mayne is cryptically enamoured of Yankee ways–spring up, having claim to city status by virtue of possessing a liquor store and post office; Semiahmoo City and Roberts City are cases.  Far too many miners treat the Indians with contempt and cruelty, the opposite of what works best.  [So hard to resist editorializing here.–DDR]  Mayne notes the expansion of the gold rush upriver to places like Cayoush/Lilloett (Lillooet) and Lytton.

Governor Douglas’s handling of this suddenly chaotic situation is described with some admiration.  The gold bubble is thought to burst, and waves of miners flood back down the Fraser and through Victoria.  Some Native people, having planned to cash in on the gold rush indirectly or directly, had neglected the customary storing of fish and roots for winter, and starved to death.  There’s new excitement farther upstream on the Fraser, not least both lawless and vigilante organization.

“The North American Indians, and, indeed, the Canadians as well, paddle much more steadily when they sing.  They keep splendid time, and, by way of accompaniment, bring the handle of their paddles sharply against the gunwale of the canoe.  In singing their custom is–and the greatest stickler for etiquette among us will find himself outdone by the Indian’s respect for whatever habit or fashion may have dictated–for the steersman to sing, the crew taking up the chorus.” (page 61)

Mayne usefully defines “bars” or “mining bars”, the prime landmark of the gold-rush landscape (page 65).  Chief Justice [Matthew Baillie] Begbie makes an appearance.  Sites for BC’s first capital are discussed: Derby / New Langley / Queensborough [known in a CJ song] / New Westminster [called Westminster in CJ].

Conflict is typical at Victoria and Vancouver Island among northern people such as Haidas, local tribes, and “especially” the U-cle-ta [Lekwiltok; Kwakwaka’waks] of Cape Mudge on Valdez Island.  Intercultural miscommunication: a gunboat’s overhead warning shot is interpreted, “Indian-like”, as incompetence in aiming.  The word “squaw” is already usual in English.  The presence of large numbers of visiting Indians at Victoria is felt a great “inconvenience” or danger, and measures of varying effectiveness are taken, such as disarming them or disarming them on arrival.

The geography of the Fraser region from its mouth to pretty far upstream is described.  Mention is made of “Fort St. George”, yet another synonym for Prince George/Fort George, and of the Cariboo (named “properly Cerboeuf”, page 85, an etymology at odds with the accepted Algonquian etymology).  Other place names challenging to the modern eye are the Smess River [Sumas], Chilwayhook [Chilliwack] and Que-que-all [Coquihalla].

Journeying upstream from Yale, Mayne is accompanied by a Native interpreter Tom who speaks

“French, not, of course, of the purest.  It is by no means uncommon to find natives in the interior of the country possessing a useful knowledge of French” rather than of Chinook Jargon.  “It was the language spoken by far the larger number of the Canadian voyageurs who first came across the mountains in the service of the Hudson Bay Company, and indeed the trade at their inland posts is mostly carried on in French” (page 97).

It is required to engage also a friend of Tom’s, as well as nine Indian porters carrying 50 or 60 pounds each (wonderful detail is provided, for you economic historians).  Native people are impressed by the wearing of European-style caps, which make one seem a “Hyas Tyee, or great chief” (page 98).  Mayne also had a “Hudson’s Bay capot” to wear, and a literal “blanket suit” (a forerunner to sleeping bags?; Indians slept nude).  Whiskey was brought “in case of accident”.  A staple on this journey were “dampers” [clearly bannock/frybread].  Prior to departing, the person employing the packers is traditionally expected to give a “cultus-patalatch (literally, a useless present)” in CJ (page 100).  A footnote explains, ” ‘Cultus-patalatch’ means more correctly a present for which nothing is expected in return.”  The gift usually given is tobacco, and it is usually smoked in intense hits [as we’d say these days], intoxicating the smokers for several minutes.  Lots more brilliant ethnographic detail is provided, of the Indians’ rhythm of accomplishing long treks, of carrying heavy loads, of hunting techniques and more.  Their ridicule of gluttony is expressed in their CJ phrase, “carqua cushon“–being ‘like a pig’ (page 102).

