Pilton’s doggerel (1 of 2)

A classic in English forms the sourdough starter for half-Jargon doggerel…

Alexander Pope’s philosophical poem “Essay on Man“, with its famous stanza beginning “Lo! the poor Indian”, inspires a pseudonymous later-frontier bard “Pilton” (‘Crazy’) to condescend in Chinook.

Chinook that the newspaper editor didn’t bother or need to translate into English; most of his readership in 1876 was fluent in the pidgin.

(This is one of two pieces by “Pilton” that I’ll be featuring.)

The great achievement of this piece is that it manages to rhyme in Jargon. That’s hard! ‘Face’ and ‘hat’ are an especially clever pair here.

I really wonder what you’ll think about this writer’s expressed attitudes toward Indigenous people, though.

I’ll run down some details about the poem after you read it:

Piltons doggerel

“PILTON” gets off the following ingenious effusion in the last Port Townsend Argus:

Lo the poor Indian, whose untutored mind
     Ahn-kot-tie yaka chaco klosh; (‘[Which] has long since improved,’)
Sees God in clouds or hears him in the wind, 
     Alkie konaway mim-a-loos. (‘[But] will all die away.’)

Those who were warriors, bold and brave, 
     Hy ak mamook poo mow-itsch; (‘Are [now] quick to shoot at deer;’)
Are creeping to their lonely graves, 
     Tenas lala yaka nanitch. (‘[Which] they will soon be seeing.’)

Look on Siwash’s haggard phiz, 
     Yaka tick-ey zum see-a-host; (‘He loves to paint the face;’)
All those beauteous lands were his 
     Mamook tipso copa see-ah-poos. (‘For growing grass for [weaving] hats.’)

He’ll hunt no more in the darksome wood 
     Quansum mamook chaco till, (‘It always makes [him] tired out,’)
But thinks the whites of superior blood 
     Boston t-kope, pe Siwash pill. (‘Americans are white, and Indians red.’)

Poor Indian has nearly run his race 
     Konaway alkie chaco sick; (‘They’ll all sicken eventually;’)
He’ll soon give way to a superior race 
     Pe quansum moosum kopa stick. (‘But keep on sleeping in the woods.’)

— from the Olympia (Washington Territory) Washington Standard of July 29, 1876, page 2, column 7

As for the writer’s Chinuk Wawa, it’s pretty fluent stuff, and easy enough to interpret — although that ease is partly a function of the ample context provided by alternation with English lines.

…Ahn-kot-tie yaka chaco klosh;
ánqati yáka chaku-łúsh
PAST he become-good
(‘[Which] has long since improved,’)


…Alkie konaway mim-a-loos.
áłqi kánawi míməlus
FUTURE all die
(‘[But] will all die away.’)

…..Hy ak mamook poo mow-itsch;
háyáq mamuk-p’ú máwich
quickly CAUSE-shoot deer
(‘Are [now] quick to shoot at deer;’)


…Tenas lala yaka nanitch.
tənəs-líli yáka nánich
little-while he see
(‘[Which] they will soon be seeing.’)

Yaka tick-ey zum see-a-host;
yáka tíki t’sə́m(-)siyáxust
he want mark-face
(‘He loves to paint the face;’)

Mamook tipso copa see-ah-poos.
mámuk típsu kʰupa siyápuł
make grass for hat
(‘For growing grass for [weaving] hats.’)

Quansum mamook chaco till,
kwánsəm mamuk-chaku-tʰíl
always make-become-tired
(‘It always makes [him] tired out,’)


…Boston t-kope, pe Siwash pill.
bástən tk’úp pi sháwásh pʰíl
American white and Indian red
(‘Americans are white, and Indians red.’)

Konaway alkie chaco sick;
kánawi áłqi chaku-sík
always FUTURE become-sick
(‘They’ll all sicken eventually;’)


Pe quansum moosum kopa stick.
pi kwánsəm músum kʰupa stík
but always sleep in forest
(‘But keep on sleeping in the woods.’)

The spelling < see-a-host> indicates an older pronunciation of siyáxus ‘face; eye’, faitful to the word’s original form in Lower Chinookan.

< See-ah-poos > is a rare variant of siyápuł, with a less common Settler substitution of /s/ for the slurpy L sound at the end. Far more frequent are substitutions of “kl” and “tl” for that sound, but in this word-final position, “s” is not unknown, for example in the sometimes documented pronunciation “kinoose” for k’áynuł ‘tobacco’.

The expression < mamook chaco till > might be another clue that “Pilton” is an old pioneer who learned Jargon “in the street”, as it uses the early Causative + Inchoative doubling of verb prefixes mamuk-chaku-, which soon died out so it didn’t spread far beyond the lower Columbia River region.

Kahta mika tum-tum?
What do you think?