Grand Round reservation, 18__

Grand Round agency

Albert B. Meacham (1826-1882) is remembered as one who was energetically sympathetic to the Native people of the Pacific Northwest.

He was the superintendent (1869-1872) over several reservations, including the one he consistently called “Grand Round” as the locals there still do. My readers will recognize this as the home of the Grand Ronde Tribes, whose 2012 dictionary of creolized Chinuk Wawa I often refer to.

Meacham’s book, “Wigwam and War-Path, or, The Royal Chief in Chains” (Boston: JP Dale & Co., 1875) is a veritable respite, for the present-day reader, from the almost omnipresent White thoughtlessness toward Indians that percolates through 19th-century eyewitness tellings. Mind you, he was a US government Indian official, and he was a Christian minister, so his entire official purpose amounted to colonization. But you sense this guy’s sincere soul with every page you turn.

A gauge that I may be the only person in the world to apply to a person’s character is: “How well did he hear Chinuk Wawa?” I never tire of listening to oral-history tapes, or reading old memoirs, in hopes of being visited with surprise and delight at someone’s replicating recognizably fluent Jargon. Because like every language, speakers of the Jargon have always spanned a spectrum from the halting to the full master of the speech community’s norms. Meacham, a Washington Territory pioneer of 1863 who soon moved over to Oregon, must have possessed quite an understanding of this language, since what he quotes in this book, albeit limited in length, is excellent. And it’s written in spellings of his own, showing he was working from memory, not from anyone else’s material. It’s also riddled with the crazy punctuation that we see in the folksiest writing of Jargon, as though in an attempt to faithfully capture details of intonation and cadence — I can only imagine.

This makes me see him in a little rosier light 🙂

In the springtime of 1863 at the Trading Post on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon, Meacham records an incident between a local and a raw newcomer from Ireland. Here we add to our list of nonhumans known to understand Chinuk Wawa (in my previous posts, I’ve shown that woodrats and Thunderbird are fluent):

A stalwart son of Erin, standing against the wall
of the store to “rest his pack,” afler looking at the
trail leading up the mountain, said to the merchant
doing business there…”By the howly
St. Patrick, if me own mother was here in the shape
of a mule, I’d ride her up that hill, sure! I say, Mis-
ther Injun, wouldn’t you sell us a bit of a pony for to
carry our blankets an’ things over the mountain with?”

The Indian had been in business long enough to
understand that [much English], and replied, “Now-wit-ka mi-ka pot-
luctch. Chic-a, mon, ni-ka is-cum, cu-i-tan ! “ — “Och !
Mister Injun, don’t be makin’ fun of a fellow, now, will
ye? It’s very sore me feet is, a-carrying me pick and
pan and cooking-traps. Why don’t you talk like a
dacent American gentleman?” — “Wake-ic-ta-cum-
tux,” said Tip-tip-a-noor, the Indian. “Don’t be play-
in’ your dirty tongue on me now, or I’ll spoil your
beautiful face so I will.”

Drawing his arms out of the straps that had kept
the pack in position on his shoulders, and lowering it
“aisy,” to save the bottle, he began to make demon-
strations of hostile character, when Mr. Flippin, the
post-trader, explained that Tip-tip-a-noos had replied
to his first request, “Yes, you show the money, and I
will furnish the horse;” and he had replied to the
second, “I don’t understand you.” — “And is that all
he says? Shure, he is a nice man, so he is…”

…soon Tip-tip-a-noos brought a small pinto cal-
ico-colored horse; and after some dickering the trade
was completed by Pat, through pantomimic signs, giv-
ing Tip to understand, that if he would follow
down into the gulch, out of sight of Flip. he would
give him a bottle of whiskey, in addition to the twenty

The pony was turned over to Pat and Mike. The
next move was to adjust the packs on the Cayuse.
This was not easily done. First, because the pony
did not understand Pat’s jargon; second, they had not
reckoned on the absence of a pack-saddle.

