Lo’s Legends Learned (by a remarkable woman)

In the 1880’s it was still quite rare for a young woman to strike out on her own to seek fortune and fame.

Today’s newspaper clipping was written by such a woman:

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Carol Crouse, 1855-1919 (later known as Carol Crouse Prouty, again unusual for holding onto her maiden name once she married relatively late). She says she left the theatre for health reasons — and headed to the still exotic post-frontier region of northwestern Washington Territory.

I won’t claim that it’s also unusual for a woman to have learned Chinuk Wawa — it definitely was not — but it’s rare for us to have her own recollections of it.

So today’s reading selection is quite enjoyable on several levels. Keep in mind that it was written especially for a newspaper in a region of California that was by then outside the “Jargon zone”. Pilchuck Mary is portrayed as speaking with perhaps a more liberal admixture of slang/pidgin English than was the actual case, but Crouse’s hometown Sacramento readers in the 1880s could be expected to understand the Chinese Pidgin English-style bits that are blended in here.

Also, we can imagine that Crouse, who hadn’t been in Washington Territory for long (the relevant gap in newspaper reviews of her California performances spans just February 1887 to May 1889), wasn’t yet perfectly fluent in Chinuk Wawa. Nonetheless, even Mary’s English bears even more traces of Chinook Jargon than the bolded words below, for example the “null” preposition that I’ve shown as [Ø] in the text. 

So we still have here quite a nice snapshot of authentic Chinook use in Lushootseed land. And we get to hear a traditional Puget Sound tale retold! It’s got several of the great themes: an origin story for the sun, a ladder to the sky, you name it.

The author has what I perceive as a fortunately different perspective from what most male writers have conveyed to us about Chinuk Wawa and Indigenous scenes. Among Whites, I think her gender allowed her to overtly lay claim to a way of behaving towards Native people that most of the men would be ashamed of for its kindness and understanding.

But the charm of today’s telling isn’t just about gender identity. Crouse is quite the character, and her personality pervades these paragraphs. I only wish it were easier to turn up more biographical information about her! (What exists is mostly mentions of her as a supporting actress in musical theatre, and real-estate notices.)

We’ll pick up a few paragraphs into Crouse’s light-toned narrative, where she repeats the folksy misunderstanding that the Jargon is a tribal language up north (rather than a pidgin there)…then she really gets into gear…

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From Comic Opera to Country Clerk by the Invalid Route — Snoqualmie.

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Happily good friends knew “the very place,” afar up Puget Sound, where logging camps, big sawmills, Indians and untrammeled nature promised a useful field for old clothes. So hither hied the songstress, and forthwith went behind a counter.

Nowhere can human nature be so well learned, friends or enemies so quickly made, as in a big country store. This one had a large trade from Indians along the rivers clear up to British Columbia. They would pass Seattle and Tacoma and paddle forty miles up stream to trade with the “Boston woman” [American] who humored them so much as to learn “Chinook jargon” in order to speak their native tongue. They are suspicious creatures, but kindness and tact soon win confidence. Then their lives became an interesting study. What can be seen is easily told, so everything about Indians has been more commented on than their thoughts.

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Fearing ridicule they naturally are reticent, but fate brought opportunity to learn what scope is given imagination by a totally untaught mind. An Indian woman came to trade, bringing a pretty, half-white boy of seven on crutches, crippled for life by a logging car. A camp-stool for the child to sit on, a blanket on the counter for her sleeping baby and a simple prescription to cure its rash, made a friend for life of “Pilchuck Mary.” [‘Red Water’, a local creek between Tulalip and Swinomish.] Next Sunday she paddled her own canoe to the store wharf laden with pretty pine cones, curious fern growths, some odd pebbles from Pilchuck creek, dried licorice fern root to chew, a big armful of pitch pine splinters, nice for lighting a quick fire or to burn for the resinous order [odor], and a quart of pine tree gum. Gratitude is so beautiful from either a white or red man’s heart, the grocery department gladly paid tribute by a feast, and then Mary, being good humored, rolled away tubs, barrels, etc., stood in her clearing and chanted in Chinook, with much dramatic effect, the


