Grand Ronde/Fort Vancouver Chinook Jargon in a product placement

Paid advertising masquerading as editorial content…nothing is new under the sun!Here, an editorial on possible ancient connections between Asia and the Pacific Northwest veers into quoting real local Native and Chinese people, maybe accurately, as to the efficacy of a local pharmacy’s best-selling product!

So we have here Grand Ronde-area Chinook Jargon, and the distinctive West Coast variety of Chinese Pidgin English. I think it’s noteworthy that the CJ’s translation into pidgin English strongly resembles the genuine-looking CPE.

Just which Thomas McKay is being referred to here needs to be commented on. Well-known early Pacific Northwest fur trade figure Thomas McKay was born around 1796 in Ontario, Canada. This eventual stepson of Dr. John McLoughlin had some Cree blood, was known for a lifelong limp, settled in northwestern Oregon on French Prairie and/or at Scappoose, and would’ve been “about a hundred years old”. But he can’t be the person mentioned, because he had died back in 1849! Nor would that man have been thought of as a predominantly Chinuk Wawa speaker.

Instead, it seems to me, today we must be hearing from his youngest son (by his third and final wife), Thomas McKay. This fella, born in 1842, was one of that generation born and raised at Fort Vancouver…therefore almost certainly a creole speaker of the Jargon from infancy! This explains his being quoted in that language below. Oddly, however, he would only have been 40 years old at the time of today’s article, so you wonder whether he was unusually afflicted, or was being confused with memories of his father. I’m also wondering if this was the same “mixed-blood” Tom McKay said to have wrecked the marriage of Tom Berry and wife, of Pendleton, in 1896, and/or the supposedly large, powerful half-breed “noted tough” Tom McKay who started a fight to defend the reputation of his family and was shot dead, in Klamath Falls in early 1897.

Also oddly, this entire article was reprinted verbatim in the New York humor magazine Puck, whose readers must have puzzled over it a good bit.

Anyhow, I have not yet managed to turn up much information about this younger Thomas McKay — do any of my readers know more? Since his dad died and was buried at Scappoose when he was 7, was he then raised in a family that wound up at Grand Ronde reservation when it was formed in the mid-1850s? Did he have any connection with Peter McKye/McKay/McCoy (d. 1912) of Dallas, Oregon? There’s a brand-new academic book from UBC Press where Lisa Philips has a chapter, “Written Out of the Script: Three Generations of McKays”, that may hold some key information once I get a copy.

One exciting discovery that I definitely can report is a book jam-packed with biographical details of the fur-trade families of Fort Vancouver: online, you can read all of “The Mantle of Elias: The story of Fathers Blanchet and Demers in early Oregon” by M. Leona Nichols. It’s an amazing reference when you’re digging into our region’s past.

Okay, now read and enjoy this odd little excerpt:

thos mckay 1

…There is one other discovery that has recently been made with regard to these two races. There is an old Indian named Thos. McKay, or as he proudly calls himself “Wyanashet,” the chief of the Klicitots [Klickitats]. The old man is supposed to be over one hundred years old. He is now living on the Pillanook [actually Tillamook] hills, at the head of the Nestuggah [Nestucca] River. He hunts deer in the season and occasionally comes down to the “settlements” to sell his deerskins and fresh venison, and to beg a little provisions, including whiskey and tobacco, to take to his lonely cabin in the hills. One day old Wyanashet came to the town of McMinnville, all crippled up with the rheumatism. It was a terrible sight to see the once powerful leader of the great tribe so

thos mckay 2

broken down that he could scarcely hobble on two canes. Some kind hearted white man gave him a bottle of the Great German Remedy, St. Jacobs Oil. After a good deal of persuasion and explanation, the old chief accepted the medicine, and applied it to his old crippled limbs, and in three weeks “McKay” came down from the mountains with all the vigor of renewed youth. Exclaiming, “Hy, as close. Hyu muck-a-muck,” [hayas-łúsh, háyú mə́kʰmək ‘very good, plenty to eat’ (sic; it’s a liniment)] “White man’s medicine heep good,” he made an old fashioned war dance with the magic bottle of St Jacobs Oil in hand. We learn that at some of the reservations the Oil is used with wonderful efficacy. Now comes the other race. Mow Lee, who runs a store on Second street was similarly used up with the rheumatism, and all efforts of the best Chinese doctor’s were vain to give relief. He rushed to the drug store and asked for the best “Melican man heep good medicine for lame leg and lame shoulder.” The druggist knowing the popularity of St. Jacobs Oil, gave him the best remedy known, and the Chinaman was soon cured.

— from the Astoria (OR) Daily Astorian of September 23, 1882, page 3, columns 2 and 3


(Image credit: Center for Inquiry)

This St Jacobs Oil was an ancestor of Ben-Gay, Icy Hot, and similar “rubs” for muscle-pain relief. It was advertised with this rhyme:

Seek you a cure,
easy and sure
For aching sprains
or hurts or pains,
Of every sort,
in any part.
Be of good cheer,
the secret’s here:
And if you heed
what here you read,
Your pains you’ll end,
your ailments foil;
For you will send
for “ST. JACOB’S OIL.”

What do you think?