The “New Northwest” and “cloochmen’s” suffrage


Abigail Jane “Jennie” Scott Duniway (1834-1915) (image credit: Find A Grave)

A refreshing viewpoint involving Chinuk Wawa comes from a Pacific NW feminist periodical, way back in the frontier era…

There are entire history books written about Abigail Scott Duniway’s women’s rights newspaper, “The New Northwest”.

(I’ve written a little about Duniway and the Jargon before. That was so interesting that I’m adding to it today.)

In a way it’s not jaw-dropping that there could be a paper published from a suffragette standpoint so far in the past; in that era, every newspaper I can think of in the USA was fiercely partisan for one cause or another.

The distinguishing feature here is that “The New Northwest” was not Republican or Democrat or Free Silver; it was pro-woman. Make no mistake, even its commercial “agents” in the region’s scattered towns were women.

To take an example that involves Chinook Jargon, an unsigned soldier’s remembrance of “The Indian War of 1855-6” set in the “Clickitat” (Klickitat) Valley area urges readers to consider the status of Indigenous women, in an essay that to us is a study in contradictions, by turns unusually insightful about details of Chinuk Wawa and dripping with racism toward Indians:

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…Belonging to our own mess was a young man who prided himself greatly on the perfection he had attained in the Chinook jargon. Indeed, so accomplished had be become in that beautiful language, that not only was he complete master of the nasals and gutterals [sic] with which it is so profusely embellished, but he would emit those sonorous chucks [sic] which distinguish the aboriginal tongues of this coast, with as much facility and precision, as did the natives themselves. Nor did the midnight oil consumed in pouring [sic[ over McCormick’s Chinook Dictionary prove a wanton waste, for on every occasion where this distinguished individual had an opportunity of displaying his lingual lore to those who were able to master its intricacies or perceive its beauties, he was at once accorded a position in the estimation of the dusky maids of the mountains far above the balance of us. One day some Indian women appeared at the door of our tent and commenced an animated conversation with the young professor. He was interrogated by an old crone, who seemed to have passed three-score years in total ignorance of the value or use of soap, as to whether he had yet deigned to bestow his attentions upon an equally worthy object of the other sex. The accomplished youth of course chucked forth amid a profusion of crimson blushes to the manifest gratification of bis interlocutor, that up to that time his heart was all his own. She was greatly rejoiced that so much real worth had not been secured by one of the cultus clootchmen [no-good women] of the despised race. “Now see here,’ said she, and her snaky eyes flashed with earnestness, “here is my daughter, she is a girl worth your attentions. She will build your house, carry your wood, cook your ‘muck-a-muck [food],’ dry your salmon, hoe in your garden, saddle your horse when you want to ride out to steal anything, and in short relieve you of life’s drudgery, so that you will have nothing to do but to eat, sleep, fight, gamble, and drink whisky. And,” continued she, “if you should ever get mad or drunk and want to whip her a little, she’ll not act like a fool and run off from you, but will only respect you the more for asserting your rights as her master. Why,” said she, and her stubbed lips curled with scorn, “these lazy Boston [American/White] women will sit in the house and allow their masters to degrade themselves by working, or even waiting on them, and will not even allow their husbands to give them a flogging without raising a fuss and leaving them.”

The dark-skinned beauty in whose interest this eloquent appeal was made, and to whom the aspiring mother directed attention by repeated glances during the conversation, seemed a child in years, but had been allowed to appropriate nearly all tbe dry goods of the family. The reader will readily perceive that this “daughter of nature” was not educated up even to our standard on the question of the sphere of woman. But, seriously, do any of us value the blessings of our civilization as we should, when we reflect that nowhere on the face of the earth does woman occupy a position above that of abject slavery, except where the sublimely unselfish principles of Christianity are recognized as the foundation of custom and law?

— from the Portland (OR) New Northwest of Septemer 26, 1878, page 4, columns 1-2

Quite the time capsule.

“[S.J.] McCormick’s dictionary”, as an aside, was often mentioned in frontier-era Oregon publications as the great authority on Chinuk Wawa, because it was the first to have been published for widespread sale in this region.

The author of the dictionary is said to have been the great early Catholic missionary documentor of Jargon around Fort Vancouver, Father Blanchet.

After 10 editions, this dictionary was acquired by none other than J.K. Gill of Portland, whose company put it through another 20 or so, up into my lifetime!

Little things like this connect us so vividly to our Pacific Northwest past…

qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?