Skookum-wood

menziesia ferruginea

(Image credit: Rhododenron.dk)

I noticed in the old Pacific Northwest mountain-climbers’ magazine “Mazama” a species scientifically called “Menziesia: glabella, Gray” with a common name given as “skookum-wood”.

Nowadays called by two (?!) scientific names, Rhodendron menziesii or Menziesia ferruginea, this shrub has a zillion other common monikers:

  • rusty menziesia,
  • false huckleberry,
  • fool’s huckleberry,
  • false azalea,
  • menziesia,
  • mock azalea,
  • smooth menziesia,
  • Pacific menziesia,
  • skunkbrush,
  • and rustyleaf.

From the earliest data I have found, we find this term skookum-wood associated with the Cowlitz River in the vicinity of Castle Rock and Skamokawa, Wahkiakum County, southwest Washington state:

skookum wood cowlitz

Young Milton had a 22-calibre rifle, while young Cooley had a skookum-wood club.

— from Forest and Stream, volume 44, number 11 (March 16, 1895), page 206

And with the Quileute Indians of that state’s Olympic Peninsula coast:

skookum wood quileute

In this land, then, of towering forests and rock-filled glades old Hollow-Dog, chief of the Quillayutes, had long ruled his tribe with a scepter of seasoned skookum-wood.

— from the Overland Monthly, 1926, page 342

The use of the Jargon word skookum is already quite a clue about a possible connection. Better still, what do you think of connecting the above with the phrase’s little-known literal translation, skookum stick, in Jargon?

skookum stick comancho

Skookum stick,” “Touch wood.[“] (The wood to make bows from.)

— from 1913’s The Chinook Book by W.S. “El Comancho” Phillips, page 86

The most overt potential connection I’ve dug up is the fact that at the famous Ozette (Makah) archaeological site just north of Quileute, bows of Menziesia were found.

Is skookum-wood a loan from Chinuk Wawa into regional English?

What do you think?

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