Milling in Early Days

mike drew house port gamble

Mike Drew’s house in Port Gamble, WA (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

One interesting feature of this really interesting feature is the way it shows how frontier-era Chinuk Wawa speakers were highly aware of the quality of their own Jargon…

steam saw mill

(Image credit: Falmouth, Maine website)

…So, when they used an English word, but also knew that there was an (older) “Indian-er” word, they’d claim not to be so great at Jargoning.

I feel pretty sure Ben Miller characterized himself that way in telling today’s anecdote.

The kicker is, with Jargon being a “street” language, it always did get familiar English words mixed into it anyway.

Many such that Ben Miller uses were demonstrably present in Chinook Jargon all around the Pacific Northwest.

Including, as we’ve been learning on this site, the cussing 🙂 “Hell in a minute” is genuine mid-to-late 1800s heavy language.

Miller’s C.J. was pretty darn fluent, as a matter of fact…

And he’s recounting here a lumber-mill hiring negotiation, which provides a nice real-life counterpart to the many imaginary examples of such dealings that you can find in various old Jargon dictionaries.

The following is an expanded version of a previous article on this site, “What Engineers Must Know in British Columbia“.

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Milling in Early Days.

An entire book could be written about the Puget Lumber company of Port Gamble, Wash. The Pacific Lumber Trade Journal has printed stories from tine to time about its early experiences, Mike Drew’s eccentricities, etc., and there are still more to come. Ben Miller, who sells machinery, tallow, skid grease, car grease, bicycles and pumps for Mitchell, Lewis & Staver company, and who was an employe of the mill at one time, tells a good one on Mike Drew that is worth repeating. Mr. Drew is now a wealthy and honored citizen of Seattle and can afford to enjoy the following. According to Miller there was a scarcity of white labor in and around Port Gamble in 1865, and the company was at times hard pressed for men to operate their plant. This state of affairs forced a thought germ into the noddle [sic, i.e. ‘head’] of the mill engineer, and one day after putting a keg of nails on the safety valve, he yelled lustily for Mike Drew. Mike, you know was the foreman, and after Walker, the biggest man in Port Gamble. Mike came to the scene and wanted to know what was the matter. The engineer informed him that there was a hiatus in his salary and he wanted a raise “right away, if not sooner.” Mike saw in a minute what the trouble was, and, as he wouldn’t be bluffed, told the man to go to Muckleshoot or some other summer resort. The engineer got his pay, and Mike started into the woods for another engineer. As said before, men were scarce, and Mike had to rely on the natives for a substitute. So he tackled the first flat-headed Siwash [‘Indian’] he met and soon had a bargain made. The Indian didn’t know very much about an engine, and Mike, who was rather rusty in Chinook, substituted a few English words, and the following conversation ensued:

Mike — “Mika tickee mamook.” [‘Do you want (to) work?’]

Siwash — “lcta mamook.” [‘What kind of work?’]

Mike — “Mamook pire keekquilee copa kittle?” [‘Making a fire under a kettle.’]

Siwash—“Cunsic Mika pay?” [‘How much will you pay?’]

Mike — “Ict dollar pe ict sun.” [‘A dollar(,) a day.’] 

Siwash — “Hyas close.[‘Great.’]

Mike — “Well, hiack chahco copa mill.” [‘Well, hustle over to the mill.’] 

When Mike and the native arrived at the mill steam was pretty low and there was a lack of water in the boilers. This being remedied, Mike gave the Indian the following instructions:

Mike — “Mika cumtux mamook delate hyas skookum pire,” [‘You know how to build a great big blazing fire?’]

Siwash — “Narwitka.” [‘Yes.’]

Mike — “Mika cumtux pump?” [‘You know (about) pumps?’]

Siwash — “Clonass narwitka.” [‘I reckon so.’]

Mike — “Mika nanich ocook glass?[‘You see this glass?’]

Siwash — “Narwitka.” [‘Yes.’]

Mike — “Mika nanich ocook glass?” [‘You see that glass?’]

Siwash—“Narwitka.” [‘Yup.’]

Mike — “Well hyas close, suppose mika quanisome mamook delate skookum pire, pe quanisome close nanich pump. Pe quanisome close nanich glass. Hyas close, suppose chuck quanisome midlite sitkum copa glass. Suppose chahco sachlee halo steam. Suppose chuch [sic] chacho [sic] keekquilee delate mamook poo pe conawa, hyas cockchit pe mika go to h–l in a minute. Mika cumtux?” [‘Well you need to keep up a big strong fire, and keep an eye on the pump. And pay attention to the glass. The water needs to stay in the middle of the glass. If it goes high(er), there’ll be no steam. If the water gets low(er) it’ll up and explode and everything’ll be broken and you’ll go to hell in a minute. You understand?’]

Siwash — “Narwitka.” [‘Sure.’] 

Mike — “Well, all right; then d–n you, pitch in.”

They do say that the Siwash made a feariul [fearful] and wonderful engineer. Cyrus Walker didn’t sleep week nights for weeks, expecting-to see the mill blown up. and Mike Drew carried a parachute with him in case of being blown skyhigh. Eventually, however, a new engineer was secured, and the Siwash resumed his former occupation — that of digging clams. -— Pacific Lumber Trade Journal.

— from the Shelton (WA) Mason County Journal of July 10, 1896, page 1, column 5

Bolstering his credibility as a source of language samples, Ben Miller makes still another Chinuk Wawa-related appearance in “Acres of Clams?“.

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