The Ice-Caves of Washington Territory

The Ice-Caves of Washington Territory” was an uncredited travel piece in the illustrious Bret Harte‘s Overland Monthly, volume 3, number 5, November 1869, pages 421-427.

(Earlier in the same issue is an interesting article on the “Fur Seals” industry, including scenes from Makah Indian territory, which uses the word Kloochman “woman” in passing.)

One clue to its authorship is that this piece on some ice caves in the vicinity of The Dalles, OR and White Salmon, WA was eventually reprinted as a sort of post-script chapter to the narration of a later (1871) expedition to Yellowstone, in mining professor and former John C. Frémont aide Rossiter Worthington Raymond‘s book “Camp and Cabin: Sketches of Life and Travel in the West” (New York: Ford, Howard, & Hulbert, 1880).

Clue two is from the sometimes astonishingly helpful Wikipedia (emphasis added):

His work at the E&MJ [Engineering & Mining Journal] led, in 1868, to Raymond’s appointment to the coveted position of United States Commissioner of Mines to gather mining statistics on the American West. In 1869, Raymond hired Anton Eilers as Deputy Commissioner and, together and apart, the two explored the entire Far West, becoming national experts on the mining industry and creating large annual reports for Congress. These eight reports, for the years of his office, 1868-1875, contain a wealth of historic information about the mining West during this important period, especially the California Mother Lode, the Comstock Lode of Nevada, and the Rocky Mountains camps of Colorado. See, for example, the published version of the 1869 report.

Clue three is internal.  The narrator, “who joined the party because he wished to do so”, is a distinct character from the other three main figures: “a keen and portly Portlander”, “a Veteran Inhabitant”, and a young Midwestern “Tourist”.  Only the narrator role fits Rossiter W. Raymond.

So I’m fairly persuaded that he was the writer.

His tone is comparable with the foppish and insouciant jokiness to which we’re treated by Theodore Winthrop in that dude’s Jargon classic, “The Canoe and the Saddle” (1863), or by Lees and Clutterbuck in their “B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia“.

So the following excerpts can border on the tedious and know-it-allish.  Entertainment value aside, white people don’t address each other “How dost thou, venerable sir?”, so it’s intentionally demeaning to the Native people R.W. Raymond’s “Veteran” talks with when the narrator translates the Jargon in that high register.  The narrator does impute a superior value to Jargon over the tribal languages, but this is going too far.

But still, this article holds good Jargon that we haven’t seen before.  Read into the Chinook words here the kind of sign-language-y gestures that Raymond, like many others have done, reports in a passage that I underline as an often-integral component of the pidgin.

This was the situation at Portland, Oregon; and it was, to borrow the most expressive word in the Chinook jargon — that ripest fruit of time, product of all languages, essence of concentrated speech — it was, I say, cultus: yes, hyas cultus, or, in feeble Saxon, highly inconvenient, disgusting, demoralizing.

— page 421

These Indians all talk Chinook, which is the most fascinating of tongues. Being the product of a deliberate agreement of men—a compromise, it is said, between the Hudson’s Bay Company’s agents, the Jesuit missionaries, and the once powerful Chinook tribe — it is, of course, superior to those misshapen dialects that spring up of themselves, no one knows how. From the French, Spanish, English, Indian, and Hawaiian these wise etymologists took what was best in each, and the result comprises melody, force, and wondrous laconic expressiveness. It is none of your tame tongues, that can be spoken without gesture. Little boys, declaiming in jargon, could not possibly retain in nervous grasp the seams of their trowser-legs.  One of the most frequent words is kahkwa, meaning “thus,” or “like this,” and invariably accompanied with pictorial illustration of movement or feature. Let us address this ancient chieftain, solemnly riding at the head of a long train of “cayuse” horses, laden with his household, his “traps,” and his huckleberries: Klahowya sikhs? (How dost thou, venerable sir?) kah mika klatawa? (and whither journeyest?) Nika klatawa kopa Simcoe; mika King George tilikum, Boston tilikum? (I travel to the Simcoe [Yakama] Reservation; are ye of King George’s men— that is to say, Englishmen, or of the Boston tribe — that is to say, Yankees?) Nesika Boston tilikum, King George cultus. (We are Americans all, and regard King George with loathing and contempt.) Okook mika klootchman? (Is yon beauteous being thy bride ?) Siah kopa lamonti? (Far to themountains?— lamonti from the French, la montagne.) To the first, Nawitka (Yes); to the latter, Wake siah, wayhut hyas kloshe okook sun, kah chilchil kahkwa tomolla keekwillie kahkwa, tomolla moosum kopa lamonti. (Not far; good road, to-day; steep, to-morrow, low and level thus and thus; to-morrow night a camp at the mountain.) A very commonplace conversation, but full of music, as you will discover, if you read it aloud, Mademoiselle, with your sweet voice. But the Veteran is loping far ahead. Jargon has no charms for him; he has prattled too many years with these Babes of the Wood.

— page 424

In the preceding, the part that needs explaining is that “steep” is rendered with a nifty kah chilchil kahkwa, literally “where-the-stars-are-like” (sky-like), and maybe one of those gestures going with it.  Similar to this is the (to me) very Grand Ronde-sounding keekwillie kahkwa, “low-like”.

Streams alive with trout — hyiu tenas salmon—and white goats on the snowy fields above, to tax the skill and daring of the more ambitious sportsman.

— page 427

All in all, a good find and a chance for some critical reading, which is always good for the soul.

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