Chief Kettle, donated labor, and the “la-lode”


Olympia-Tenino Railroad (image credit: Thurston Talk)

The predictions of Linguistic Archaeology are confirmed!For a few years, I’ve inferred that a word pronounced like “lay-load” meant ‘railroad’ in Chinuk Wawa.

Some of the best evidence until now has been found in the Comox (Ayajuthem) Salish language of north-central Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. There, /lilud/ with magnificently velarized L’s is the word.

Also from Canada, when I dug up piles of Indigenous people’s letters in Chinook Jargon shorthand from the archives, I found a reoccurring word that they spelled < ril rod >. Besides the standard CJ páya-t’síkt’sik (‘fire-wagon’), it had a synonym < stim kar > ‘steam car’ up there, but that’s another story.

The point being, the word < ril rod > is a previously undocumented word of the Jargon, and its pronunciation hasn’t been proven.

Until today.

Because I’ve managed to turn up direct confirmation of “lay-load” in Jargon:
lo on the railroad.PNG

“LO” ON THE RAILROAD. — The head-chief of the Squaxon [Squaxin IslandIndians, Kettel, with three of his chosen braves reported early yesterday morning to the for[e]man on the grade of the Olympia-Tenino Railroad. “Nesiki ticki cultus potlatch mammok ict sun copa la-lode!” They manfully went to work.

— from the Olympia (WA) Washington Standard of April 18, 1874, page 2, column 4

Note, as I always encourage you to do, that the editor of the newspaper “knew” his readers would understand the Jargon without benefit of an English translation. I’d like to break it down, though:

Nesiki ticki cultus potlatch mammok ict sun copa la-lode!
nsáyka tíki kʰə́ltəs pá(t)lach mámuk íxt sán kʰapa léylod
we want give work one day on railroad
‘We want to donate a day of work on the railroad.’

Judging from the newspaper coverage at the time in both Washington and Oregon, the Olympia-Tenino Railroad excited public enthusiasm in a way probably not again seen until I-5 was built. Evidently the Squaxin Island delegation partook of that feeling, for reasons I’d enjoy seeing researched by someone better equipped than a linguist.

Before I finish here, I should credit a couple of books that led me to that news clipping:

The second of those includes a bit more information about Chinuk Wawa usage in the Olympia, WA region in that era.

qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?