Everything west of the Rockies is the Coast

forest and stream

A later-frontier eyewitness explains how Chinuk Wawa was seen by Settlers.

He (I figure the author, “Prairie Dog”, is a male) happens to mention the same perception that I’ve written about, that led to folks thinking erroneously that the Jargon was spoken all the way over to the Continental Divide.

Then he talks about the language’s influence on Western informal speech, both as far east as a Utah mining camp and in its true element among the “Webfeet” (Oregonians).


Reminiscence of Utah

One more strange thing, strange at least to the “tenderfoot,” is the language of the Pacific coast. All west of the

Reminiscence of Utah 2

Rocky Mountains is “Pacific Coast” to the people there. It is always the “Coast” and the “States,” speaking of East and West. A person from the East would be at a loss to understand the jargon of a mining camp west of the Rockies. It is bad enough East, but not to be compared with that on the western slope. “Chinook,” Spanish, Indian and English all mixed, and queer are the expressions used. A person always employs the most common or shortest words that will convey the meaning. We had one old “Webb-foot” [sic] (i.e., a man from Oregon) who used to convulse us with his dry sayings and his use of the Chinook lingo. Some one brought a copy of Longfellow’s “Hiawatha” to camp, and one rainy day old Jake got hold of it. After reading a little of the poetry an expression of disgust came over the old man’s weather beaten countenance, and in his peculiar Western drawl he asked, “Did Longfellow write that? Why, the danged old fool, he oughter ask me about Injuns. I could tell him more’n he ever dreamed of;” and we all thought he could, as he had lived with them. Poor old Jake; these same “danged” Injuns got him at last, and from all I could ever find out his bones lie bleaching in some quiet nook in the fastnesses of the Big Horn Mountains. He and some others went in prospecting and never came out, and as the Sioux were “bad” at that time, it was easy to account for the disappearance.

I must relate a little incident showing how “Chinook” is used in the far West to express thoughts that to one East would seem out of place spoken in the jargon. Charley D., when in Oregon, attended Sunday school, and some of the “Webb-foot” maidens were in his class. The lesson was on the crucifixion and the question was, “What did the Jews do to Jesus?” For an instant no one answered. Then a great, tall, ungainly girl, bending forward eagerly, shouted out, “They mamaloosed him” (“mamaloose” is to kill in “Chinook”).

I could relate many stories, but I am afraid it would tire the general reader, as all do not take the interest in the West and its ways that the few do who have had a little experience themselves.

— from “A Reminiscence of Utah” by Prairie Dog [sic], Forest and Stream volume XX, number 2 (March 29, 1883), pages 163-164

What do you think?