The Boston Alaskan
Quite an odd place to track down some Chinuk Wawa: a boosteristic magazine titled the “Boston Alaskan: Published in the Interests of Alaska” (edited by L.M. Norton).
This seems to have had only one issue, Volume 1 (August 1906 – June 1907). I suspect the involvement — maybe the monetary backing — of Henry Derr “Kladawah” Reynolds, whose uncaptioned exotic fur-robed portrait adorns the frontispiece.
“The Story of Mining in Alaska”, occupying a large portion of the issue in installments, contains a number of interesting details. They’re primarily in the line of showing us who did & didn’t speak Chinuk Wawa in southeast Alaska early in the U.S. era, the winter of 1877-1878.
Chilcoot Jack was living in Sitka that winter. His father’s people belonged to the high-class Kokwontons at Chilcoot, and as a boy he had joined the raid to destroy Fort Selkirk. He spoke the Chinook jargon, and was frequently in the store when the frequenters of Whitford’s place were debating the question of trying to cross the Chilcoot Pass and get out upon the first waters running toward the Yukon. Jack had traveled up the Stickine and had worked in the Cassiar mines. He was anxious for the miners to go, and offered his services at so much a day to pack and guide.
In time they dropped anchor in Portage Bay, now Haines. This was a notable event for the natives, who seldom had seen a steamboat in those waters, and they were as anxious as Athenians to know the news. They soon learned the miners’ object, namely, to cross the pass and get on the streams flowing toward the Yukon, which project was not favorably entertained by these people of shrewd trading propensities. The before-mentioned Chilcoot Jack was roundly taken to task and blamed for enticing the men to such an enterprise through the range of country considered by the natives as their own. They gave him “hiyu mesatchie wauwau” (plenty of bad talk).
The conduct of the natives did not augur well for the miners. However, they went ashore to hold a conference. This was conducted in the Chinook jargon, the language of commerce and diplomacy, or the Esperanto of the Pacific coast. Chilcoot Jack, the interpreter, was abused in round terms by Thlanot, Seetonish and others. The influential ones were hostil to the passage of the miners.
In the midst of one of these parleys with “Yakushk,” Bill Wrath happened in, and at once he and the Stick Chief recognized each other and Bill greeted him heartily in Chinook with “Klahowya Tillikum,” which the Chief did not understand, but the pressure of the hands conveyed to each an intent of good will.
After many days fortune seemed to favor him, for he found the Stick Chief alone for a while, and hastened to take advantage of his opportunity. The Stick understood Thlingit, but not Chinook, but Wrath was a good Chinook talker. At that time very few of the Sitka Thlingits understood Chinook. One little old Chief, called Harry Toweis, understood some Chinook, but more English, and Wrath secured his services as an interpreter. The Wrath brothers were rooming in the second story of the building which is now Mills’ Mercantile Establishment, and was owned by Samuel Goldstein, locally known by the natives and all others as “Cultus Sam.”
Bean was one of those sanguine, presumptuous men who in many respects are ideal prospectors; for he was not lazy, was always sanguine and had enough presumption and hopefulness to dare anything, but withal he was an ignorant man. He had a private conversation with the squaw, no doubt giving her a “pot latch,” and spreading the chart before her, talked to her in Chinook somewhat as follows: “Mika delate nannitch okook stone yawa?” (Did you see this stone here?) pointing to a place on the chart, to which she would reply, “Delate nawitka.” (Truly, yes.) Then he would point to another corner of the chart and ask the same question in a negative way as, “Mika Klosh nannitch okook illahee? Mika halo nannitch okook stone yawa?” (Look closely at this country. You did not see it there, did you?) To this she would respond, “Halo, halo.” (No, no.) Of course, she…
caught from the inflection of his voice a hint as to how she would better answer him. After going over and over the chart with her in this way, Bean went to Berry, Wrath and the rest, saying that they could go ahead without the squaw, for he had learned from the chart, and she had told him exactly where the place was, so they could get along without her.
It took us about two days to get from Taylor Bay, and on the morning of the 4th of July, 1878, we fetched up at Hawke’s Inlet, where we dropped anchor and went ashore to get water, and the supercargo to celebrate the glorious Fourth in washing his clothes. Here we met a native who had worked on the Stickine River and in the Cassiar Mines, and who could communicate in Chinook very well. He said, pointing toward Point Retreat to the northward of Admiralty Island, that he could take us in two days to where there was gold, but there was but one determination by the majority, and that was to return to Sitka.
Some pretty fascinating historical information here, wikna?