Big Chicamin, BC, and how to translate Led Zeppelin

bluebell mine

Bluebell Mine, BC (image credit:

Big man, big metal…

I’ll just excerpt from this neat little reminiscence, but you can click the link below to read the full account.

big chicamin 1


big chicamin 2

In 1865, while looking for a possible outlet to the Ft. Steel[e], or Wild Horse country as it was then known, he skirted the shores of the present site of Kaslo in an Indian canoe. Paddling down to the hot springs on the present site of Ainsworth, he discovered Dick Fry, the old time trapper and trailer, engaged with a group of his half breed children in throwing stones at a mark. Fry gave him much information and showed him the notable features of the country, including the ledge where the Indians knocked off lead enough to mold their bullets from, on the site of the famous Blue Bell mine near Pilot Bay. The Indians called the place in chinook jargon, “big chicamin.”

— British Columbia News of July 16, 1897, page 4, column 2

My linguistic-archaeology two cents about “big chicamin” is that evidently Dewdney was mentally half-translating what Fry had told him. “Big” is a word rarely found within a Chinuk Wawa context. It’s mostly in place names, for instance, in the voluminous Kamloops Wawa literature–but only in all-English-language place names such as Big Bar.

It’s probable that the Jargon name was háyú chíkʰəmin, meaning more accurately ‘lots of metal’; we know of many Northwest locales whose traditional names signal the local abundance of a particular resource. But there was ongoing alternation and even confusion, especially among non-Native settlers, between háyú ‘much’ and háyás(h) ‘big’. So there’s a chance even Fry himself originally told Dewdney it was named háyás(h) chíkʰəmin, literally ‘big metal’.

However, Fry is known as a well-established local figure and he would’ve spoken good Chinook Jargon with his Native relatives and neighbours since it was current in the Kootenays then. Dewdney, though he enjoyed telling a story of luring an Indian into the woods with a bottle of whiskey and enticing words in Jargon, was less known for his language skills. This tilts me toward putting any confusion over the name into the hands of the Governor.

By the way, what would be a specific term for ‘lead’ in Chinuk Wawa? It had one main use in frontier society, for ‘shot’ in guns. And we definitely know the word for that in Jargon, at least from frontier times, shát, as in shat-ulali ‘huckleberries’ which have some resemblance to those tiny lead pellets. (Not known from Grand Ronde, though; are there fewer of these growing there?)

An aside: Theodore Winthrop’s 1863 memoir gives kalaytən for ‘lead’, but that word literally means ‘arrow’! An example of rapid cultural change, with new speakers of Chinook Jargon urgently refitting whatever words they knew to talk about items they hadn’t previously encountered.

Anyway, how about shat-chikʰəmin ‘shot metal’?

What do you think?