The Stickeen River and Its Glaciers

stickeen river illustration

A beautifully illustrated travelogue from southeast Alaska, with two items of Chinuk Wawa interest. 

The Stickeen River and Its Glaciers“, Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine volume 17, pages 805-815 (1879). By W.H. Bell.

This article may have created a sensation at the time. I see mentions of it in contemporary publications. A fine biography of John Muir speculates that this piece was the inspiration for his trip to Alaska. Maybe not coincidentally, Muir is the author of an article on “The Douglass Squirrel of California” on page 260 in the same volume!

Bell’s piece really has just two points of relevance for us here. Both are found on page 812.

First, he quotes the local Tlingit people as addressing his party in Chinook Jargon, with “Cla-how-ya?” Not atypical for the era’s English-speakers, Bell inaccurately translates this as a question, “How are you?” (It’s an interjection.) The confusion was bound to happen, since the most appropriate English counterpart is a question, and the Jargon word sounded to a lot of people like an attempt to say those English words.

stickeen river glaciers cla how yah

Bell also tells of a local place name with an unusual spelling, “Cloutchman’s (Woman’s Cañon)”, modern Klootchman Canyon. (Not to be confused with the place also known as Klootch Canyon on the Skeena River in British Columbia.) He explains (rationalizes?) the appellation as indicating a place easy enough for a woman to navigate.

stickeen river glaciers womans canyon

Not strictly Chinuk Wawa, but worth pointing out for what it tells us of intercultural communication in that place and time, a Native village Bell visits is called Shakesville (page 813). He didactically observes the prevalence of “enormous shingles” as a roofing material there, making sure you know they’re “called ‘shakes’ “. I don’t see that he’s aware of the Tlingit Chief(s) Shakes, though. Read about Fort Stikine for more information on this.

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