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A long time ago all Siwashes [Indians] lived in a far north land. Plenty ice was there, plenty snow and long cold times. Only little bushes there or moss to burn. When warm time comes Siwashes catch plenty fish to dry: make hot fire, never let it go out. One time sun get lost (Artic [Arctic] winter), keep lost long time. Siwashes burn fire all time. Bimeby [eventually] halo (no) bushes, halo piah (fire). Everybody cold. All go [Ø] bed wait for sun. Sun no come. Siwashes sleep dilate (very) long time. Bimeby all hungry. No can see catch deer, catch fish, no piah cook something. Tenas kloochman (children) [actually ‘girls’] all cry. Siwashes hiyu wawa (all call) Speow [Lushootseed for ‘Coyote’]. He dilate smart man, all fox inside. Make him in deer, fox, bird, bimeby he man some more. He feel sorry see people cry, say he go hunt sun in sky, hunt fire, hunt wood, bring all home. Siwashes no more cry. Know Speow find everything. He tell very strong man come out with bow and arrow, shoot up very hard. P p p-f f-whr r r r. [This sound effect and the ones to follow are remarkably similar to some of the elaborate ones documented from Charles Cultee in Lower Chinookan by Franz Boas. — DDR]

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Man shoot, arrow stick in sky no can come out. Speow tell another man shoot. Whr r r whoo-pthrr. Arrow stick in first one, hang down more long. All Siwashes shoot. All time arrows hang to last one; bimeby come ground. Little boys all shoot arrows, plenty in first row. Then Speow call he grandmother. She old woman outside, jay bird inside. Turn all bird now, run up, run down, tp, tp, tp, bite arrows all fast together like ladder to sky. Work long time ole jay bird.

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Speow tell Siwashes all klahouya, (good-by) start up ladder hunt sun. He climb to sky, cut piece out, put head up, look through sky. He see big sun just as he think. See pretty valley, all green grass, all big trees, all nice creek on one side. Speow think sky Siwashes love up there very much, kill him he come. He look down, all cold, dark. He look up, all sun, warm. He go up cover hole so nobody see. He think ‘spose sky Siwash live by creek, catch fish all same below. Speow turn beaver, swim up creek, look what can see. He feel nice warm, go pretty near sleep, ptr-ktp-chkr!! run nose in trap, get caught fast. Bimeby ole sky Siwash come, heap laugh see nice fat beaver. Take out, cut throat with sharp rock, carry by tail, give skin to kloochman (wife) put meat in pan. Kloochman put skin on board by fire. Speow find fire. Speow got heap skookum-tum-tum (strong mind) no can kill that. His mind go everywhere look what can see. Find big pile wood, plenty dry fish. Bimby ole Siwash bring sun under arm, lock door, go bed. Pretty soon all dark outside. Speow wait all sound sleep. His strong mind go

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back in man. He not high, very fat all same Siwash now. He have big coat, four pockets, four live birds for buttons. While he wear coat nobody kill him. Speow no make noise. He creep round, put sun in one pocket, take fire all like, fish all like, wood all like. Open door, go easy out. Go all round valley, pull up two big trees all kind, pine, poplar, oak, everything now on [ILLEGIBLE], make all small so can carry; go [ILLEGIBLE], crawl through, make sun fast

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in sky, come down ladder. Siwashes all glad see him. Siwash heart beat fast. Bimby come plenty fish in rivers. Speow make nice long warm days for hunt. He plant trees everywhere, now grow big. Speow very good man. All smart like fox.


Once the sun disappeared and the earth was so dark Indians could not see each other. Evidently the sky had fallen on them, but one of their wise men drove four posts at earth’s corners, raised the sky and let the sun in. It disappeared again and all the people laughed at their leader. Another wise man drove a row of posts in a circle and a very big one in the center. When the sun returned he fastened it in by pulling up the outer posts, and there the sun stayed till Indians removed to warmer climes.

— from the Sacramento (CA) Daily Record-Union of June 23, 1889, page 1, columns 1-2

What do you think?
Kahta mika tumtum?