Catah mika wake iscum Gabrel yaka mamook pish cope George Jonson house

This pleasant antique piano is here to offset the unpleasant elements in the story that follows.


Leavens family’s square piano, Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, Stevenson WA

When Sheridan Was in Oregon” by Turner F[enner] Le(a)vens (Washington Historical Quarterly, July 1925 / 16(3):163-185).

Levens/Leavens (b. ca. 1850), eventually of Cascade Locks, was a son of 1852 immigrants Hiram & Pluma (St. Ores) Leavens (note to some of my readers: Jim Attwell makes an appearance at that previous link there) to the Oregon Territory.

TFL went on to be the sheriff of Skamania County, Washington Territory, at one time — and separately was a Commissioner of Wasco County, Oregon.

Sometimes I think I would be positively steamrolled by the sheer energy level of people who lived in the Pacific Northwest in frontier times.  They give me the impression of being non-stop go all the live-long day, with their feats of canoeing, hunting, tilling, and in this guy’s case, also filing US Patent #199, 985 “Steering-Propellers”.

General Phil Sheridan, who we have spoken of in connection with Chinook Jargon before, makes appearances here of course.

So does Grand Ronde ancestor Chief “Tumult”, nowadays more often referred to as Tumulth.

Speaking of Indigenous people, there’s an anecdote here of infamous Colonel [George] Wright’s execution of several Indians following the 1856 “Cascade massacre”.  I leave it to you to choose whether to go read the whole gory thing; the relevant bit of language is “Catah mika wake iscum Gabrel[,] yaka mamook pish [SIC] cope George Jonson house”.  (Pish is a typo for piah “burn/fire”.  Cope probably represents an original copa in the handwritten memoir.)  The translation provided is this: “Why don’t you get Gabrel–he burned George Jonson’s house.”

I’ll spend a moment of your time to observe that some of the spellings used by Levens/Leavens differ from the de facto standard ones that dominated Chinook Jargon as published in dozens of popular books before 1921.  And the syntax of George Jonson house, where we’d expect *G.J. yaka house — literally “G.J. his house” — in the eventually solidified grammar of the Jargon,  suggests an earlier pidgin stage of the language, perhaps appropriate for the time and the location removed from the nucleus that was Fort Vancouver.  Both of these (tiny) observations suggest to me at least the possibility that we have here a somewhat accurate, albeit secondhand, account of the words then spoken.

Another reward for reading TFL’s article is that we learn a previously undocumented Chinook Jargon place name for Crown Point, “Lamai Lemati” (lamiyáy lamətáy), translated as “Old Woman Mountain”.

The article also recounts a vivid incident involving a George Bush — but I think it occurs on the Oregon side of the Columbia River, so I guess it’s a different Geo. Bush from the well-known African-American/multiracial pioneer of Tumwater, Washington Territory?

(A note for new readers: Tumwater (təmwáta) is Chinook Jargon for “waterfull”.)

For those interested in a satisfactory chunk of frontier PNW history, and braced for unfiltered violence and racism, I recommend reading the whole article.  There is plenty more there than the linguistic tidbits I’ve shared today.