George Gibbs’ journal of Redick McKee’s expedition through northwestern California in 1851

George Gibbs’ journal of Redick McKee’s expedition through northwestern California in 1851.

George Gibbs journal of Redick McKee's expedition in northwestern California

That’s the cover title.  Edited and with annotations by Robert F. Heizer.  Berkeley: Department of Anthropology, University of California, 1972.

This booklet was originally published as pages 99-177 in Volume III of Henry R. Schoolcraft’s Historical and statistical information respecting the history, condition and prospects of the Indian tribes of the United States.  Philadelphia: 1853.

I found it delightful reading.  Gibbs was a man of his time, and you can’t get away from his expressing often the obligatory condescension toward both the local Native tribes and the Hispanic Californians.  But he was a fairly sensitive observer and thorough reporter.

Gibbs was taken on as an interpreter to an Indian treaty-making expedition from Sonoma northward by Colonel McKee.  What resulted were what are known as Treaties O, P, Q and R.  I’m wondering what qualified Gibbs as an interpreter in this environment–could it have been, not to be cynical in saying this, political connections within the small and tight-knit gold-rush society? The cultures of the area covered were hopelessly diverse for any one would-be interpreter, including tribes we nowadays recognize as Athabaskans like the Hupas, as well as linguistically unrelated groups such as Pomos; Miwoks; Yuroks; Wiyots; Karuks; Shastas; and Klamaths.  It’s unclear whether Gibbs even spoke Spanish, which a few Native people in the area could speak.  The Spanish words peppered, so to speak, through his account are the ones still common in the Californian English of 2013.  Vanishingly few Indians the expedition encountered could speak any English.

George Gibbs did already speak Chinook Jargon, though, by 1851 [page 1].  CJ was in limited currency in northwestern California by that time [and never became much more widespread there].  It had most likely been introduced by “Indians from further north, accompanying white gold seekers” in the opinion of editor Heizer, contra Gibbs [page 83].

Let me in my usual way guide you through the few high points of relevance to Chinook Jargon and language contact in the text:

Pages 28-29 (numbered 125-126 in the original): Among the Wiyots [Algic language family, distantly related to Algonquian],

I noticed that several words from the “Jargon” or trade language of Oregon were in use, undoubtedly obtained from Hudson’s Bay trappers.”  [See note above.]  “Such is the word “ma-witch,” a deer, by them applied to all kinds of meat, as well as to the animal, though they have a corresponding name of their own.  The word “pappoose,” too, has wandered from its Atlantic home, to become a familiar one on the lips of this race, long after those have passed away to whom it was vernacular.

I found that passage notable for two things–One is its implying that “pappoose” was known to Gibbs as a CJ word.  I’ve certainly found that to have been the case in the Columbia Plateau/BC Interior regions.  The other is that the Wiyots may be the southernmost tribe I’ve seen documented as being exposed to Chinook Jargon.

Page 29 [127]: In the Wiyots’ territory, “The sallal, salmon, and berries, hazel-nuts, &c., also abound.”  Not necessarily a CJ word here, as this berry’s name leaped into English pretty early.

Page 41 [139]: Klamath Indians acted as interpreters between Gibbs and the Athabaskan-speaking Hupas and Tolowas.

Same page: Tolowa (?) groups referred to by the Klamaths as “Eenahs/Eenaghs” and “Siahs/Sians” on Smith River.  Is there just a remote chance that the Klamath interpreters were referring to these groups in CJ as “Beaver” and “Far[ther] Away [Upriver]”? I find nothing to resolve this question in Richard A. Gould’s “Tolowa” article in the California volume of HNAI.

Page 42 [140]: Local Indians’ beliefs in connection with burials and a sort of devil spirit are

related to us by residents, so far as could be gathered from the Indians themselves.  A qualification must probably be made on the score of incorrect translation and misunderstanding.

Signs of the limited availability of any interethnic language at all!

Page 43-44 [141-142], on the Yuroks:

Both sexes pierce the nose, and wear some kind of ornament in it; the favorite one being the shell known as the “haiqua,” among the fur traders.  This, under the name of “ali-qua chick,” or Indian money, is more highly valued among them than any other article.  

This too is not necessarily an example of CJ usage in northwestern California.  These could be just isolated words dropped into the narrative by Gibbs, especially the first; but the second sounds more like a report of a Jargon word in actual use in the area.

In light of that second word, page 51 [149] provides a really tantalizing note of possible CJ influence on the Karuk language and culture:

To raise this [payment for a stolen gun], he [Red Cap, a sub-chief] imposed an excise on all salmon sold to the packers and miners, of fifty cents; which, besides the usual price in beads, was to be exacted in “waugie chick,” or silver white man’s money. 

The footnote to this by editor Heizer tells: ” ‘Waugie chick’ means woge (white man) tsik (money — in Indian meaning, shells of Dentalium but in white man’s terms, silver coin.)”

Of course I’m wondering if this “chick” is from CJ “chickamin”, “money”.  For possible confirmation, see the note about page 77 below.

Page 57 [155] mentions the Sis-kiu (Siskiyou) mountains in passing.

Page 59 [157] is one of the few definite observations of CJ in use here:

We found here [nearing Shasta country] a young Indian, who spoke a few words of the Oregon jargon, and through him were enabled to communicate a little with the rest.

Page 73 [171] speaks of chiefs in the Shasta region reporting the populations of their “grounds” or villages.  This could reflect information conveyed via CJ; compare “illahie” which can mean “place, ground” and for example in Kamloops-area CJ “village”.

Page 77 [175] mentions again “aliqua chick” written as two words, and speaks of current Yurok burial customs:

The “chick,” or ready money, is placed in the owner’s grave, but the bow and quiver become the property of the nearest male relative.  

All around, this is slim pickings and correlates strongly with the impression one already had that CJ just barely came into use in California.  See Anthony Grant’s article in the Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication for a few more details on the subject.

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