Koho stick

Until my dictionaries (plural) of Chinuk Wawa are published, I want every last one of you to buy the Grand Ronde Tribes’ dictionary. At $29.95 it’s a very good deal, giving you the most accurate pronunciation and usage guidance available. And you’ll be supporting the tribe that is pretty singlehandedly bringing the Jargon back to brilliant life.

(My dictionaries will not duplicate their efforts, only add to them with piles of info from other sources.)

Shinny by Lacoista from Smithsonian


(Image credit: Smithsonian)

The Grand Ronde dictionary has a word qʰóhoho that I imagine many folks will be briefly mystified by. Because the translation that’s given is ‘shinny’. Hardly anyone uses that English word in that way anymore. It refers to (as the dictionary goes on to tell you) “an indigenous form of field hockey”. Now you’ve learned something.

You’re also learning this Jargon word for the first time, aren’t you? It’s not widely known. Checking my priceless copy of Samuel V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation*, I find no trace of a similar word from the many early dictionaries that he compiles.

The origin of this word is rightly called “obscure” in the Grand Ronde dictionary. Maybe the Indigenous etymology will come to light with further research. For now, I can add a couple of clues to the dossier.

Royal A. Bensell’s entertaining diary “All Quiet on the Yamhill: The Civil War in Oregon” (ed. by Gunther Barth, pub. by U. of Oregon Press, 1959), which is larded with quite a lot of Chinuk Wawa, mentions this:

Feb. 14, 1864. Clear. Sunday, and from the top of the Block House I watched the Indian game “Coho” played by a large number of “Siwashes.” Very interesting. (page 123)

And then there’s Andrew McFarland Davis’s 1886 article “A Few Additional Notes Concerning Indian Games” in the Bulletin of the Essex Institute (volume 18 nos. 10-12, pages 168-188). I’m going to quote this at some length:


My former paper was separately printed and a few copies
were distributed among persons who were presumed to be
interested in the subject. Mr. F. P. Deering, of San Fran-
cisco, in his acknowledgment of the receipt of a copy which
I sent him, communicated the following interesting infor-
mation : —


” I have delayed acknowledging your kindness in send-
ing a copy [of Indian Games] to me, to get some facts
about the Oregon game of Koho played by the Indians of
that section. Mr. Simpson, a friend of mine, — a lawyer
here, — passed much of his youth on an Indian reservation
in Oregon, of which his father was the head. He tells
me that the favorite game with the various tribes stationed
there, was one which was played sometimes by members
of the same tribe, and at others by different tribes, and
called as if spelled k-o-h-o. A wooden ball whittled out of
the knot of some tree, maple I think, was placed in the
ground midway between the goals which were usually
three-quarters of a mile apart. A hole about as large as
a man’s hat was dug in the earth and lightly filled with
dust and leaves. In this the ball was placed. The chiefs,
each with one koho stick, about as long as a walking-cane,
widened to two or three inches perhaps, at the end, and
bent upward, stood on either side of the hole ; and, at a
given signal, struggled to get possession of the ball with
their sticks. The men on either side were at liberty to
take what stations they pleased anywhere in the field. The
goals were not like those in lacrosse, but were arbitrary
lines, the length of the whole end of the field, and across
one of these lines the ball had to be driven. The game,
as it was described to me, was extremely rough ; tripping,
pushing and catching men by the legs with the koho stick
being permitted. Striking one another with the stick was
even resorted to, although the last was supposed to be for-
bidden. The players were often severely hurt, but my
informant knew of no case where any one was killed, or
where bones were broken. He tells me of different in-
stances where the heat of the game led to fights among
individual players and says that on one occasion when the
game was between different tribes, and the losing party be-


gan to attack the winners with their kohoes [Footnote 1] the spectators,
sympathizing with the winners, fired rifles at the losers.

Gambling was one of the features of the contest, just
as with the games you describe, and the participants and
lookers-on often wagered every stitch of clothing they had
on. So far as costume for the game is concerned, I could
not learn that any special preparation was made.”

