By 1863, new Grand Ronde schoolkids only spoke Chinuk Wawa

grand ronde schoolhouse re creation

Archaeological re-creation of Grand Ronde schoolhouse (image credit: Sara Gonzalez blog, UW)

August 1, 1863: less than a decade into the reservation period, schoolkids at Grand Ronde could only be taught in Chinook Jargon.

This makes them the second, or even the third, generation of children to grow up speaking the Jargon in the lower Columbia River region.

My point, made in a number of articles on this website lately, is that there’s a seamless linguistic lineage from Fort Vancouver’s ethnically-mixed society of the late 1820’s, through the Métis settlements of French Prairie (and Tualatin Plains), to the mid-1850s’ new blended community of Grand Ronde Reservation.

In other words, Grand Ronde’s creolization of Chinuk Wawa was not some exceptional, mysterious occurrence. It did not happen in a vacuum. Instead, it continued decades of existing Jargon nativization.

Make no mistake, Grand Ronde went on to change the Jargon even further. Certain grammatical features that I’ve identified as early creolized traits dropped out, for instance the Intensifier prefix hayas-. Additional features developed that we don’t know of from other places, such as the reduction of grammatical “helping words” seen in hayu- > hay- and mamuk- to munk-.

But, through my linguistic archaeology research, I’m coming to a view that Grand Ronde’s creole Chinuk Wawa is less an exception than a logical development of established language usage.

In that light, let’s look at a couple items of testimony from someone on the scene with the Grand Ronde kids.

…They all had no knowledge of the English language, or of the alphabet, when I commenced with them. However they manifest a determination to learn, and already they have progressed so far as to be able to spell in words of two syllables and read easy lessons very well.
    As a part of the exercises English words are translated into Chinook, a jargon spoken by all tribes here.

— from the February 11, 1863 report by C.M. Sawtelle, teacher, Grand Ronde Manual Labor School, quoted at

Grand Ronde kids

They were all ignorant of the English language at first, and it was found necessary, on the part of teachers, to resort to Chinook, a jargon spoken here by all tribes, as a means of communicating ideas. We have now almost wholly dispensed with Chinook, as the children understand English very well.

— from the August 1, 1863 report by C.M. Sawtelle, teacher, Grand Ronde Manual Labor School, in the Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Year 1863, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1864), page 84

How about that circular definition (“Chinook, a jargon”)?

And how about that implicit acknowledgment that the Jargon continued being the kids’ main, indispensable language?

FYI, the later report from the teacher lists a number of the school’s students by name. It’s a fascinating group; not often do we learn which precise individuals grew up talking Jargon. I don’t always know whether a kid’s family name is listed first or second, since some are broken up by commas (and European-style names were a brand-new thing). Here’s what’s given:

grand ronde kids boys

List of boys. — Lincon, Peter, ten years old, constant attendance; Homer, John, nine years old, constant attendance; Baker, Shik-shik, eleven years old, constant attendance; Osyna, Sugar, eight years old, constant attendance; Rolla, ten years old, missed a few weeks; Hooker, Jim, nine years old, missed a few weeks; Bony, Tsiyi, fourteen years old, missed few weeks; Baptiste, fourteen years old, missed few weeks; Joe Lane, fourteen years old, missed few weeks; Butler, Kile-kile, eleven years old, missed few weeks; Douglass, Bogus, eleven years old, attended but few weeks; Lyon, Sampson, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Joseph Lewis, eight years old, attended but few weeks; John Long, ten years old, absent half the time.

Among the boys, the most extraordinary is Homer, son of Tumwater, chief.

Is that (Klickitat?) Chief Tumwater [‘waterfall’], or an Oregon City chief, John Tumwater? Is the “Hooker Jim” the same who went on to fame in the Modoc War? Is “Douglass Bogus” connected with Chief Bogus of the Umpquas and/or Modoc chief Bogus Charley? Is Baptiste a French Prairie kid? Do you notice the kid named after General Joseph Lane? (More accurately, this boy’s father took the general’s name.) Is “Sugar” a Chinuk Wawa name Shukwa?

grand ronde kids girls 1

grand ronde kids girls 2

List of girls. — Acarte George, seven years old, constant attendance; Zantippe Joe, eight years old, constant attendance; Eliza Shik-shik, nine years old, constant attendance; Janette Kidno, nine years old, absent few weeks; Alice Sampson, nine years old, absent few weeks; Maggie Tom, nine years old, absent few weeks; Mary Louis, twelve years old, attended but few weeks; La Rose Louis, ten years old, attended but few weeks; Lucy, eight years old, attended but few weeks; Mollie, fifteen years old, absent half time; Ellen Adam, fifteen years old, absent half time; Kate Lano, ten years old, absent half time; Lidia, eight years old, absent half time.

Apparently there were a “Shik-shik” sister and brother. The girls’ names include more recognizable French ones than the boys’ do: “Acarte” I presume to be “Agathe”, commonly bestowed on female Natives in the era near Kamloops as well. “Zantippe” is “Xanthippe”, derived from Greek. “Janette” = “Jeannette” and “Kidno” could be an alternate spelling of a French surname. “Louis” and “La Rose” are obvious; I think we’ve spotted La Rose Quesnel here. “Lano” is the family name nowadays spelled “Leno” among Grand Ronde people, and I infer it’s from French.

Were the tribal people less willing to send daughters out of the home for Western-style education? To a degree, the Grand Ronde school’s student roster looks like an interesting reversal from previous observations, firmly grounded in a lot of data, about incipient and creole Chinuk Wawa-speaking environments, which involved (Pacific Northwest) Native women and (Eastern) white and Métis men.

All in all, my readers won’t be surprised that I take the strong French presence in this group as supporting a view that French Prairie formed the link between the first creolization of Jargon at 1820’s Fort Vancouver and the eventual (re-)creolization at Grand Ronde.

Henry Zenk has done great work on the development of the creolized Chinuk Wawa in the Grand Ronde community, with elders who were born around 1900. I’d love to extend it backwards in time to the founding of the reservation, and even before, by examining school and census lists like these. We can learn a bit more demographic history, I expect, about the couple of generations preceding those elders.

qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?
What are your thoughts?