(pages 36-37)

A visit to Siletz Reservation that Meacham recounts is interspersed with Chinuk Wawa words spoken by the Native residents. We find references to “clutchmen (women)”, the ” ‘Sku Kum’ House (Guard House)”, in effect the reservation’s jail, and “ic-tas (goods)” (page 84); “chick-chick (wagons)” (page 87); an observation that “the major portion of the Indians understood the jargon, or ‘Chi-nook’ “, that the Siletz agent often serves as interpreter in that language, and that the word Boston “is in common use among the tribes of Oregon and Washington Territory to represent white men or American” [sic] (page 88); “Si-wash, the usual word for an Indian”, and in halting English (translation?), a conversation between a Native man and a White about Christianity (page 89).

Siwash Sundayman

Siwash “Sundayman” at Tanya Lake, BC, circa 1927 (image credit: Royal BC Museum)

This Sunday-man is quite likely local Jargon for ‘preacher’; we know it from the southern interior of British Columbia, where it seems to have gotten conflated with the official Catholic-church title shanti man ‘prayer leader ~ deacon’ (literally ‘song/hymn man’), and it’s a surname that you’ll still find in certain First Nations communities.

(Page 89’s conversation speaks volumes about of testimony that people got their intercultural understandings on-the-ground and in-the-street; the Native fella is under the impression that the Sunday-man cusses his way right through the service, going on as he does about “Jesus Christ!” Transfer this wholesale to how people learned and used Chinuk Wawa.)

When Meacham visits the Grand Round reservation in what I understand to be 1869, he’s introduced by agent LaFollette as the ” ‘Salem tyee,’ — superintendent” (pages 113 and 114). Jo Hutchins (a.k.a. Joe Hudson if memory serves), chief of the Santiam K’alapuyans, ends his speech with “Alta-kup-et, — I am done” (page 119). Several pages later, we’re regaled with an anecdote from the surveyor Col. Thompson of an encounter with a “Wapto” Indian (the “Wapto Dave” mentioned elsewhere in the book? a Chinookan?) on the reservation, who, as became typical in Jargon-speaking regions, used English-derived words for higher numerals:

“Wapto” said, in jargon, “Indian Neeseka-nan-
itch-mi-ka, is-cum, twenty acres; Nika cluchman is-
cum, twenty acres; Ni-ka ten-us-cluchman is-cum,
ten acres; Nika ten-us-man is-cum, ten acres; Ma-
mook, sixty acres; Al-ka. You see I get twenty
acres, my squaw get twenty acres, my daughter get
ten acres, my son get ten acres, making sixty acres in
all. Spose Mesika Capit mamook icta elihe, Kau-yua [kau-qua]
nika is cum, seventy acres. Suppose you stop sur-
veying, and wait awhile, I can get seventy acres, may
be eighty acres. Cum-tux, — understand? ”

The colonel took the hint, when the Indian pointed
to the small lodge, fitted up expressly, as the custom
among these people is, for important occasions of the
kind intimated above.

Whether he changed his course in surveying, he
did not say, but went on to relate, that a few days
after the above conversation, the same Indian came to
him and said, ” Nika-is-cum, Ten-is-man “ — “I have
another boy.” — ” Klat-a-wa-ma-mook-elihe “ — ” Go
on with the survey.” — ” Nika, is-cum, seventy acres “
— “I get seventy acres.” He seemed much elated
with the new boy, and the additional ten acres of land.

(page 124)

Still at Grand Ronde, page 129 brings us another instance of ictas, here translated as ‘presents’ (gifts). The same episode involves this quotation from a young woman whose boyfriend has left for another reservation:

“Leander, Clat-a-wa-o-koke-Sun-Siletz. E-li-he, hi-ka-tum-tum, ni-ak-clut-a-wa. (Leander goes to Siletz, my heart will go with him, to-day.) Ni-ka-wake-clut-or-wa-niker, min-a-lous. “If I don’t go, I will die.” (page 130)

I’ll tie the story up with this:

One young man asked the bridegroom in Indian, “Con-chu-me-si-ka-ka-tum-tum?” (“How is your heart now?” “Now-wit-ka-close-tum-tum-tum-ni-ka.” (“My heart is happy now.”) (page 132)

The typesetter had the hiccups: me-si-ka-ka and tum-tum-tum each have an extra last syllable.

A nice addition nonetheless to our ever-growing store of Chinuk Wawa knowledge!