Attitude(s) about Jargon

We all have a colorful neighbor who always finds opportunities to inject their lovably offensive opinions into a conversation…

In this case, the neighbors to each other are Oregon’s capital city Salem, and the Dallas, Oregon newspaper run by folks still upset that the South lost the Civil War — and the opinions weirdly often involved Chinuk Wawa!

I quote liberally, as it were, from Chronicling America:

Drawing on the pro-slavery ideology associated with Civil War Democrats,the State Rights Democrat of Albany, Oregon, was one of Linn County’s most vociferous political papers. Its forerunners, the Oregon Democrat and Albany Inquirer, were both suppressed for political reasons, the former by General Wright of the U.S. Army’s Department of the Pacific. The State Rights Democrat originated in 1865 with James O’Meara as editor. O’Meara was no stranger to suppression of the press, having been forced out as owner and editor of the Oregon Sentinel by Republican sympathizers in 1861.

A number of owners and editors worked on the Democrat after O’Meara’s departure in 1866. Charles Bellinger, of the Salem Oregon Arena and later the Portland News, co-owned the State Rights Democrat for a time, leaving in 1870. Bellinger, like other figures associated with the paper, pursued a career in local politics that would draw him away from publishing..

The State Rights Democrat featured ads for lawyers, notaries, various stores, and a few breweries among other goods and services. Advertisements appeared next to articles of a partisan nature. One article proclaimed, “We need to commit to the Democracy” in order to correct “abolition rule.” Although the paper was quick to denounce Republicans, it also criticized Democrats. In an attack on previous editor O’Meara, the Democrat drew attention to factionalism within Oregon’s Democratic Party, warning, “He will do anything and everything to create and foster dissensions in the Democratic household.”

However, the Democrat’s content was not confined to parochial political disagreements. Moving beyond the local stage, the paper ran an article titled, “Grant’s Indian Policy,” which suggested that President Ulysses S. Grant’s Peace Policy and employ of Quaker agents were ineffective in maintaining non-violent control of tribes throughout the country…Another piece recounted a lecture given by Reverend Robert Patterson, who sought to discredit Darwinism by arguing that humans have always been civilized and never could have evolved from “monkeys.”

That note about President U.S. Grant is concordant with observations I’ve made on this website about certain elements of the Oregon Press smearing him with links to three unsavory (!) traits: speaking Chinook Jargon, drinking alcohol, and being fond of Native people.

A couple more words of background about why Oregon Republicans hated both African-Americans and Native people, and their White supporters, from Wikipedia:

The politics of the Oregon Territory were largely dominated by the generally pro-slavery and States’ rights Democratic Party, with only weak opposition offered by the Whigs and their nativist Know Nothing cousins. A serious opposition first began to emerge in the aftermath of the bitter and costly Rogue River Wars of 1855 to 1856, centered around the growing national movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States and was centered around the fledgling Republican Party that was intent upon slavery’s limitation and elimination.

Civil War years:…national political events would soon change the tide for the new political party. The Democratic Party found itself divided with the coming of the American Civil War between pro- and anti-Union elements. With the nation embroiled in war, pro-Union Democrats and Republicans put aside their differences at a fusion convention in April 1862, establishing themselves as the Union Party.

As the united political organization for a preserved United States of America in contradistinction to defeatists and Confederate sympathizers, the Union Party and, after 1868, the rechristened Republican Party experienced dramatic political gains in Oregon…An era of Republican dominance in Oregon was begun.

Partisan shenanigans by the disenfranchised Democrats are in evidence in much of the following newspaper material.

But not in this first bit of filler, portraying McCormick’s Chinook Jargon dictionary (derived from early pioneer missionary F.N. Blanchet’s notes, and later to become to venerable J.K. Gill dictionary) as practically the oldest thing in Oregon:

attitude 1

CHRISTMAS. — This event will be ushered in on next Monday by the blowing of tin trumpets, firing of fire crackers and rocking of china dolls among the juvenile fraternity, and with perhaps a corresponding amount of fuss and boisterousness among the adult bipeds. Christmas is of remote origin, having “got its start” away back at Bethlemem [sic] of Judea about the beginning of the year A.D. 1, since which time it has managed to put in an appearance on or about the 25th of December of each recurring year. It was brought to America in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, and therefore may be ranked as one of the “oldest inhabitants.” It travels in company with a hoary headed old fellow of jolly phiz and sprightly mien, properly known as Santa Claus, Kris Kringle or Old Sooty, whose headquarters have been from time immemorial in the same establishment with McCormicks’s Almanac and the Chinook Dictionary.