Landmarks encountered on the way to Lytton (then a tiny settlement) include Boston Bar, Spuzzum, and Jackass Mountain.  From here the party, sans packers, moved on to Fort Kamloops/Fort Thompson/Kamloops.  The route followed the Nicola River toward Nicola Lake.  In this area Mayne is impressed to meet his first Interior Indians, he says, still uncontaminated by contact with whites: they know only the HBC people.  (These are Nlakapamux/Thompsons, and this is May of 1859, as I understand it.)

Kamloops is reached, and the Shuswap Indian village as well as the HBC fort and a Roman Catholic priest who has fled the Okanagan.  Mayne specifies the great difference of the interior posts and their personnel from what is found at the fur-trade “seaports”.  The company has long encouraged their marrying Native local Native women to foster trade (and communication).  A post’s officers are accommodated separately from lower-ranking employees such as trappers and voyageurs.  The previous location of Fort Kamloops, at the Native village across the river, is noted; it was moved after Samuel Black’s murder some years ago.   A visit is made across to visit Chief Jean-Baptiste Lolo, a.k.a. St. Paul; conversation with him is in French.  He winds up accompanying the group on its return journey.  There are local French place names too, such as Roche des Femmes and the Chapeau River [Hat Creek?]; perhaps Pavillon [Pavilion] too, where Americans have had a farm for a year, the first Mayne has seen.  Various Shuswap words are cited.  St. Paul’s French sounds like a second language; he says that Mayne should “Bon jour Mr. Peter” Skene Ogden on his behalf with a written note.  The time will soon come when the yearly overland Fur Brigade will be no more, with its voyageurs’ singing of “Ma belle Rosa” and “Le beau soldat”.  (In the vicinity of Stuart Lake in 1859, an Indian hails traveling whites with “Bonjour” according to William Downie’s letter–page 454.)

On the return trip via Buonaparte [Bonaparte] River and Pavilion, it’s wished to turn north to Alexandria (only a fur-trade outpost at this time–there aren’t yet gold diggings at Quesnelle [Quesnel] or Cariboo).  St. Paul is in poor shape, though, and parts ways with the group, who go on via Cayoosh [Lillooet], Fountain, Hoystien [Bridge River], Port Douglas, etc.  “Restaurants” along the Lillooet portage and the Fraser canyons are really tents serving bacon, beans, bread, butter and tea or coffee, for a dollar, with the “softest plank in the floor” available for sleeping on.

Further surveying of the Victoria, Nanaimo and Cowichan areas is noted, along with geographic notes about more of BC’s coast and the Chilcotin.  Then on to San Francisco, where Mayne had last been during the gold rush of 1849.  Back to Esquimalt, April of 1860 I reckon.  Admiral Island settlement and Ganges Harbour are mentioned in connection with Indian racial prejudice against blacks (African-Americans) and Chinese as both being inferior to whites (!): Mayne recalls on Aboriginal man, on being told by him that these people are “carqua King George men” (“the same as Englishmen”), exclaiming “Wake, wake!” (“No, no!”).

The complexities of starting out on a walking journey with a company of Native employees on Vancouver Island: “First, one fellow will make the discovery that he is not provided with ‘scaarlux‘ (breeches), and that he will be torn by the bushes…When at last stirred by the strongest expressions of which the Chinook vocabulary is capable, some sort of a start is made…” (page 168).  One packer complained of being ill, and Mayne says, “I proceeded to abuse him to the full extent of my knowledge of Chinook, upbraiding him with being ‘carqua klootcluman,’–‘like a woman,’–and finally dismissing him with a note of explanation to Captain Stamp…” which Mayne pointedly read aloud [in CJ translation] to shame him (pages 168-169; Mayne is full of metaphors in CJ).

At Henry Bay the party witness the arrival of missionary Roman Catholic priests, who are greeted by the local Native people with enthusiasm and cries [in CJ] of “Le Prêtre!  Le Prêtre!” (page 175).  These priests were visiting every Native village along the coast, and the party met them again some time later.  These subordinates of Father Demers, bishop of Victoria, are described with admiration as “energetic, clever men–of no very high extraction or type, perhaps–…They are thorough masters of Chinook, have the art of making themselves understood and feared by the Indians, and undoubtedly possess considerable influence over them.” (page 176).

