Father St Onge writes from his deathbed, in Jargon

A strangely unsung figure in Chinook Jargon history writes from his deathbed, in Jargon, in 1898.

Father Louis-Napoléon St Onge, OMI (b. 1812), had apprenticed as a young missionary with the now better-known Fathers Modeste Demers (1809-1871) and François Blanchet (1795-1883), becoming fluent in Sahaptin (Yakama) and Chinook Jargon.

holy angels college

Important to know: early in his Northwest years, St Onge was a teacher of philosophy, astronomy, and other subjects “in the Holy Angels College” (established 1850), Vancouver, Washington Territory.  This assuredly exposed him to the children of the fur trade-centered, ethnically mixed community that first creolized Chinook Jargon.

I’ve been working on St Onge’s huge manuscript dictionary of the Jargon, and it clearly reflects some of the earliest documentation of a variety that’s more like the Chinuk Wawa creole of Grand Ronde than any of the pidgin varieties we know of.  For a small taste of his Jargon, you can peek at the “regional Jargon” section of the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary.

A big reason that I say St Onge was tremendously important in the history of this language, besides the voluminous and previously unresearched documents of Jargon that he created, is that he loaned his materials to Father Le Jeune as a resource for writing the latter’s hundreds of pages of shorthand newspaper and books as expressively as possible.  St Onge’s influence on the famous Kamloops Wawa‘s phrasing and vocabulary is quite strong.   St Onge was also an enthusiastic correspondent in shorthand Chinook (Chinuk pipa) with Indians of BC’s southern interior.

(The best biographical sketch of St Onge seems to be the one in James C Pilling’s 1893 bibliography of Chinookan languages.  Sadly, it lacks dates for many events in this interesting man’s life.)

Now to St Onge’s farewell letter to the Chinook Jargon-writing Indigenous people of the Kamloops region.  Editor Father Le Jeune makes a brief introduction:

Pir Sint Onsh iaka mamuk pipa kopa msaika,
Pere St Onge has written to you folks,

tlus msaika nanich ikta iaka wawa kopa msaika.
you should read what he’s written to you.

St Onge letter in KW (2)

“Iht mun alta naika skukum sik.
“For a month now I’ve been terribly ill.  

Naika tomtom klunas naika aiak mimlus:
I think I may be rapidly dying: 

naika pilpil kaltash mitlait kopa naika tiawit
my blood just sits around in my legs.

Naika lipii chako aias kol, pi wik kata
My feet get very cold, and there’s no way 

pus naika mamuk chako wam klaska. Naika
for me to warm them.  I 

mamuk kanawi ikta lamicin pus mamuk
try all kinds of medicine to make 

chako wam naika lipii pi naika tiawit,
my feet and my legs warm up, 

pi kaltash. Mokst naika lipii chako
but it doesn’t work.  Both my feet have gotten 

aias hloima, sitkom tikop, sitkom
very strange-looking, half white, half 

tlil, pi kanawi hloima cim. Naika
black, and covered with odd marks.  I 

kakshit klaska pus mamuk kuli pilpil;
beat on them to get the blood flowing; 

naika pok’pok’ pi hwip klaska, pi
I slap and whip them, but 

kaltash. Alta naika tomtom klaska
it doesn’t work.  Now I think they’re 

aiak chako puli, pi naika mamuk
quickly rotting, and I 

chako doktor; iaka wawa: “Wik
called a doctor; he said, “There is no 

tlus lamicin pus maika; naika lolo
good medicine for you; I’m taking 

maika kopa aias skul haws, pi maika
you to the university, and you 

iskom skukum iliktrisiti. Iaka drit
will receive jolts of electricity.”  He really   

mamuk paia naika lipii pi naika tiawit.
burnt up my feet and my legs.  

Klaska chako kakwa pus paia kopa liplip
They got to be like they were burnt up with boiling  

chok. Ana! Naika sik, pi pus
water.  Oh my!  I was sick, but when 

iaka kopit mamuk paia, chi pilpil chako
it was done burning, the blood began 

St Onge letter in KW (4)

kopa kanawi aias pi tanas pilpil=
running in all the big and little blood 

oihat. Tanas lili klaska chako
vessels.  For a while they 

wam. Alta naika chako ihi tomtom
warmed up.  Now I’ve gotten excited 

kopa klaska. Tlus pus msaika
about them.  You folks should 

skukum styuil kopa ST pus naika,
pray hard to God for me, 

pus wawa mirsi kopa iaka, kopa
to thank him for 

ukuk naika chako tanas tlus, pi
my small improvement, and 

pus iaka skukum hilp naika pus naika
for him to help me strongly when I 



<L.N. St Onge.>

<Séminaire de St Hyacinthe>

<P.Q. Canada.>

— Kamloops Wawa #163 (April 1898), page 53