Star Seattle Story Book — Laura Belle Downey Bartlett’s pioneer girlhood?


Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett and friend (image credit: The Sub Times)

Announced in the Seattle Star newspaper on April 14, 1920, Mabel Cleland’s “Star Seattle Story Book” was a Chinook Jargon treat, free for the asking.

It seems to have run as a serial for a good couple of years in this newspaper.

One installment that I’ve encountered seems like it may tell the true story of Laura Belle Downey Bartlett’s pioneer girlhood. “Renaissance Woman” LBDB (1851-?1933) was the well-known Portland author of the quirky “Chinook-English Songs“, “Dictionary of the Intertribal Indian Language, Commonly Called Chinook“, and other books. She came by her Chinuk Wawa the old-fashioned way, as an 1853 immigrant to Steilacoom, North Oregon (now Washington State).

I’m not absolutely sure if we’ve found her memoirs, though; all resources that I’ve brought to the task find gaps in the known collections of the Star. If I could just track down the installment previous to the one below…or a copy of Mabel [Goodwin] Cleland’s book “Early Days in the Fir Tree Country“, whose table of contents suggests plenty of Jargon and possibly this same story…I might learn the attribution of this tale.

early days in the fir tree country

(Image credit:

(Do any of my Washington State readers feel moved to go check into that book in a local library?)

In any event, this is a good read, and it’s even better for focusing on a female Jargon-speaking pioneer for once!

Star Story Book The_Seattle_Star_Sat__Aug_6__1921_.jpg


And if she wasn’t in sight they would say: 

Tenas clootchman” (the little woman) where is she? 

And Belle would have to be called. Then her lesson began. 

Mika kum-tux nem?” they would ask (Do you know the name?) and as the question was asked, some object was held up, as a paper bag, a tin cup, a can, a string, anything within their reach. 

Wake nika kum-tux,” (No, I do not know it) Belle would reply. 

And the Indian would look very stern, tell her the name, and say: “Wau, wau-wau, wau-wau; he timash yah-wah.” (Say it and say it and say it until you know it.)

The last sentence above interests me.

  • The first wau must have been intended to be wau-wau ‘say it’.
  • The he may be pe ‘and’.
  • The timash looks like Ichishkíin (Yakama) language tímash ‘book, paper, bill (of money), letter, envelope, grade’, as well as the related word seen on title pages of the first missionary-produced Nez Perce books! LBDB’s family is said to have emigrated via Naches Pass in Yakama territory, and there were strong connections between Yakamas and the coast before and during pioneer times. So, it this is not just a printer’s mistake, this sentence quotes old Yakama-influenced Chinook Jargon! (We know from Father St. Onge’s manuscript dictionary that there was such a thing, although he doesnʹt mention this word.)

Then one of the men grinned and said in Chinook: 

Mika mama kwass (your mama is afraid). Wah-wah kopa mika mama, wake chaco kwass [.] Konaway wesika kwanisum Klosh, nanitch kopa mika.” (tell your mother not to fear, because we shall all keep close watch over you always.”

— from the Seattle (WA) Star of August 6, 1921, page 11, columns 7-8

Wesika is a typo for nesika, and that comma between Klosh and nanitch is extraneous, so take note when you’re working through these sentences!