In the description of lacrosse as played on the Pacific
coast, which was quoted in the former article, the bat was
described as ” constructed of a long, slender stick, bent
double and bound together, leaving a circular hoop at the
extremity, across which is woven a coarse meshwork of
strings.” In the game of koho, it will be noticed that
this form of bat is changed, and the consequent modifica-
tions of the game, from inability to strike sharply with
the cross, do not appear. We have a game which closely
approximates lacrosse as described in early times in the
east. The koho stick resembles the “curved wooden
head” of which Morgan gives an account, but which, so
far as my observations go, is mentioned by no other
writer. The method of opening the game seems to be


1 The mention of this word in the English plural naturally brings to mind the
fact that the town of Cohoes in New York bears an Indian name, apparently pro-
nounced like the name given the bats in the Oregon game. Morgan, in his “League
of the Iroquois,” p. 474, gives the Mohawk name for Cohoes as Ga-ha-oose, and de-
fines its meaning to be ”shipwrecked canoe.” In ”A General History of Connecti-
cut,” etc., by a gentleman of the province, London, 1781, reprinted with supplement,
New Haven, 1829, the author (said to be Rev. Samuel Peters) says, p. 110, ‘”In the
Connecticut river there are three great bendings, called Cohosses, about 100 miles
asunder.” This is evidently the same word applied through its descriptive force,
to places dangerous for navigation on each of the rivers. A coincidence of the
use of the same word in dialects used by tribes so widely separated as those liv-
ing in the valleys of the Mohawk and Connecticut, and those living in the valley of
the Columbia, is not impossible but is not probable.

In a dictionary of the Niskwalli, by George Gibbs, Contributions to North Amer-
ican Ethnology, Vol. I, p. 292, “ka-hos, ka-ho sin, a club,” is given. Dr. Trumbull,
whom I consulted, called my attention to the word “ko-ko, to knock,” given in
Gibbs’ dictionary of Chinook Jargon. See Dr. Shea’s Library of American Lin-
guistics, No. XII.


entirely original. It had this advantage over the ordinary-
plan of starting through the agency of an umpire or some
disinterested party, that no favors could be shown. By
means of this description — if doubts existed before — we
are enabled to identify, beyond cavil, the game of lacrosse
as one of the amusements indulged in by our Pacific coast
Indians. (pages 168-171)

I wonder if koho stick was an expression in the Jargon? New to me.

I tend to agree with Davis that an Eastern Native source seems unlikely.

And the suggestion of Chinook Jargon ko-ko as the source of Chinook Jargon qʰóhoho doesn’t hold water. George Gibbs (1863) has koko ‘to knock’, saying it’s onomatopoeic — apparently the way Chinook Indians imitated woodpeckers. If that word sounded much like koho, he would have written it with an “h”. I don’t find it in Lower Chinookan, but there are mighty similar words in southwest Washington Salish for ‘woodpecker’, like qaqə́m in Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis and Cowlitz.

But the third potential source, Salish, is an okay prospect. Recall the Nisqually ( = southern Lushootseed Salish) “ka-hos, ka-ho sin, a club” that was mentioned. That’s a pretty old appearance of the root that we know in modern Lushootseed as č̓axʷ(a) ‘[to] club, hit with a stick’. (Because older k̓ became modern č̓.) I haven’t found the suffixes -s (probably ‘face’) or [-]in (maybe ‘tool’) on that root in the Lush. dictionary, but the connection is quite interesting and worth a further look. A pretty good candidate for a connection in SW WA Salish is a Lower Chehalis (Willapa Bay area) word for a ‘fish club’ from the 1880s, approximately k̓awá-tən (‘?clubbing-tool’). Variation between  and w is a known thing in SW WA Salish. The only problem is that this is the only occurrence of such a root that I’ve found among those 4 languages! Not discovering any 100% bulletproof cognates of this root, I refer you to a language I know much less about: a very tentative link might exist with Tillamook Salish gʷəʔəš, gʷaʔəš ‘beat/kill’.

I promise not to be surprised if a better etymology for qʰóhoho turns up in a different Oregon language. But it sure is interesting to go looking and find that darn Salish popping up again as a likely suspect in the history of Chinuk Wawa!

*The only reason I don’t recommend SVJ’s diss for everyone to also buy is that it’s an imperfect photocopy from a 1978 computer printout, so, it’s harder to use than you’d wish. Samuel V. Johnson, is there a chance we can scan and OCR your personal “keeper” copy?