Early settlers to Oregon Indians: wait for a hyass Boston tyee

Wow! File under #treaties, and more.A glimpse into how settlers talked with Native people, in Chinuk Wawa, about the need for an American government to formally negotiate with them.

Because, you understand, there was not yet any government in Oregon. Oregon Territory hadn’t yet been officially created. In parts of the region, Native people had yet to meet their first Euro-Americans.

Things were up in the air, as this editorial depicts.

hyass boston tyee

We regret to state that we have reason to believe that Congress adjourned on the night of the 3d of last March, without having made any provision for the peculiar necessities of Oregon. No bill has passed — no government officers have been appointed. No language is capable of expressing the general feeling of sorrow that will follow the confirmation of this news. Like drowning men, we catch at straws, and feed ourselves on hopes. For ourself, we have no hope that government has done aught for us, and we keenly sympathise with our fellow-citizens in that bitter disappointment, destructive to all hope, which must eventually follow the receipt of more full intelligence. Can it be possible that the U.S. government is uninformed as to our peculiar situation in a variety of respects? The idea would seem preposterous when we take into consideration the fact that numbers of intelligent and well-meaning persons have gone back to the states perfectly aware of our incapacities and pressing necessities, and who would not fail to make them generally known. The most important of these is our relations with the Indians. These peole have not looked with an unsuspicious eye upon our widely increasing settlements in this country. We have already had trouble with them in respect to their lands, and in several instances they have been directly informed that their rights and interests would assuredly be attended to upon the arrival of government this fall. Indeed, this certain arrival of a “hyass Boston tyee” has got to be an old story with our aboriginal friends, and they are already disposed to regard our repeated assurances as “cultus wah-wah.” Of a verity, the culpable neglect of that worthy individual, our Uncle Samuel, places us in a peculiarly perplexing predicament. However, we will not uncork the vials of our wrath until a more appropriate time, and then, if things turn out as we conjecture they will, won’t we have our say? — won’t we endeavor to make Oregon a hot-bed to produce annoyances for the cool temperament of an unheedful government?

— from the Oregon City (OR) Oregon Spectator of August 19, 1847, page 2, column 2

So this tends to confirm that the US government and its agents were spoken of in variations on the expression “great father; great chief”. Hyass Boston tyee = háyásh bástən táyí = ‘big American chief’.

Even so early in Oregon’s history, this newspaper’s general readers were assumed to understand such a common Jargon expression; the editor isn’t concealing his meaning.

Likewise, average readers understood the stock phrase cultus wah-wah kʰə́ltəs wáwa = ‘worthless talk; B.S.’

From all this we get an illuminating reading on the state of Indian-White relations early in Oregon’s American period.