Mollalas as “dusty” Indians of the forest lane?

Pole Alley River

The Pole Alley River (image source: Wikipedia)

I recently mentioned 1845 Oregon immigrant Joel Palmer’s Chinuk Wawa vocabulary, and how it’s filled wtih misspellings.

One of his odd spellings is my subject today.

At the start of Chapter VII of Palmer’s memoir, he mentions:

palmer pole alley 1

Having described the country for more than one hundred miles upon the western side of the Willamette, we will return to the Falls and mention a few facts respecting the eastern bank. Upon this bank, for ten miles to the south of Oregon City, continue fern openings, to a small stream called Pole Alley, which is skirted with beautiful prairie bottoms of from two to eight miles in length and from one to two miles wide; these, with alternate groves of fir, constitute the principal characteristics of Pole Alley Valley. It is not more than half a mile from the mouth of Pole Alley, further to the south, where Pudding River embogues into the Willamette; it is twenty five yards in width at the mouth.

— from “Journal of Travels Over the Rocky Mountains” by Joel Palmer (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1985) [original ed. 1847], page 84

The editor of this edition of Palmer rightly notes on page 175:

palmer pole alley 2

3 Palmer here refers to Molalla River, a stream of southwestern Clackamas County, that took its name from a tribe of Indians once roaming upon its banks. Governor Lane in 1850 refers to this tribe as Mole Alley; and the liquid letters “m” and “p” being nearly interchangeable in the Indian dialect, Palmer gave it the form Pole Alley.

I would add that

  1. Often a “b” sound was in the mix too.
  2. “Indian dialect” here really references the various Native languages of the lower Columbia region. Chinookan for example is documented as pronouncing “Multnomah” also as “Multnobah”. Similar variation is found in nearby Salish languages etc.
  3. Given these facts, Palmer and other settlers may have folk-etymologized the name they sometimes pronounced as /molali/, becoming convinced that it was just a different way to say Chinuk Wawa púlali ‘dust’.
  4. It’s not impossible that a further folk-etymology was then made possible. As I read Palmer’s words, this region struck him as a sequence of stands of trees: Pole Alley.

And all of that’s without getting into old arguments over the source of púlali! (See the Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, 2012:183, and ignore my obstinate search for a Chinookan source of it … Shoalwater & Kathlamet t-qamiláləq ‘sand’ seem promising.) 🙂

What do you think?

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