Impressions of a Tenderfoot: During a Journey in Search of Sport in the Far West

Impressions of a Tenderfoot: During a Journey in Search of Sport in the Far West” by Mrs. Algernon St. Maur (London: John Murray, 1890).  It’s said that this was quite a popular book in its day.

Susan (Margaret), Duchess of Somerset (d. 1936), née Mackinnon

LAF_2299C.tif The Drawing Room, 13 March 1900: presented Mrs. Colin Mackenzie.

The author is perhaps more precisely known as Susan Margaret Richards Mackinnon Seymour, Duchess of Somerset (b. 1853, d. 1936).


Yet again we see the late 19th-century Kootenays region (~ southeast BC & far north Idaho) as the upper-class white folks’ hunting mecca.

This is yet another publication where we find the Kootenays portrayed as a place where — you’d hardly realize it from the better-known literature on the language — Chinook Jargon was really useful.

That linguistic picture is really consistent in the books and newspaper stories that I’ve found.  (Some of which involve Mr. Baillie-Grohmann, who plays a role also in the book I’m writing about today.)  For one of the most extensive and focused treatments, I’m duty-bound to refer you to an overlooked gem, if you can find a copy: Alexander Chamberlain’s old paper, “Notes on the Chinook Jargon as Spoken in the Kootenay District”.

Easier but less illuminating is to surf to a copy of the Duchess of Somerset’s book, where you’ll find a few tidbits.

From the start of her Far West sojourn, on Vancouver Island, Cowichan area:

Our Indians came in their dug-out canoes a long way
up-stream to join us here…Only two of them spoke English, and of that
only a few words.  All of them, however, chatter Chinook, a sort of jargon
originally used in trading with the Hudson’s Bay Com-
pany. Most Indians on the Pacific side of the Selkirk
Mountains speak this jargon (of which there are only
three hundred words) as well as their own language.

— page 84-85

But the Duchess seems to have found it easier to communicate with these folks using English and by gesturing (page 87).  Across from Vancouver, presumably at the Skwxwú7mesh reserve, she and her husband rely on the help of a young boy who has some English (page 136).

At False Creek (Vancouver):

On reaching the shore at 7 A.M.
yesterday, we saw the Indian’s canoe anchored on the other
side of the creek ; after much calling and whistling, our
Indian (William by name) came out of his house, and
through Algernon’s stalking-glass we saw him packing in all
haste, with the assistance of his “clootchman” (Chinook for
woman) ; at last he came, and we started.

— page 139 (the Duchess also refers to the lighthouse “on the other side of the entrance to Buzzards Inlet”, which I take as Burrard Inlet!)

William the guide is depicted as speaking a rather pidgin English:

“Indian go after wild sheep, see bear. Him shoot
” bear with shot-gun, once, twice ; still bear come on.
” Indian get out knife, still bear come. Bear catch him,
” go, bite, bite, bite ! Indian up arms, scratch him, bite,
” bite, bite ! Indian get knife into bear. Bear thinks
” man dead, goes and sits not far off. Indian very sick,
” watch bear. Bear watch man too much. Man load gun
” again. Bear looks, man shoot again, kill bear. Man
” very sick, get back camp all blood ! ”

…William tells us he is a Roman Catholic, but in his
simplicity thinks all belong to that Church. He says,
” Me no able to read, but my boy he learn ; he be able to
do all that.”

— pages 141-142 (punctuation as on the book page) (A bit more of William’s words are given in following pages)

Same locale: an expression that’s new to me:

We started with what the Indian called a “siwash” wind.
Our canoe sailed beautifully. The wind, however, soon
dropped, and so Algernon and the Indian had to do a long
day’s paddling.

— page 145

In the Kootenays, a bilingual Chinook Jargon-English message:

Last night we were all awakened by the barking of
one of the dogs, but as he was always giving false alarms,
we shouted to him to keep quiet. Soon, however, we
heard some one outside saying, “Paper! letter! ” Alger-
non called Tom C , and they found an Indian who
had ridden up thirty-five miles during the night with a
letter. After an hour or two he took the answer back,
making seventy-five miles in all, in the dark, over a bad
trail part of the way — a good night’s work !

— page 180

Same locale, a Jargon word, probably in local English:

We find that one of the “cayeuses
we bought is well known as a beast that always strays and
take others away with him. An unpleasant discovery !

— page 181 (the better-known spelling is cayuse)

And on page 185 the placename “Skookum-chuck (‘quick water’)” is mentioned.  It’s around this stage in the narrative that the Duchess lets on she has learned some Jargon:

We called the Indians, as I wanted to buy some of
their ornaments, and when they rode up to the house, we
gave them each some tobacco, and I purchased from
them an embroidered fire-bag, with a fringe of mink tails,
and a bead necklace strung on leather. The Indians
spoke to each other all the time, and I heard one of them
say in Chinook “that there were a lot of Clootchmans
(women) about.”

— page 192

That’s about all the Chinooky stuff in this book.

You might appreciate knowing, when you read it, that Mrs St Maur seems to have illustrated it herself, and the landscape images are really top-notch.  I’ll leave you with one: