Valuable words, Fort Nisqually, mid-1840s

dentalium dollar bill

(Image credit: (Art)ifacts)

This is some of the most carefully detailed phonetic documentation of Chinook Jargon in its earler days.

I first shared this on the old CHINOOK listserv, but it’s worth revisiting as we’ve learned a lot in the last 17 years, and most of you haven’t seen it yet.

What I’m noticing now is how you can take the spellings of the following Jargon words as sincere attempts at representing exact pronunciations.

And if you do so, you can find strong correspondences with the best scientific notations of the language.

There’s also some excellent lexical & grammatical information here.

Here’s the transcription I want to share from the Fort Nisqually trade shop’s blotter (business ledger). Afterward, I’ll go into some detail about each Jargon expression.

Fort Nisqually Trade Shop
February 1844 – December 1846

Huntington Library Archives Manuscript FN #1247 Volumes 3, 4, 5

with partial index.

This copy


Transcribed and indexed by Steve A. Anderson
Summer, 1990

[Wednesday,] 31st November, 1845
Sheep D[ebenture]
20 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition] – [John] Edgar.
20 [Charges of Ammunition] – [John] McLeod.
Ind[ia]n Labor
[In payment] For Driving oxen 6 weeks &c to Cooper, Slugomas & Rabasca –
10 [yards] Red Baize, 2 p[ai]rs moccasins;
[In payment for the] Carriage of letters from Cowlitz [Farm and a] Note from
Mr. [Charles] Forrest –
10 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition] 6 in[che]s Tob[acc]o.
1 horsehire to [John] Edgar’s 10 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]
1 Fisher 10 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]

[Written in margin:]
2 Baskets 8 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]
[Whale] Oil 10 Ch[arges of] Do
2 quarts 10 in[che]s Tobacco
Indian Gratis 9 in[che]s [Tobacco]
22 Dry Salmon 83 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]
55 Codfish 39 Ch[arges of] [Ammunition]
5 fresh Salmon 5 Ch[arges of] [Ammunition]
1 Small Beaver 1 f[atho]m Baize Red
5 Mats 8 ball Buttons
2 Do 8 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]
3 Raccoons 3 [Charges of Ammunition]
5 Minks 10 [Charges of Ammunition]
2 Muskrats 3 in[che]s Tobacco
1 Land Otter 1 f[atho]m Red Baize
1 Large Bear Skin 1 f[atho]m ” Do

[Manuscript Endnotes and Misc., Entries]
[Salish Trade Language Primer for Clerks?]

Eeght -1, Moxt – 2, Thune – 3, lakit – 4, grunnums – 5, tughum -6, sinnamoxt
– 7, Stoughtikin – 8, Quaist – 9, Tatteilum – 10.
Nutsho, Saallie, Thleuch-moas, jelatch, jelatchie, hoaks, tukatchie, Whull,

Eketa mika tekegh ‘eescum kwopa ookook – “What do you want to buy or get for
Eketa mika mammook – “What are you doing?”
How mammook – “Work away, work away.”
Hayak – hayak/hayak! – Quickly – “Be quick!”
Chacoo eescum mukamuk – “Come & get your grub.”
Kagh klattawa – “Where are you going?”
Chacoo yughka – “Whence did ye come?”

1 Large land otter 2 Garden hoes
1 Marten 1 P[aper] C[overed] Glasses
15 Shot Ducks 30 Ch[arges of] Amm[unition]
20 D[ried] Salmon 16 Ch[arges of] Do
6 ” Do 5 in[che]s Tobacco
3 Mats 12 Ch[arges of] amm[unition]
5 fresh Salmon 5 Ch[arges of] Do
Whsilkitm – 1 med[ium] Beaver 1 Blanket 2 1/2 p[oin]ts BB Best
2 f[atho]ms copcops owing
Indian Gratis 6 in[che]s Tob[acc]o Vermilion, 10 Ch[arges of]
Amm[unition], 2 gun flints

Sheepdressing Sheepwashing
Leaf Tob[acc]o [pounds] 14.77 147 Twist Tob[acc]o [pounds] 4.1.1

