Caroline Leighton, Life at Puget Sound

Life at Puget Sound:

With Sketches of Travel in Washington Territory, British Columbia, Oregon, and California, 1865-1881″

Boston: Lee and Shepard / New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1884

Life at Puget Sound

The title and subtitle tell you the genre of this typically Alki-spirited piece of booster literature.  (For fun, contrast her outlook with that reported on page 159.)  There are unpredictable elements, like the stop at Mariguana Island (!) in the Bahamas on Leighton’s way to the Pacific Northwest.  ‘

Mariguana Island

Mariguana Island is probably better known now for its role in the video game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

And the diary format lets the author express herself free of terribly restricting conventions, as when she observes how little interest fellow passengers had in religion  when threatened with shipwreck on a coral reef.  Leighton raises her credibility in my estimation, not only by being female and therefore providing a somewhat rare counterpoint to the monotonies of male bravado in much of our region’s historical sources, but also by evaluating Native, Chinese and other people around her with a good deal of compassion.

Chapter 2 opens the curtain on Caroline Leighton in the PNW, having a house built at Port Angeles, Washington Territory, on July 20, 1865.  As the linguist who’s guiding you through her book, I have to point out right over there, where she refers to that prominent local flower that she calls “Indian-flame” (Indian paintbrush, Castilleja, surely).

Indian paintbrush

The Leightons receive the customary unexpected Native visitors whose relative lack of garb discomfits them, and with whom they can’t–yet–communicate verbally.

We shall endeavor to procure from Victoria a dictionary of the Haidah, Chinook and other Indian languages, by the aid of which we shall be able to receive such visitors in a more satisfactory manner.

(Page 20; this is a reference to one of the earlier popular CJ handbooks, the assiduously reprinted Dictionary of Indian Tongues, containing most of the words and terms used in the Tsimpsean, Hydah, & Chinook, with their meaning or equivalent in the English language. Published by Hibben &Carswell, Victoria, V.I..)

These visitors are “Hunter” and his wife, and the Leighton’s carpenter explains that this man has done some work for him and has come for his pay;

that he would not take a white man’s word for a moment, but if, in making an agreement with him, a white man gave him a little bit of paper with any thing written on it, he was perfectly satisfied, and said [in pidgin English], “You my tilikum [relation]–I wait.”

That’s a reference, also on page 20, to the pan-Northwest custom of skookum papers, not always called that but in wide use.

By the summer of 1865, Chinook Jargon had broad currency at the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  Newly arrived non-Natives like Leighton were learning it as quickly as possible, and sucessfully speaking it with the range of Native people that they encountered.  No longer was CJ the tool primarily of trade or diplomacy, a really interesting development to keep in mind as we see how this author was using it. One of the things you might take note of is the definition she assigns to each CJ wowrd; they seem both accurate and the product of her personal experience.

August 2, 1865 (page 22):

We went this morning to an Indian Tamáhnous (incantation), to drive away the evil spirits from a sick man. 

August 17, 1865 (page 22):

He [Hunter] called me “Closhe tum-tum” (Good Heart), and gave me a great many beautiful smiles. 

August 30, 1865 (page 23):

Yeomans, an old Indian chief, the Tyee of the Flat-heads at Port Angeles, came to see us to-day.  He pointed to himself, and said, [in pidgin English] “Me all the same white man;” explaining that he did not paint his face, nor drink whiskey.

‘Flat-heads’ is consistently applied to the local Salish people, in contrast with the Makahs.  The same day (page 24):

Sometimes I see him [“Mr. Yeomans’s son”] going out with his klootchman in their little canoe; she, crouched in her scarlet blanket at one end…

Same day, pages 24-24, also about the son:

To-night he came in to tell us that there was going to be a great potlach at the coal-mines, where a large quantity of iktas would be given away, –tin pans, guns, blankets, canoes and money. 

Those all are things you’d ask a shopkeeper for in CJ, aren’t they?

Page 28, entry for September 20, 1865: sallal (salal) is an established English word, used without definition beyond “the Indian’s berry”.  On the same page:

It [walking through the forest] recalled to me the Indian’s dread of skookums (spirits) in the deep woods. 

