I learned Chinook Jargon in 15 minutes

george francis train.png

George Francis Train (image credit: Kentucky Digital Library)

…claimed the colorful, eccentric, famous rich man after whom Jules Verne may or may not have modeled his protagonist Phileas Fogg!

George Francis Train was already established as a notorious crank by the time of the events recalled here.

Read his wild biography, for some more highlights…and enjoy the following Oregon exploit!

mr Train as a fisher


His Wonderful Exploits in Catching Salmon in the Dalles

[reprinted from the] Portland Oregonian 

George Francis Train, [illegible] while at the Portland [sic] a few days since told a friend some of the incidents of a visit he paid this state many years ago — away back early in the ’60s. He said he was the first one to discover salmon in the Columbia, and caught 264 in a day, and carried them across the Columbia, walking on the backs of the salmon, which crowded the river; also that he learned the Chinook jargon in fifteen minutes. Like most of the reminiscen[c]es of by-gone days in Oregon, there is some foundation for these statements, but still they vary somewhat from the facts in the case.  A correct account, therefore, of Mr. Train’s exploits in catching salmon and studying Chinook jargon will be found interesting. 

It was somewhere about  ’64 or ’66 [?] when Mr. Train first came out here, just after a Fenian scare in Canada. [Tha]t was when he took a run across the line to Victoria, and the long roll of the British drume [sic] was heard, and the troops were called out, sentries doubled, and detectives kept a watch over every move he made as long as he was on British territory. Mr. Train had aspirations for the presidency in those days and a gentleman here has a photograph of him, presented by Mr. Train himself, on the back of which is written an invitation for the recipient to meet the donor in in [sic] the white house when he should be elected president. While here Mr.Train visited The Dalles, on the invitation of Captain J. C. Ainsworth [whose papers we should research], and made his first acquaintance with the Chinook salmon and Chinook jargon in their native wilds. This was long before a can of salmon had been put up on the Columbia, and when the only salmon fisheries on the river were those of the Indians at the Cascades and at The Dalles. Mr. Train was to address the citizens of The Dalles in the church and the day before paid a visit to a salmon fishery in the rapids below Celilo. He greatly admired the easy, graceful manner in which an Indian, standing on a frail platform hung over a narrow chute, plunged his dipnet into the foaming torrent and lifted the salmon out on the rocks, and he wished to try his hand. The Indian endeavored to dissuade him, telling him that he would “killapi copa chuck” — that is, fall into the river; but Mr. Train insisted, and the Indian politely yielded up his net and stand. Mr. Train stepped out on the platform, net in hand.

Never before since the Columbia forced its way through the Cascades, had such a spectacle been presented to the Chinook salmon. Mr. Train wore a green broadcloth swallow-tail coat with brass buttons, a tall silk hat, satin vest and ruffled shirt. As he passed his net for a “scoop” he was the observed of all observers. He scooped, and a large Chinook salmon was caught in his net, but instead of pulling it out it pulled him in, and before one could say “Jack Robinson” Mr. Train was being whirled away like a cork in the swift current. Several Indians, who had evidently expected this, immediately jumped in, and fortunately, succeeded in dragging Mr. Train ashore. His tall hat was dancing like a bubble down the current, but a lot of young Indians scampered after it and soon brought it back.

Mr. Train was not to be balked by his mishap, and while he peeled off his coat, vest, etc., he took a lesson in Chinook and found out what “kilepi copa chuck” meant. Having stripped down his ruffled shirt, and laid his garments out in the sun to dry, he again took the net and telling his friends to go back to The Dalles and send up an engine for him at 5 p.m., he stepped out on the platform and fished all day, piling up 264 fine salmon. When the engine came after him he wished to take the salmon to town with him to ornament the rostrum from which he was to speak that evening. but was dissuaded from this on the ground that it would not look well in a church.

He delivered a lecture that evening in which he complimented the pioneers on their bravery and fortitude in immigrating to this section, and told them that while they were seeking tor gold in the mountains and hoping to get wealth from their herds of cattle, which ranged on ten thousand hills, there was immense wealth swimming past their doors unnoticed. He then predicted that in a few vears the salmon of the Columbia would be canned and exported to the uttermost ends of the earth, and would become one of the great products of this state, all of which has become true.

— from The Dalles (OR) Daily Chronicle of May 11, 1891, page 3, column 2