Mem[oranda:] Mr. [Joseph] Heath’s acco[un]t for Sheepwashing:
P[aper] C[overed Looking] Glasses 1 2/3
Knives Scalp[in]g doz[en] 1/6
Rings doz[en] 1
Buttons Ball doz[en] 5/
H[and]k[erchie]fs 1
Tob[acc]o 1/4 or 1/3
1/4 Gallon Molasses
3/4 Bushels Pease
1 [pound] Grease
32 [yards] Hessens
1/12 doz[en] Seaming Twine
[ ] ” flat Files 7 In[che]s
January 1846

Now here’s what I make of the Jargon content:

  • Eeght -1 (compare íxt in the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary)
  • Moxt – 2 (mákwst)
  • Thune – 3 (łún)
  • lakit – 4 (lákit)
  • grunnums – 5 (surely < qwunnum(s) > in the manscript; qwínəm; a variant qwə́nəm also is well documented in the Chinuk Wawa literature)
  • tughum -6 (táx̣am)
  • sinnamoxt– 7 (sínamakwst)
  • Stoughtikin – 8 (stúxtkin)
  • Quaist – 9 (k’wáyts; a variant that ends in …st is well documented in the literature)
  • Tatteilum – 10 (táłam)
  • Eketa mika tekegh ‘eescum kwopa ookook
    íkta máyka tq’íx̣ ískam kwapa úkuk
    what you want get for this
    “What do you want to buy or get for this?”

    • tq’íx̣ is a usual early pronunciation of tíki.
    • kwapa is a well-documented early variant of the preposition kʰapa / kʰupa.
  • Eketa mika mammook
    íkta máyka mámuk
    what you want

    “What are you doing?”

    • Spellings like < eketa > that suggest a three-syllable pronunciation are not uncommon in early Jargon.
  • How mammook
    “Work away, work away.”

    • < How > is a nowadays often-overlooked, but early grammaticalized marker of commands in Jargon; finding it in the Fort Nisqually blotter is a lovely rare example of its use in a sentence. Joel Palmer 1847 has < how > ‘let us’; 1853 Columbian < how > ‘listen; attend’; Swan 1857 < how > ‘look here’; Gibbs 1863 < howh > ‘hurry; turn to’; Winthrop 1863 < how > ‘let; an interjection’. This word is from local SW WA Salish; compare in the nearby Upper Chehalis language the verb (yes, verb) x̣áxʷ ‘fast, quick, hurry, (early)’, used similarly to the above, as in x̣áxʷ-wəq̓ ‘fast’ (wəq̓ = ‘run’). Apparently not from Cowlitz Salish (x̣áw-), Lower Chehalis (x̣ə́w-), or Quinault (láʔal), nor from Nisqually’s txʷəlšucid/dxʷləšucid/southern Lushootseed language (ʔáł). See the following two entries.
  • Hayak – hayak (áyáq-ayaq ‘to be bustling, in a hurry; repeatedly; (too) often’).
  • hayak! – Quickly – “Be quick!” (áyáq! ‘Hurry! Get a move on!’).
    • In the blotter, commands that don’t have < how > (see above) preceding the verb are, like this one, bare verb stems. (I point this out to show that other known Jargon strategies, such as putting łush (pus), aren’t being used in this data.) 
  • Chacoo eescum mukamuk
    cháku ískam mə́kʰmək
    come get food
    “Come & get your grub.”
  • Kagh klattawa
    qʰáx̣ łátwa
    where go

    “Where are you going?”

    • In frontier-era Chinuk Wawa, we sometimes find sentences in this style, with no subject pronoun when it’s obvious who’s being referred to.
  • Chacoo yughka
    cháku yákwá
    come here
    “Whence did ye come?”

    • Actually a command. Along with the detailed phonetic spellings, this mismatch between the blotter’s translation of it & the literal meaning is an important piece of evidence suggesting that the writer took all this Jargon down from someone who didn’t share a knowledge of English with him.
  • copcop (kúpkup ‘small-size dentalium shells, a form of “Indian money” ‘)


So all around, the Fort Nisqually blotter supplies us with a small but highly valuable data sample from rather early Chinook Jargon.

Thanks to the Renton (WA) Historical Society for sharing this precious document!

What do you think?
Eketa mika tumtum?