Treaties, Chinook Jargon, and “The Advent of the Whites in Quileute Land”


Quileute Chief Howeattle, circa 1930 (image credit: MOHAI)

Oral history: the things your elders tell you and you tell to the younger generations.

It’s valuable stuff, as you know in your own life. Just last night I randomly met someone who treasures the memory of grandparents talking Chinook Jargon as a secret language in the 1970s. (Partly because she figured out the meaning of some things they said, and was able to repeat them to me!)

The value can be for others outside of your family, too. Sticking with the Jargon theme, we’ve learned a huge amount of detail about how “Chinook” was used in people’s lives, by listening to folks’ genersouly shared recollections.

Today I want to recount to you a Quileute tribal family’s remembrance of people who did & didn’t get along well, and how this affected their history forever after. And yes, Chinuk Wawa plays a central role!

This is Text 70 in the book “Quileute Texts“, published by Franz Boas‘s student Manuel J[osé] Andrade [1885-1941] (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931; pages 207-211).

According to the book’s Preface, this was told in 1915 or 1916 to Leo J. Frachtenberg in the Quileute language, and later translated by Andrade. The teller was likely [Chief] Arthur Howeatle, the son of the [Chief] “Hauwiyaɬ” who’s central to the narrative; otherwise it was Hallie George, who was the daughter of a White man and a Quileute woman. (I imagine the “Hal George” whose Quileute Day School composition was published in the short-lived Quileute Independent newspaper was her son.)

“Hauwiyaɬ” is surely the same person who wrote one of the vanishingly few Native texts in Chinook Jargon known to us until my dissertation on the Kamloops literacy. See the late Barbara P. Harris‘s wonderful paper, “Klahowiam Mr Smis“, for that. Fun fact: Barbara personally walked us through that paper at our very first Chinook Jargon Gathering, in 1998.

According to scholar Albert B. Reagan, the shipwreck discussed at the start of today’s text is the 1850 wreck of the Suthern at La Push, Washington (click that link to read more).

Speaking of oral history and family memories, the locations that feature in today’s text are vivid in my and my kids’ minds from our vacation trip to La Push this last summer. We even swung on swings, which is a detail coincidentally relating to what you’re about to read 🙂

Rather than my usual commentary after presenting a text, I’ll just say up front that here we read about how rare the Quileutes of 1915-16 said it was for one of their tribe to know Chinuk Wawa in the 1850s. This matches with the western Olympic Peninsula’s status as a remote terra incognita well into the 20th century; we can recall that it was a fit destination for a formal “exploring expedition” out of Seattle in 1885.

Please let me emphasize something in that connection.

The grave misunderstandings between the Quileutes and the Whites, especially in the 1855 treaty with “Stimin” (territorial Governor Isaac I. Stevens) that this text says the Quileutes didn’t even realize they were agreeing to (!!!!!!), have almost nothing to do with supposed “shortcomings of Chinook” that are often invoked in the received analysis of such negotiations.

INSTEAD, the big problem was that there was almost no linguistic channel of communication whatsoever.

  • In 1850, “Some of the White people learned to speak the Quileute language, as they were unable to talk to the Quileute, because none of them could speak the language of the White people.” Because these Whites were present for only a limited time, this surely was a very rudimentary version of the highly polysynthetic Quileute language.
  • In 1855, when it seems still only one person could speak anything of any language that the Whites can follow, the chances of such a detailed conceptual framework as a US Government Indian treaty being understood were terribly slim. Worse still, this text specifies that Hauwiyaɬ was unpopular in his tribe at the moment — and therefore would be less widely acknowledged as a leader, regardless of American treatment of him as such.

Here’s a slideshow of the text’s translation into English. I’ve transcribed it below. Read for yourself.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


A long time ago a big steamer ran ashore on a rock at James Island. There were many White people on the steamer that grounded on the rock. Many things were washed ashore from the steamer, and the Indians picked up everything. As they did not know what forks were, they used them in order to brush the dog blankets, and they used the “hard tacks” by rolling them about on the beach.

But the Quileute took care of the White people feeding them and giving them a place to sleep. They even gave one White man a pretty woman for a wife while he was here. The White people stayed a long time in Quileute-land. Some of the White people learned to speak the Quileute language, as they were unable to talk to the Quileute, because none of them could speak the language of the White people. Only Hauwiyaɬ knew how to speak Chinook. Hauwiyaɬ was treated very well by the White people, when they grounded on the rock. Hauwiyaɬ took good care of the White people. That is why the captain gave them much canvas. Then Hauwiyaɬ paid a little for the canvas. How much he paid I shall not say what it was. Every day the White people were at Lapush swinging [rocking in swings] with the girls. Then Hauwiyaɬ sent one of his men to take the White people to Neah Bay, when the White people wished to go away.

Before they went away the White people tried to pay Hauwiyaɬ, because they were well taken care of. But Hauwiyaɬ did not wish to be paid, because he was good hearted. The Quileute did not like Hauwiyaɬ but they were proud that he was a good hearted man.

Then, not many years after, one White man came to Quileute- land as the White people who had formerly arrived at the beach had been well taken care of. All the Quileute knew the name of the good White man. All called him Stimin [Stevens]. He assembled the Quileute in order to talk to them, and paid the Quileute because they had taken good care of the White people that had formerly drifted ashore. Then Stevens gave the Quileute axes, and tools to hit the ground with, and tools to cut wood with, and shovels. Then Hauwiyaɬ spoke to Stevens being glad that Stevens had been good to them. Then Stevens stood up and spoke to the Quileute men, saying: “Every time you see a White man drifted ashore take good care of him. The reason I have given you the White people’s working tools, is that you have taken care of the White people when they needed care. This time Hauwiyaɬ alone was talking to Stevens when they had been assembled, because only one was able to talk to the White people, as only one knew Chinook. Then Stevens went south. All the Quileute were happy with the working implements given to them by Stevens when they took care of the White people that had drifted ashore.

Then not long afterward a White man came to Quileute-land. It was again Stevens who came. Then he again assembled the Quileute people. Ever since then, when they were told by Stevens to take good care of the White people when they needed care, they took good care of the White men even if they did not need care. Then, when the Quileute were again assembled by Stevens, once more they were told what they had been told before: to take care of the White people when they needed care. This time the Quileute began to eat the White people’s food given to them by Stevens — flour and a little of everything.

He did not tell them then that he was buying land from the Quileute. Stevens only asked Hauwiyal how big a land the Quileute had. Then Hauwiyaɬ said, “If you wish to know, accompany me. I will show you how big our land is.” Then Stevens said: “I will go with you. Let us go to-morrow.” Then the next day Hauwiyaɬ took Stevens to show him his land in the middle of the Lower Prairie and above the Upper prairie. Then Hauwiyaɬ showed Stevens the digging place from which were gotten the fern roots which the Quileute ate. Then Hauwiyaɬ returned with Stevens. Then again the next day Stevens went south.

Then not many years afterward the White people began to arrive, and were taking the land away from the Quileute at the Lower Prairie and at the Upper Prairie [Forks]. The Quileute were unable to talk about their land, they were told by Stevens not to get angry at the White people. Then not many years afterward the White people came to where the Quileute used to live. They drove away the Indians forbidding them to live where they used to live. Then the Quileute came finally here where we are all grouped. They were deprived of all their land by the White people.

So much for that, because I do not know much about it.

To end on a relatively light note, there’s some irony in the bookending of this story by White people’s “Forks”, isn’t there…

What do you think? Kahta mika tumtum?