C.C. McCoy recalls Fraser River Indigenous reaction to first steamboat

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Christopher Columbus McCoy (1836-1905) accidentally arrived in British Columbia at the moment the Fraser River gold rush began…

He stayed and prospered, through the usual adversities.

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Here McCoy recalls Native people’s reaction in Chinuk Wawa to the first steamer that came up the Fraser River:

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…I well remember the first steamer that stemmed the waters of the Fraser. She was the Surprise, and made her first trip from Sacramento in May, 1858…it was a comical sight to see the Indians’ surprise at the vessel, which they, delighted, called ‘hiyou Boston man‘s house,’ when they saw their own figures in the looking-glasses in the saloon.

— from the New Westminster (BC) Pacific Canadian of October 7, 1893, page 4, column 4

That four-word phrase as remembered by McCoy is not entirely in Chinook Jargon, since it carries an English-language Possessive suffix. In Grand Ronde (2012) dictionary spelling it’s háyú bástən-mán (łaska) háws ‘many White-people (their) house’.

Which parallels other, earlier Indigenous people’s evaluations of the first sailing ships on the coast as ‘floating houses’. For example, in Nuučaan̓uł (Nuuchahnulth; Nootka) of Vancouver Island, BC, the word for the European newcomers (now effectively for all non-Natives) is mamałn̓i, analyzed as ma ‘dwell’ plus -małn̓i ‘out on the water’. I’m not sure this has anything at all to do with the mirrors in the saloon of the Surprise…!

What do you think?

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