From an Old Pioneer, with 6 degrees of separation

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Isaac Mossman (1830-1912) (image credit:

From a pioneer of 1853 who was evidently a lifelong friend of famous “Poet of the Sierras” and fellow Chinooker Joaquin Miller*: a letter home.

Letter-writer Isaac Mossman had also been the fourth Territorial Librarian in 1870 alone(!) of Washington, among other points in a long, active life, and his daughter went on to marry her vaudeville co-star who appeared in the still-controversial film “The Birth of a Nation”.

Speaking of daughters, his pal Joaquin Miller taught his kid Juanita some Jargon. This included Rev. Myron Eells’s hymn “Kah, Oh Kah Mitlite Moses” that was a standard for him, and maybe some of his reputed Chinuk Wawa poetry, such as “El ker na sa ka clatter wah nannish Sa yah copa Boston ille he!“. (I.e. ałqi nsayka łatwa nanich saya kʰapa bastən ilihi — ‘we will go look over America’.) Oh, and Miller at one point worked in Nicaragua for US mercenary William Walker, who invaded that country and made himself president, as portrayed in Alex Cox’s 1987 movie “Walker”.

Small world, eh? Oh, and Mossman spoke Chinuk Wawa himself:

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Conducted a Pony Express From Walla Walla to Lewiston in Early Days.

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Judge Thomas H. Brents received a letter from an old time friend yesterday who lives in Oakland, Cal. His name, which will be remembered by many pioneers, is Isaac C. Mossman. During the fall of the year in 1861 he ran a pony express between this city and Lewiston, and sometimes made a trip to the old mining camp at Auburn, Or., which is situated in the mountains some distance this side of the present town of Sumpter.

In his letter to the judge he speaks of one particular ride he made in one day from this city to Wallula and back and thence to Lewiston, a distance of 150 miles. He used frVe horses on the

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trip, changing four times. In his letter Mr. Mossman quotes Chinook quite frequently an in a thrilling manner tells of the time of meeting Joaquin Miller who had but one horse, and wanted to go into the express business. After some time he took Miller in as a partner, but Miller soon became dissatisfied and they dissolves Miller getting $600. which was half of what they had made during the time of their partnership. He adds that Joaquin Miller lives within five miles of him.

In speaking of the city of Walla Walla lie says: “It is now 40 years since I saw the beautiful city and I would like very much to see it again. Well do I remember the winter of 1861

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when the snow fell early in December and stayed on the ground until the first of April. During the winter wood became so scarce that the farmers of Frenchtown took their fence rails and sold them at $30 a hundred. Flour was 50 cents a pound, apples $1 a piece, and everything else sold correspondingly.”

Mr. Mossman folded the first Walla Walla Statesman that ever came from the press, and in fact it was the first paper ever published in Walla Walla. Mr. Mossman fenced up the first ranch on the foothills. Here he kept his pack horses and made it his home. This farm has been known to all old settlers as the Mossman ranch.

— from the Walla Walla (WA) Evening Statesman of February 18, 1904, page 5, column 4