Recollections of my boyhood

He wasn’t a Forty-Niner, but this right here is gold!

Jesse Applegate (1811-1888, “Oregon pioneer of 1843”) wrote a highly readable memoir that I reckon was a regional bestseller, his “Recollections of My Boyhood” (Roseburg, OR: Press of Review Publishing Co., 1914).

This little prize of a book shows us yet again that the earliest waves of non-Native folks to come into Oregon country faced the realities of surviving in a strange land by (A) getting along with the Indians and (B) finding a way, fast, to talk with them.

It’s my view that the real oldtimers — as everyone called them — were just about the least prejudiced towards Natives. They didn’t yet have the luxury of lounging around in fenced-off compounds and passing judgment on those who lived differently. The pioneer generation necessarily got along with what was still the Native majority population.

I dwell on these points as a way of highlighting how the first settlers met what I find to be one useful definition: People who use pidgin languages such as Chinuk Wawa have to speak them. In Oregon, there was an urgent need to communicate with those who knew how to survive in the newly encountered local conditions. So the early batch of Whites had a distinguishing behavioral trait of shutting up and paying attention to the Natives. (I chose the above photo of Applegate because I appreciate that he looks like he’s listening instead of dictating.) 

Such strains of decency were drowned out all too soon.

But the reminiscences that the pioneer generation, thankfully, turned into a bountiful genre of our regional literature — those remain. And they show us some just wonderful Chinuk Wawa. It’s typically written in whatever spellings the narrator felt reflected their own experience of the language. It sometimes reveals locally used terms that we don’t know from the relatively few popular dictionaries. It always shines new light on details of daily Indian-White relations that no history book has captured.

This memoir of Jesse Applegate’s hasn’t escaped the keen eye of previous Chinook Jargon scholars; it’s referenced in the Grand Ronde Tribal dictionary of 2012, but you’ll see that I have additional comments.

I don’t want to keep you from experiencing the joys of Applegate’s autobiography any longer. Now that I’ve framed his writing as a keenly observed record of genuine old Jargon, let’s look at selected excerpts. (But go read the whole book!)

[On the Columbia River while emigrating; either a newly discovered use of smoke in a noun sense ‘tobacco’, or a free translation of the verbal use:]

One day, however, a large canoe carrying six or seven natives shot out of a little cove on the north shore, and passing across our bows slowed up, while the man in the bow of the craft, lifting his hand towards his mouth, spoke and said, “Smoke six!” which literally translated is “Tobacco, friend!” — page 44

[Near The Dalles; a newly discovered alternate version of the name of Oregon City, which is təmwata in the Grand Ronde dictionary:]

Farther on, the path led across the island known as “Mimaluse [Dead],” which connected with the main land on the north shore when the river is low. We passed a pond or small lake on which were floating many rafts made of logs on which were dozens of dead bodies rolled in blankets or Klisques mats. — page 52

Robert Shortis [Shortess] met us at The Dalles with supplies. He came in a canoe with two Indians. He lived at Tamchuk (the falls), now Oregon City.  — page 53

[Fort Vancouver; an early occurrence of ‘Chinook canoe’:]

The object here that fixed my attention, and that I gazed upon with admiration and astonishment, was a ship lying at anchor in the river a short distance below our camp. The hull was black and rose above the water, and the mast was like a tree. I had never before seen a water craft larger than our big boat or a *Chinook Kinnim [Chinook canoe]. So great was its size and beauty, I would have believed it to be one of the wonders of the world, had not some one told me it was only a schooner. — page 56

[Willamette River:]

From this camp we were two days getting up the river to Tum-Chuk, now Oregon City. We passed the Klackamas rapids on our first day up the river. The men, women and children not needed in the boats went ashore at the foot of the rapids, and followed along the river bank, while men with the boats, some poling and others on shore towing, brought the boats safely through the rapids. The camp that night was near the bank of the Klackamas River. The second day we reached Tum-Chuck, and the boats were hauled around the falls to the river above by a French-Canadian with one yoke of long-horned steers. We made camp on the east shore nearly opposite the main cataract. There were less than a dozen houses at Tum-Chuk including a tinshop, blacksmith shop, saw mill, and probably a grist mill. We spent one night at this place. In the morning two or three Kanakas [Hawaiians] helped to launch the boats above the falls and to clear the rapids.  — page 58

[French-Canadian contributions; liplip as a noun is a new discovery:]

For building the boat father took his pay in provisions; pork and peas constituted the greater part of these provisions. The French settlers seem to have grown peas extensively. I remember wading around in a large bin of peas for an hour or more while we were in camp at Champoeg. These peas were white and very hard. The Indians were very partial to peas, or lepwah, as they called them. They used them for making soup which was called liplip [boil]. — page 61

[Learning straight Chinuk from good teachers:]