Pages 30-31, same entry, have Leighton squeezing narrative effect out of overstating her Jargon neophyte status:

We should not have ventured to go alone with the Indians [by hired canoe northward from Port Gamble in Puget Sound], not understanding their talk; but another passenger was to go with us, who represented that he had learned the only word it would be necessary to use.  He explained to us, after we started, that the word was “hyac,” which meant “hurry up;” the only danger being that we should not reach Port Townsend before dark, as they were apt to proceed in so leisurely a way when left to themselves.  After a while, the bronze paddlers–two siwashes (men) and two klootchmen (women)–began to show some abatement of zeal in their work, and our fellow-passenger pronounced the talismanic word, with some emphasis; whereat they laughed him to scorn, and made some sarcastic remarks, half Chinook and half English, from which we gathered that they advised him, if he wanted to reach Port Townsend before dark, to tell the sun to stop, and not tell them to hurry up.

Page 32, same entry, engaging a Native man named Tommy to canoe them from Port Discovery with apparently minimal CJ skill:

…as the weather was still unsettled, we took the precaution, before starting, to give him his directions for the trip: “Halo wind, Port Angeles; hyiu wind, Dungeness,” meaning that we were to have the privilege of stopping at Dungeness if it should prove too stormy to go on…When we reached the portage over which they had to carry the canoe, he pointed out the place of the memaloost (the dead). 

Page 33, same entry, talking more with Tommy, where ‘all the same’ resonates with pidgin English:

He said it was all the same with an Indian, whether he was memaloost, or on the illahie (the earth); meaning that he was equally alive…When we reached the other side of the portage, the surf roared so loud, it seemed frightful to launch the canoe in it; but Tommy praised R. [Leighton’s husband?] as skookum (very strong) in helping to conduct it over…[at Dungeness] he pointed to some one he said was all the same as his mamma. 

Page 37, October 5, 1865: Leighton muses over the Indians’ reputed belief that the “crows” [ravens?] are their ancestors, connecting it with their languages’ prominent “use of the palate–kl and other guttural sounds occurring so oftten”.

November 5, 1865, page 39, datelined Seattle: Leighton mentions a great “laurel” tree by the house they are staying in; her detailed description of it matches the madrone, a.k.a. arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) nowadays north of the border.

Arbutus menziesii

April 6, 1866, page 40: the author mentions local Indian women “with their little bundles of ‘fire-sticks‘ (pitch-wood)”–a phrase that could be CJ or pidgin English.

Fire sticks

April 30, 1866, page 41: the Native people refer to the “‘red Tamáhnous,’ presumably pil Tamáhnous, which means ‘love’.”  This phrase reveals a fascinating additional cultural dimension behind the term “black tamanous” or klale Tamáhnous, for evil sorcery that’s noted in contemporaneous sources from Puget Sound (and on page 114 of this book).  What other colors of tamanous might there have been?

Black Tamanous

(These dudes picked a kill name for a death-metal band.  Mine is going to be Mëmälööst Chïckämïn, and we’re going to do very snappy versions of Rev. Eells’s CJ hymns.  Wait till you hear me growling “Whiskey memaloost tillicums!” over a raging double kick drum and weedly guitars.  I don’t mention my own bass playing, out of obvious modesty.)

Oh right, back to the book.

Page 42, same entry, a couple of CJ anthropological linguistic observations on ‘expressive lengthening’ intensification and on vocabulary:

The Indians, by prolonging the sound [stressed vowels] of words, add to their force, and vary their meaning; so that the same word signifies more or less, according as it is spoken quickly or slowly…The Indians have no word, as far as I can learn, for “busy.”  So, when I cannot entertain her [a very persuasive Pend d’Oreille woman], I have to make the nearest approach I can to the truth, and tell her I am sick, or something of that kind…As old as she is, she still carries home the great sacks of flour–a hundred pounds–on her back, superintends the salmon-fishery for the family, takes care of the tenas men (children), and looks after affairs in general.  

May 10, 1866, page 43, at Lake Union–meeting an elderly Native couple leads to this light on the recency of CJ on Puget Sound:

The most primitive of the Indians, the old gray ones, who look the most interesting, do not commonly speak the Chinook at all, or have any intercourse with the whites. 

Page 51, entry of June 8, 1866, traveling up the Columbia from Portland:

The bodies were always laid with the head toward the west, because the memaloose illahie (land of the dead) lay that way.  

