Cayuse French, it’s a thing

This summer I came into grateful possession of Mitford Mathews’ “Dictionary of Americanisms”, where you know I scoured around for Chinook Jargon-related words.  There’s a lot that’s of interest, including the entry for CAYUSE, which has a subentry “CAYUSE FRENCH”.  The word is left undefined except by this example:

Most squaw-men were French or Canadian-French, sometimes called Cayuse French.  

Cayuse French


That’s from Walgamott’s 1927 “Reminiscences of Early Days” in Idaho.  It made me wonder if this was really a thing, or if that writer had kind of made the phrase up.

It’s a thing.

Jean Barman’s 2014 “French Canadians, Furs, and Indigenous Women in the Making of the Pacific Northwest” recounts how James Boucher’s (Bouchey’s) kids, because he had forbidden their being taught Indian (Carrier),

“…began speaking in a strange tongue, cayuse French, a mixture of Indian and French.”  

Another use of the phrase in the Northwest is in “A Score of Years, the Record of the Class of 1884, Princeton: 20th Anniversary“:

“I was appointed professor at the College of Montana at Deer Lodge, where I attempted to instruct the natives in the classical tongues, at the same time making valuable contributions to my own knowledge of American and Cayuse French.

The BC Metis Mapping Research Project website tells of William Yates, HBC laborer, 1883-?:

On October 1, 1859, he preempted forty acres one and a half miles northeast of Hope on the east side of the Quequella [Coquihalla?] River. Yates’ ability to speak several languages, including: French, Cayuse French, several Algonkian languages (besides the local Salishan dialects), allowed him to keep the peace between the miners and the local natives during the turbulent times of the gold rush.

Gretchen Cottrell’s essay, circa 2008,”Identity and Ancestry: Sticks & Stones & Buffalo Bones“, recounts on page 14 her dad’s memory from childhood:

My mother used to call me ‘Tete Rouge de Jab, which was Cayuse French for Red-headed Devil (tête rouge diable) [sic].

So Cayuse French is another word for Metis people and their ways of speaking.  Nice to learn this regional English expression that carries so much history in two little words!