Assimilation’s Agent: My Life As a Superintendent in the Indian Boarding School System

łush ukuk buk:

Someone has shown the fine judgment to publish the memoir of Edwin L. Chalcraft as a book, under a title he might never have come up with: “Assimilation’s Agent: My Life As a Superintendent” (University of Nebraska Press, 2004).

assimilation's agent


The memoirist was born in Illinois, but came to the Pacific Northwest circa 1881 after marrying  Alice, a granddaughter of Washington Territory’s (Civil) “wartime governor”, the Lincoln-appointed British immigrant William Pickering.

Beginning in 1886 at the Chehalis (Oakville) reservation, Chalcraft worked in the Indian service, and what I love about this book is how clearly it conveys years of perceptions of somebody who seemed pretty simpatico towards Indigenous people.  This man attended Shaker Church services and spent many hours of friendly socializing with Natives.

Chalcraft was also posted to Puyallup, Chemawa, and Siletz, so in his time he got some excellent exposure to Chinook Jargon.  The detail in which he noted down the use of this pidgin are as rare for the time as his good intentions toward Indians.

I want to share two meaty examples from this book.  The translations are Chalcraft’s own.

A school song or “yell” (a cheer) from Chemawa Indian School that Chalcraft recalled from the very early 1900s “that rather appealed to me”, he says:

Tyee!  Tyee!  Tyee! 
Sah-a-lie Tyee wa-wa mit-lite ko-pa pa-pa,
Skoo-kum Ya-ka haul ill-a-he; 
Ne-si-ka ma-mook kum-tux Ya-ka tum-tum — 
Tyee!  Tyee!  Tyee!


Chief!  Chief!  Chief!
God’s Word is in the Book,
The Power that Wins the Land; …

(pages 220-221; the Google Books preview wouldn’t show me page 221!)

At Chehalis Indian Reservation in the early 1880s, Chalcraft tried to follow Myron Eells‘ advice to him to get the Indians to talk English, but this approach was still of limited use at that date.  So one day Chalcraft asked Marion Davis, a young [Chehalis Rez–DDR] man who had studied at Chemawa [technically at Forest Grove-DDR], for some help in learning useful Chinuk Wawa expressions:

I said to him, “Marion, suppose that when I was in Olympia the last time, I put a little package on the shelf above the door to Littlejohn’s [actually Grainger’s–DDR] livery stable and forgot to get it when I came home, how would I tell you in Chinook to go there and bring it to me.”  His reply was: —

Me-si-ka klat-a-wa ko-pa Olympia, ko-pa Littlejohn ya-ka
You go to Olympia, to Littlejohn his

kui-a-tan house, ik-tah mit-lite sagh-a-lie ko-pa la-pote
horse house, package remain above to door,

is-kum pee lo-lo ko-pa ni-ka 
get and carry to me.

(page 22)

This Chalcraft committed to memory, and I’d say he did so perfectly.  The grammar is impeccable, for instance in using  a NULL object for the inanimate “it” in is-kum pee lo-lo “get [it] and carry [it}”.

There is plenty more of this kind of evocative reporting in the book abour the use of Jargon, as well as of Native people’s still-tentative English, not to mention richly detailed descsriptions of daily life all around.  This book is a recommended read.