Chinese miners are noted (pages 51-52) as patiently working abandoned claims, not interfering with rich ones, and nearly alone among immigrants, making sure to pay their mining license taxes.

On page 55, getting into north-central Washington’s semidesert, Leighton marvels at what’s obviously the bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) flower, for which she has no name, and at the “cayotes”.

Same entry still, page 56, ‘stick Indians’, a phrase that everyone uses to signify someone else’s exotic tribe:

We noticed the superiority of the “stick” Indians (those who live in the woods) over those who live by the sea. 

Page 57, same entry still:

…the lazy Clalams on the Sound, who used to say to us in reply to our inquiries as to their occupations and designs, “Cultus nannitsh, cultus mitlight” (look about and do nothing), as if that were their whole business all day long…

The Leightons meet and apparently talk (in CJ) with a Spokane Indian who is roaming the country locating stolen horses.  On page 60, two great smoking mounds turn out to be “kamas” ovens.  Other roots are eaten, with Salish names pohpoh and spatlam.

Page 89, visiting Father Joseph [Joset?] at Old Fort Colville, a Chinook Jargon name is heard:

…a messenger rode up to the door, and told him that Tenas Marie (Little Mary) was dying.

Page 99, visiting Pelouse Fall [Palouse Falls]: in the entry of August 23, 1866, is a mention of cayuse ponies and a hackama, defined as a buffalo-hair rope.

October 26, 1866, page 110:

We have had a great storm; and last night, about dark, a white figure of a woman appeared in the water, rising and falling, outside the breakers.  Some Indians went out in their canoes, and took her in to the shore.  One of them came to tell us about it.  A “ship’s klootchman” (wife or woman), he said it was, and a “hyas (big) ship” must have gone down.  It was the figure-head of a vessel.  

Page 111, October 29, 1866:

I took one [sea urchin] up, and asked him [Yeomans] if they were good to eat.  He said, “Indian muck-a-muck, not for Bostons (whites).

On page 112, same entry, the word mesahchie (outrageous) is used in addressing local Native people about their behavior. On page 113, at a beach location that’s unclear, the Leightons run into a previous acquaintance, Tleyuk (Spark of Fire), who knows little English but usually greets them with a pleasant Klahowya (glossed as “How do you do?”).  [Interestingly, this is the name of a Shoalwater Bay man often mentioned in JG Swan’s 1857 book.]  This section of the book deals with a trip from Puget Sound to the Columbia River.

Entry of December 23[?], 1866, page 120, having engaged Indian boatmen bossed by a Native man “Shorty” to transport them from Cowlitz Landing:

Always in the most difficult places, or if his energy seemed to flag in the least, Shorty would call out to him, in the most animated manner, mentioning a canoe, a hammock, and a hyas closhe (very nice) klootchman; at which the young man would laugh with delight, and start anew.  I considered it was probably his stock in life, the prospect of an establishment, which was presented to rouse and cheer him on.  

Entry of December 1, 1868, page 141, referring to Victoria:

They [the Hudsons Bay Company] gave the Indians better goods than they got from the United-States agents; so that they even now distinguish between a King George (English) blanket, and a Boston (American) blanket, as between a good one and a bad one.  

Entry of April 4, 1869, datelined Port Townsend, page 146; talking to people busy at a Native burial ground, obviously in CJ–emphasis added by me:

We asked them if a chief were dead.  “No,” it was her “little woman.”  [An old man at the burial of the girl] apparently called to the spirit of the child to come and receive it [a little purple woollen shawl]; and he then cast it into the fire.  He spoke in the old Indian language, which they do not use in talking with us.  It sounded very strange and thrilling.  

Page 147, continuing this scene:

The old man…lay motionless, looking at the fire, once in a while turning and saying something to the women, apparently about the child, as I several times distinguished the word tenas-tenas (little one). 

Entry of October 15, 1874, apparently near Port Angeles:

We stopped, and asked her [a distraught-acting old Native woman] if any one was dead.  She pointed to a square box in the canoe, and said, “mika tenas” [sic] (my child).  She said, afterwards, that she was as tall as I, and “hyas closhe” (so good)!

Page 201, entry of November 8, 1875, in California: some Chinese Pidgin English: “Me heap smart.”  And on page 236, “Melican man no sabbe Chinaman medicine” and “Melican medicine no good for Chinaman“.