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of December 22, 1871, page 3, column 2

That’s a benign reference to S.J. McCormick, a very popular local businessman and politician. Contrast it with the following jab at supposedly alcoholic and idiotic political opponents (i.e. Republicans, i.e. anti-slavery, pro-Lincoln folks who were about to nominate Ulysses Grant for a second consecutive term as President):

attitude 2

We understand that the delegates to the Radical State Convention are now down on Gov. Ballard for sniping them into adopting the Preface to McCormick’s Chinook Dictionary as a Republican Platform. The Gov. says he thought at the time that it was (hic) hias klose [‘very good’].

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of March 29, 1872, page 3, column 3

If that’s talking about Idaho Territory Governor (thus, at the time, inevitably a Republican appointee) David Ballard, it’s a bit dated. His term of office only ran until 1870! Grudges, grudges… But Democrat and Confederate sympathies over there were powerful, and even left their mark on the landscape, along with Chinook:

Secesh River Trail Idaho

Secesh = Confederate (Image credit: Ron Roizen’s Idaho History Page)

A harder bit of antique snideness to decipher comes in a note about a fellow Oregon newspaper that, as far as I can discern, had also been Democrat in sympathies — until it failed and was sold. Here, backhanded well-wishes to the current owners seem to involve Chinook (Jargon) getting equated disapprovingly with black people and ignorance. Stretching my powers of explanation: the King James translation of the Bible includes a passage well-known in the late 1800’s, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.” [Psalm 37:35]. Also widely known was an established chestnut of a story where a mischievous or stupid young boy garbles the phrase as “flourish like a green bay horse“. See if you agree with my take on this:

attitude 3

FLOURISHING. — The Portland Herald will shortly be printed on a new double-cylinder Taylor press. This token of prosperity is certainly gratifying to the paper’s many friends in the State, and we trust that it may continue to “flourish like a green bay horse.” (This may not be a literal quotation from the original Chimpanzee Chinook, but we won’t stop to correct it now.)…

— from the Albany  (OR) State Rights Democrat of November 15, 1872, page 3, column 2

Here are two differing takes on one person’s actions. (Chinuk Wawa expert and Indian educator William Carson Chattin, a.k.a. Chattem, a.k.a. Chattan, 1834-1894.) First, Johnny Reb’s insulting reference to (Republican-dominated) US government negotiations with tribes:

attitude 4

Rev. Mr. Chattem preaches to the Siletz Indians in Chinook language. They will doubtless soon be first class engineers for a Peace Commission.

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of May 9, 1873, page 3, column 3

Then an editorial political foe picks up the article, as was common among newspapers then, and rewrites it for tone — inserting a neat Jargon/English pun on the influential Puritan “Great Awakening” of the 1700s:

attitude 5

The Indians of Siletz reservation are reported to be having a regular Boston revival under the preaching of Rev. Mr. Chattan who talks to them in chinook jargon.

— from the Dallas (OR) Liberal Republican of May 24, 1873, page 2, column 4

Get it? The Indians are getting “Boston” (American/White) religion.

This next clipping absolutely drips with disdain for the State Rights Democrat‘s favorite Republican whipping boy:

attitude 6


We see by the dispatches that the Oxford University of England has conferred the degree of Doctor of the Chinook Language upon our popular ex-President Grant. They couldn’t have selected a better degree to have conferred upon him, as he spent several years on this coast among the natives, and is a perfect master of the Chinook language. Some persons with whom we have conversed thought it was the degree of Doctor of Classical Literature which had been conferred upon him, but that can’t possibly be the case for the class of literature which Grant was most familar with was hardly eer of a higher order than a Beadle’s dime novel.

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of June 29, 1877, page 2, column 6

…”D.C.L.” is in fact “Doctor of Civil Law”…

It’s hard to stay angry, though, and by 1884 the State Rights Democrat was unironically printing a traditional acknowledgement of receipt of a promotional copy of Gill’s Chinook Jargon dictionary (May 30, page 3, column 4), reproducing the Lord’s Prayer from it because “many of our subscribers will be interested in reading” it.

From that point onward, any sarcasm about the Jargon seems to have been clichéd regional stereotypes of the more backwater areas…

attitude 7

…The Skagit [Washington Territory] News is to be half in Chinook.

— from the Albany (OR) State Rights Democrat of June 27, 1884, page 3, column 2

…or the countless grateful mentions of the warm Chinook wind bringing relief from wintry weather.

So we see the evolution of one Oregon newspaper from a uniquely virulent anti-Chinuk Wawa sentiment to pretty unremarkable attitudes, in the course of a generation. Quite a story, huh?

What do you think?