I had already learned a number of Indian proper names. We saw Indians on the Columbia River who said they were Spokane. Others said they were Waskopum, Walla Wallas, Kince-Chinook, Klackamas, Klickitat and Chemomachot. After we had settled in the valley we had visitors from the tribes living on the Columbia. When asked where they came from, or where they lived, the answer would be “Katchutehut [Fort Vancouver].” I could speak those names just as they were spoken by the Indians, but it is difficult to tell the reader how they should be pronounced. We learned to speak the Chinook “Wa-Wa that winter. The mission children spoke it as habitually as they did their mother tongue. We talked Chinook every day with the Indians and half-bloods. There was one Indian who spoke both English and Chinook. He had a droll way of speaking in Chinook and then in English. He would say, “Nika tik-eh chuck,” “I want water.” “Nika hyas olo,” “I am very hungry.” “Potlatch tenas piah sap-po-lil [Give a little cooked flour],” “Give a little bread,” and so on. — page 62

[Intertribal conflict:]

Shortly after sun-up next day the Kalapooyas prepared to follow the Molalla raiders, who had taken a number of ponies. About twenty warriors made up the party. I saw them march away in pursuit of the *“Mesahche Molallas [bad Molallas].” — page 65

[Ethnographic observations; while not a new find, the pronunciation lamoro (with an R) is a missing link between the Canadian French source word and what came to be the common Chinuk Wawa pronunciation with an L:]

The native population in our neighborhood was a tribe of the Kalapooya and near and far, even to the sea, were the Tillamook, Tawalatin, Chemeketa, and Luckyukefl tilikum [people], all seeming to be one tribe and speaking the same language. They were a degenerate and priest-ridden people, but their language was remarkably smooth and musical. It was a custom of these Indians, late in the autumn, after the wild wheat, “*Lamoro sappolil [wild wheat], was fairly ripe, to burn off the whole country. The grass would burn away and leave the sappolil standing, with the pods well dried and bursting. Then the squaws, both young and old, would go with their baskets and bats and gather in the grain. The lamoro sappolil we now know as tar-weed. — page 68

[A powerful being:]

Some of the Indians assured us, as their reason for not going with us, that there was a very dangerous goblin in the Coast mountains, whose awful [K’alapuya] name was Chuchonnyhoof. When we expressed no fear, saying we would shoot him if we found him, just as we would a deer or a bear, they said, “Wake klietan kokshot [Bullets don’t shoot (him)]. Skin hyas kull kahkwa chickamin [The skin is very hard like iron],” that is, “His hide is bullet proof; it is as hard as iron.” — page 75

[Technological differences:]

My brother Elisha was an inventive and mechanical genius, and from the instructions he got from reading some old book on mechanics made a gyroscope, having cast the heavy wheel in a soapstone mould. This toy, when in operation, astonished the children, and the Indians regarded it with superstitious awe. When the wheel was put in motion and one end of the axle placed on the upright support and they saw that the other end did not fall, although there was no visible support, they would gaze at it with open mouths and breathless attention. When the wheel and axle began to move on a horizontal circle around the pivot, a deep grunt expressed their involuntary applause and satisfaction. The occult power they saw manifested, I think they regarded as a hopeless mystery, for only one among many ever demanded an explanation of it. Occasionally one would venture to say, “Iktah mamook?” or what makes it? or who makes it? [or ‘Why’] Many Indians came to see the, to them, wonderful creation. — page 82

[A near-death experience; the final phrase is a new discovery for us:]

We had put a maximum charge in the gun [an unused cannon], using a long bullet, and tamped the wad down on it very hard. Just then there happened to be an Indian coming up the path from the spring and when he was about twenty yards to one side of the target and about the same distance from the battery, the gun was very carefully sighted and discharged. The report had just reached the edge of the woods sixty yards away, but the echo had not had time to return, when the Indian came running toward us and crying out in a frightened tone of voice, “Mika tika pu nika pe kotta? [You’re trying to shoot me but how (so)?]” “Do you want to shoot me? for what?” We pointed to the target and assured him we were shooting at it, but he looked at it and then in the direction he had come, and said in Chinook and sign language “that the bullet was coming right at his head but he heard it whiz just in time to dodge and avoid it.” We were reloading and had put in the powder and wad and I had a long bullet in my hand when our visitor held out his hand and said, “Nuh! nika nanich,” [Say! I’ll look] —“Say! let me see.” Examining it for a moment, he uttered a grunt of satisfaction or disgust, coupled with the remark: “Cultus piltin colitin nowitka”—“lt is a bad crazy projectile sure enough.” We then discovered for the first time what the true quick eye of the savage had seen at a glance. The long bullet was a little smaller at one end than the other, a little bent and slightly beveled on one side of the larger end; it was almost a perfect model of the Australian boomerang, a veritable boomeranglet. Having made this discovery, I put a round shot in the gun, for it was plain that the boomeranglet was liable to come back to the place it started from and we might not be so lucky in dodging it as the Indian had been. This shot missed the board, and the Indian, now in a good humor, being satisfied that the close call on him was an accident, and having his bow and arrows with him, strung his bow and as he did so, said, “Ulta nika pu.”—“Now, I shoot,” and the next instant the arrow sped. He was so alert I didn’t even see him place the arrow in position, but it was launched with such force that it whizzed as it left the string. The board was split and fell in two pieces and the arrow passed on over the brow of the hill. The target had been hit nearly in the center. We all laughed, and as the Indian was a young fellow and had behaved so well after having to dodge one of our bullets, I gave him a plug of tobacco, about the size and shape of a squeezed lemon. I had had the tobacco in press under the corner of the fence a week or two. This was when we were growing and manufacturing our own tobacco. The Indian, now very much pleased with his day’s sport, for when he came to us he had been hunting and had several birds he had killed, left us and went home. The small village where he lived was only a quarter of a mile from our house, up on a bench of a hill, where there was a spring in a grove of wild cherry trees. He was in fact one of our next-door neighbors. Some one in the settlement had named him Jacob, or Jake for short. He was a typical Kalapooya…It was not unusual to see a squaw with a pack on her back heavy enough for a pony, with a child riding on top of it, and trudging along behind a man mounted on a pony, who was carrying nothing but his bow and arrows, or an old “pil-pil musket [red musket]”—a kind of short musket with a red stock which the Hudson Bay Company traded to the Indians for furs.  — pages 83-85

