Ferrin’ languages

I think I just opened a time capsule!

When you get into it, this tiny article gives a humorous wink at the issues that were on the minds of northeast Oregonians in the late frontier era.

Ferrin languages

Hias Close.

Our friend, Johnny Clark, of Island City, is well versed in “ferrin’ languages,” and don’t you forget it. This week we sent him a statement of account, with a request to “potlatch chlcamon,” and In reply received the following:

LA GRANDE, (Or.), Jan 28, 1889.

MESSRS. JONES & CHANCEY: —  Gentlemen: Clawhawyam Six — Mika Waw-waw Copa, Jan. 28th. Hias Close, Nika hyack potlatch. $4 50. Nika tum-tum hias close. Caw mika chaco copa La Grande. Mika nanach nika illaha. Nika heap waw-wawa copa hiyew ictas. Copa Hunt Railroad; copa county seat, Skukum waw-waw. Nika tum-tum hias close. Mika cumtux? Nika wake bet.

JOHN S. CLARK.

— from the Union (OR) Oregon Scout of February 7, 1889, page 5, column 1

Doing some translating, because as usual, the newspaper editors knew their readers back then would understand Johnny anyways:

potlatch chlcamon = pátlach chíkʰəmin = ‘give money; pay’

…and Mr. Clark’s words…

Clawhawyam Six — Mika Waw-waw Copa, Jan. 28th. Hias Close, Nika hyack łax̣áwyam síks — máyka wáwa kʰapa January 28th hayas-łúsh náyka háyaq
hello friend — you say on January 28th very-good I soon
‘Hello friend. You say on January 28th that I really ought to’

potlatch. $4 50. Nika tum-tum hias close. Caw mika chaco copa La Grande. Mika
patlach $4.50. náyka tə́mtəm hayas-łúsh. qʰá máyka cháku kʰapa La Grande? máyka
give $4.50. I think very-good. where [sic] you come to La Grande? you
‘pay $4.50. I think that’s fine. When will you be coming to La Grande? You’

nanach nika illaha. Nika heap waw-wawa copa hiyew ictas. Copa Hunt Railroad
nánich nayka ílihi. náyka heap wáwa kʰapa háyú íkta-s: kʰapa Hunt Railroad;
see my land. I much say about many thing-s: about Hunt Railroad;
‘can visit my place. I’ll give you an earful about a lot of things: about the Hunt Railroad,’

copa county seat, Skukum waw-waw. Nika tum-tum hias close. Mika cumtux?
kʰapa county seat; skúkum wáwa. náyka tə́mtəm hayas-łush. máyka kə́mtəks? 
about county seat; strong talk. I think very-good. you understand?
‘about the county seat, some strong opinions. I think it will be quite good. Do you understand?’

Nika wake bet.
náyka wík bet.
I not bet.
‘I bet not.’

You can follow the links I put into the text to see that the Hunt Railroad was still not a done deal as of 1889, and the fighting over which town should be the seat of government in this county that split off from a split-off county dragged on until 1905.

I haven’t learned much yet about Mr. Clark himself, but his wife was just 37 years old at the time of this letter, so I’m guessing he wasn’t quite the cantankerous pioneer that he’s making himself sound like by choosing Chinuk Wawa (spelled in authentically idiosyncratic ways) to write in.

This implies that he was taking a stance, maybe not so much as an old conservative who was a tad exasperated with all the changes going on as perhaps a younger progressive impatient for the endless local political arguing to reach a conclusion.

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