HH Bancroft & Grand Ronde Jargon

french prairie

French Prairie (image credit: AmeriqueFrançaise.org)

There is an enormously respected reference book that hasn’t been used as much as it could in Chinuk Wawa research…

…at least by me, hitherto.

Before I get to what I find the most interesting point among many in Bancroft’s history of Oregon, let me share his information that 1845 Oregon Trail-er Samuel Parker, whose typographical error-ridden vocabulary of Chinuk Wawa we love to scratch our heads over, got it from failed independent fur trader Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth (1802-1856):


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On the 8th, three muscular Walla Wallas, with a canoe furnished with provisions by Pambrun, took the hopeful traveller in charge for a voyage to Fort Vancouver. The first day’s experience of the Columbia rapids so alarmed him that he begged the natives to put him ashore, but he yielded to their assurance that there was no danger. He visited the Cayuse tribe on the south side of the river, and some savages, whom he called Nez Perces, on the north bank. The Cayuses were curious to know what had brought a white man who was not a trader amongst them; and being told that he had come to instruct them how to worship God, they gave him a salute, as the Nez Perces had done, every man, woman, and child shaking hands with him, and expressing their satisfaction. Not being able to converse freely, and having no interpreter, he promised to meet them in the spring at Walla Walla, and bade them farewell.

Arriving at the Dalles on the 12th, the Walla Wallas were dismissed. Here he met Captain Wyeth, on his way to Fort Hall, who furnished him a short vocabulary of Chinook words for the necessary business of a traveller among the natives below the Dalles. After this he engaged a canoe and crew of Wascos, and again set out with a few strange savages. Being near the middle of October, the season of storms was at hand, as he was informed by the strong south wind which obliged him to encamp. On the second and third days from the Dalles it rained, and the portage at the cascades compelled a toilsome walk of several miles.

— page 111

Now, shifting to my main focus for today, which is the early settlement area known as French Prairie. This region of northwest Oregon, where fur-trade employees typically retired with their mixed-ethnicity families, bridged the early Fort Vancouver creolization of Chinook Jargon (into a mother tongue of a generation of kids) and the corresponding event when the Grand Ronde reservation was formed. Bancroft has plenty to tell about French Prairie, down to lists of settlers’ names and biographical data, but I’m selecting two tidbits for now.

First, an intriguing hint that some of F.P.’s residents might even trace back to the first known Chinuk Wawa-mediated contact, in the Lewis and Clark expedition:

Among those who were living on French Prairie at the time of the arrival of the Lees [Jason and Daniel, in 1834] were some who had come with the Astor expeditions, some who hinted at having been left behind by Lewis and Clarke; and to these were later joined the remnants of the expeditions of Wyeth and Kelley.

— page 73

And I’ll leave you with this remarkable anecdote of Jargon being used to raise a company of Grand Ronde ancestors to fight in the Cayuse war — such are the ironies of cultural contact and family blending:

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On French Prairie a company was raised by [Astorian pioneer of 1811] Thomas McKay, among the Canadians, which action on the part of this noted Indian-fighter gave great satisfaction, not only on account of his reputation as a warrior, but as an indication of the course which would be taken by the half-breed population in the event of a protracted war [footnote below] with the natives. A flag was designed for and presented to Captain McKay, emblematic of the provisional government, bearing a lone star and a number of stripes. He presented it to his company with this brief address: ”This is the flag you are expected to defend, and you must defend it.”*

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[footnote:] [John W.] Grim [or Grimm] describes McKay as mounted and riding along the road haranguing the French half-breeds in Chinook. In an hour’s time he had 34 men in his company. Emigrant Anecdotes, MS., 8. McKay’s company was officered as follows: Thomas McKay, captain; Charles McKay, 1st lieutenant; Alexander McKay, 2d lieutenant; Edward Dupuis, orderly sergeant; George Montour, Baptiste Doric, David Crawford, and Gideon Pion, duty sergeants. Privates: John Spence, Louis Laplante, Augustine Russie, Isaac Gervais, Louis Montour, Alexis Vatrais, Joseph Paine, Jno. [John] Cunningham, Jno. Gros Louis, Joe Lenegratly, Antoine Poisier, Autoine Plante, Pierre Lacourse, Ashby Pearce, Richard Linkletter, Charles Baauchmain, Augustine Delard, B. S. Laderiste, Antoine Lafaste, Nathan English, Charles Edwards, Gideon Gravelle, Chas. Coweniat, Antoine Bonaupaus, Nicholas Bird, Francis Dupres, William Towie, Thomas Purvis, A. J. Thomas, J. H. Bigler, Mongo, Antoine Ansure, Narcisse Montiznie, Edward Crete. Or. Spectator, April 6, 1848; Ross’ Nar., MS., 8-10.

— page 701-702

Grim’s account is indexed as follows at the Bancroft Library, where I reckon it would be worth a trip to go read the original:

GRIM, JOHN W , 1820-
Emigrant Anecdotes. Salem, Oregon. 1878.
13 1. 32 cm. HHB [P-A 38]

What do you think?