What is clearly a potlatch among the Nootkas (Nuuchahnulth) is called a “fancy dress ball” (page 182).

Native people of Fort Rupert are noted as traveling to catch “houlikin” (oolachan; “hou-li-kun” on page 252).

To induce reluctant Native people to lead him from Jervis Inlet inland, Mayne invokes the well-known and respected name of the governor, “Mr. Douglas”, who would call the Sechelt and Loquilt [Lekwiltok?] people “cultus” (“useless”) for their laziness.  He also combines promises of trade goods with a replay of his (CJ) taunts about being “woman-hearted”.  One of Mayne’s guides says, apparently in CJ, that he is eager to get back to his “papoose” (baby).

A Squamish (?) chief tells Mayne of the “Squawmisht” river’s being navigable by “Boston steamers” (page 197).

Captain Richards desired to have a “war-war” (speech or palaver) with the Fort Rupert Indians through Mr. Hunt, who spoke their (Kwak’wala) language (page 209).  These folks were envious of (“felt ashamed” before) the Tsimshians, who were learning to read and write from Mr. Duncan.  An old woman slave freed by the British and traveling aboard their ship exclaims “Ah! Tyee, Tyee!” (Ah! chief, chief!) in apparent fright whenever she sees them.

Chapter XI discusses the coast and interior Indians of the two colonies (BC and Vancouver’s Island), in some useful detail.  “The southern tribes, as a rule, understand the Chinook jargon, in which almost all the intercourse between Indians and whites is at present carried on.  A few men may be found in almost all of the northern, and many of the inland tribes, who understand it, but its use is most common in the south.”  CJ is said to have been introduced by the HBC for trading use.  (Pages 244-245.)

Kissing to display affection is thought to originate from French missionary influence (page 248).

“A shell-fish, called Clam”–obviously geoducks from the description–is a major food.  Is “Clam” a CJ word here?

Neither coast nor inland Indians will eat pork: “Wake cumtax Sivash muckermuck cushom” (“Indians do not understand how to eat pork”), they explain (page 256).  Conversely, out of a couple of dozen kinds of wild ducks, nearly all are eaten by Indians but only one is palatable to whites.

A shaman’s curing ceremony at Shoalwater Bay is quoted from Swan.

Potlatches are described, but seemingly without using that word.

a.c. garrett

A letter written by the Rev. Mr. A.C. Garrett, missionary, is quoted.  It refers to the Songhees and their “Tamānoes” (spiritual) ceremonies at the new year.

Canoe paddlers refuse to proceed through a thunderstorm until they have said a prayer Mayne supposes they learned from “Romish” (Catholic) priests.  The priests’ success in the region is noted also on page 274, which notes Native people’s singing a chant they learned from the Catholic missionaries, and the honorable reception accorded the arrival of a priest’s hat [sic].  (Page 273.)  But in the interior, by HBC people’s account, they’ve had nearly no influence beyond supplying Indians’ lodges with lurid prints of [what we now call] the “Catholic ladder”.

Native people won’t tell their own names, but freely tell others’.  They hate the “Boston men“–Americans.  (Page 279.)

The “haiqua” (hykwa) shell is a sort of currency both on the coast and used by the HBC with interior peoples.

The experiences of Rev. Duncan among the Tsimshians are quoted, mentioning the important and valued custom of providing influential Natives with “papers”–what are sometimes called “skookum papers” attesting to their character.  Duncan is extensively quoted; his words are published elsewhere so I won’t continue with them [DDR].

Rev. Garrett is quoted again, referring to a Chinook catechism he composed and used.

Lots more geographic information is given.  Prices on many commodities and services too.  Flora and fauna. Minerals and mining, which in BC naturally is heavily California- and Australia-influenced. Hydrology. Shipping. Some Indians of course dig gold, for example at Bridge River (pages 444-445).