[After getting sprayed by a skunk; the final compound noun is another new discover for us:]

We discovered Jake passing by one day and tried to engage him in social chat, but before we got very near him a zephyr passed by and gave him our wind and he began to make off talking back in Chinook, saying among other things, “Uh! hyas humm, skukum humm now witka; clonas mika muckamuck humm-ena”—“Uh! big smell, strong smell you bet; may be you eat skunk.” [humm-ena is literally ‘stink-beaver’] — page 87

[The family has now moved south to the Umpqua country:]

Lolokes-psis was the name of a native doctor of the Yangolers [Yoncalla K’alapuyans]. This name means literally fire nose (Lolokes, fire and psis, nose). This Indian had a nose almost as red as fire. He was a very interesting man and I frequently whiled away my leisure hours in his company. One day I went with him to visit a fish trap some of his people had in a small stream. As we were walking along a foot path I saw a large rattlesnake crawling slowly across the path directly before us. I immediately began a search for a stick or stone, intending to kill the snake, but Lolokes-psis objected, assuring me the snake was friendly as he would soon prove. He gathered a reed stalk about two feet long, then began chanting or singing a most peculiar song, at the same time stroking the back of the snake with the wand. Back and forth, very gently, went the wand and more weird became the song, until the snake ceased to move and lay at full length as straight as a rod. The doctor then sank slowly to his knees near it, placing his right hand, palm upward, in front of the snake. Incredible as this may seem, it is nevertheless a fact, that the snake began moving slowly up the Indian’s arm to his shoulder, then doubling back, lay along his arm with its head in the palm of his hand. He carried it this way a few paces. When I ventured near the snake shot out its forked tongue in a threatening manner and Lolokes-psis said to me, “Wake tenas siah [maybe ‘No, a little ways away’],” that is, “not so near.” He then dropped on one knee and slowly lowered his arm until his hand rested on the ground when the snake slid down without showing any signs of anger or fear, and crawled away into the grass. Unreasonable as this account may appear, it is faithfully and truly told. — page 96

[Witnessing an episode in Native people’s removal from their traditional territories:]

Five or six years after we settled in the country Chief Halo built a new house. We furnished him with rails to fence a few acres and were always ready to assist and encourage him in his ambition to become a “Boston,” the Indian name for the white people. When we were helping him to harvest his first crop of wheat he was very proud. He tried three languages in his efforts to express his appreciation and his idea of the evolution accomplished in him since the coming of the white man. Finally an agent appeared to treat with the Indians and purchase the country of them. There had been peace between the settlers and these natives from the first, and our title to the country was good as far as they were concerned. However, the Indians were invited to assemble, a fat ox was slaughtered and a feast prepared. The Indians responded with alacrity. Of course they were not much enlightened as to the important business to come before the assembly. The promise of houses, farms and agricultural implements and a yearly food supply to be given them on the reservation appealed strongly to the majority of the Indians. Of course the agent spoke to the Indians through an interpreter, and the Indians answered through the same medium. Chief Halo said, “I will not go to a strange land.” This was not reported to the agent. When the tribe arrived on the reservation without the chief the agent was troubled, and came to our house to get father to go with him to visit the chief. We boys went with them. When Halo saw us coming he came out of his house and stood with his back against a large oak tree which grew near the door. We approached in our usual friendly fashion, but the chief was sullen and silent. He had lost faith in the white man. The agent said, “Tell the old Indian he must go to the reservation with the other people, that I have come for him.” The chief understood and answered defiantly, “Wake nika klatawa,” that is, “I will not go.” The agent drew his revolver and pointed it at the Indian when the chief bared his breast, crying in his own tongue as he did so, “Shoot! It is good I die here at home. My father died here, his grave is here. ’Tis good I die here and am buried here. Halo is not a coward, I will not go.” “Shall I shoot him?” said the agent. “No!” — page 97

Great stuff all through this book.

You can learn a bit more about the Applegate clan from the writings of latter-day descendant Shannon Applegate, like her book “Skookum“.

Be a good citizen of Cascadia 🙂 and read your history!