Siletz, or “Lo” Reconstructed

southern chivalry

Charles Sumner (reclining); Southern chivalry on behalf of Oregon Indians rears its head in today’s article too (image source: Politico)

Early in the reservation era, Chinuk Wawa is a force at Siletz & the rest of southwest Oregon…

A popular article makes a pretty fair go at evenhandedly assessing living conditions in that community for a nationwide readership. It impressed me right from the first paragraphs that the writer is careful to fairly consider both pro- and anti-Indian sentiments.

(Read on. It turns out his carefully rational opening is meant to sucker you into a nasty racist surprise. Oh, Oregon pioneers!)

In the course of the article, we do find a couple of possible new discoveries in Oregon Jargon.

Here are some excerpts from “Siletz, or ‘Lo’ Reconstructed” by A.W. Chase (Overland Monthly II(5):424-434, May 1869).

This is apparently not the then-bestselling physician, Dr. Alvin Wood Chase?, but an Alexander W. Chase, who was employed by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey and performed some of the earliest anthropological research in southwest Oregon and northwest California. (Follow the preceding link to read everything he ever wrote; see also “Chasing Alexander W. Chase“.)

So early, in fact, that anthropologists hadn’t yet (A) come to be known by that name nor (B) become anti-racist.

I’m excerpting the sections having to do with Chinook Jargon’s clearly important place in that reservation’s day-to-day existence. I think they’re handled with a good deal of style.

The Indian Agent is referred to as a táyí (chief; leader; boss):

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page 426

At the end of the room was a great, wide fire-place, piled high with huge pine logs that snapped and crackled as the flame leaped through them and threw its ruddy glare upon the group gathered around it, consisting of a motley crowd of Indians dressed in all sorts of costume, who had dropped in for a visit to their “Ty-ee.”

A person’s kin are implicitly defined as his tílixams:

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page 426

An Indian was murdered outside (i.e., in the Wallamet Valley)—shot in the back while walking in the road, by a white man, and for no other crime than that of being the unintentional cause of a stampede among a drove of hogs. His body was brought to the Reserve for burial, and, as he belonged to a powerful family among the Indians, his “Tillecums” cried for vengeance.

The writers’ relatively deft touch — making the meanings of Jargon words apparent through their setting rather than by bluntly defining them — is sustained in references to further Native men:

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page 427

At this juncture an ally appeared for the whites, in the person of “Ty-ee Joe,” chief of the Klamath tribe, an old and dignified man.

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page 428

Klamath Joe, the Hyas Ty-ee of the Klamaths, made his appearance just as we were starting out for a tour of investigation. Saluting the company politely he asked the Agent in Chinook jargon for permission to accompany us, and also wished to know what my object was in visiting the Agency. When informed that it was merely a pleasure (excursion he appeared contented, and ‘was greatly pleased at being asked to sit for his portrait. He watched the progress of the sketch attentively, and, on its conclusion, requested that I should wrjte his name under it, and add:

Ty-ee Joe will always be good friend to ‘Boston man.’ “

A mention of the new non-Indigenous name of a reservation kid is, however, the occasion of a pro-slavery comment, all to common in frontier-era Oregon:

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page 429

One “youth to fortune and to fame unknown” was baptized “Charles Sumner,” by the Agent, with the parenthesis that Charles Sumner was a Hyas Ty-ee or Grand Chief of the Whites, to which we were forced to mentally exclaim, “Where ignorance is bliss ’tis folly to be wise.”

Sumner was a powerful US Senator and obstinate opponent of slavery; he was even the victim of an attempted assassination by a US Representative from the South, right on the Senate floor!

Now, belatedly, I’m becoming conscious of the attitude conveyed by the article’s title and by a remark on its second page, “I…meandered by the river on which poor Lo was learning the painful lesson of Reconstruction.” That is, the reservation Indians are being compared here with the defeated Whites of the Confederacy. Both historically owned slaves; both in 1869 are under the thumb of the Yankee government.

I wonder if the Siletz folks would’ve shared this color-blind perception…

Moving on, though: here are a couple of the rare cases where the author felt the need to overtly give the meaning of a word:

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page 430

Strict orders were issued some time in advance that no Indian would be permitted to witness the ceremony unless neatly dressed, and great was the display of finery at the wedding among the savage belles—every Indian woman with few exceptions working for months to procure what she called “fine ictas (i. e., fine clothes).[“]

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page 430

If a squaw has reason to suspect that some other “clutchman” (woman) is engrossing more than a legitimate share of attention from her liege lord, she prefers complaint against him, and her relatives enforce a payment of money, sometimes in aggravated cases amounting to a considerable sum.

In one passage, an apparent Chinuk Wawa term is half left in Jargon for local color, and half translated to make it understandable to folks “back in the States”. This is bástən-dála (you can add this new find to your dictionary), contrasted with what the writer calls “Indian shell money” (implicitly sáwásh-dála) or, as you’ll see below, “wampum”:

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page 431

Not content with his patriarchal allowance of five spouses, this “gay Lothario” of fifty years was last month fined, by the council, one hundred and fifty dollars “Boston money” (gold), for his attentions to the dusky fair of other tribes.

Again, evocative description is used to suggest the meaning of a Chinuk Wawa term:

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page 432

Every variety of domestic utensils: beds, bedding, clothes, furniture — all piled together, never used, and apparently collected only in a miserly desire to possess “icta” — an idea all the more inexplicable from the fact already alluded to, that all would have to be destroyed, or buried with her.

To wrap things up today, an anti-Semitic followup to the “Boston money” section:

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page 433

Some little time since a clever Jew counterfeited the “wampum” and made an endeavor to pass it off for genuine Siwash money; but the cheat was instantly discovered and as much contempt lavished on its perpetrator as would be for a similar attempt among the whites.

If you follow the link above and read the whole article, I’m confident you’ll find it a fairly light but worthwhile read.

Let me end today by sprinkling in a smattering of extra Chinuk Wawa from other writings by Alexander Chase.

Page 197 of R. Lee Lyman’s article gathering together all of the then (1991) known documentation by him refers to a Chetco Athabaskan woman of southwest Oregon saying a dying old man is “Hea-yu sick(hayu-sík, ‘much sick’). We get the impression that hayu- (not hayas- as in lower Columbia River territory) is the typical intensifier word in Chinook Jargon of that region; see below.

Page 200 mentions the “Se-ille-hie rocks above the Alseya Reserve in Oregon”. This is now thought to reference the Seal Rocks — so it seems to be < seal > ílihi ‘seal place’ in Jargon.

Page 204 contains Chase’s brief anecdote of asking an Indigenous man to accompany him to survey the North West Seal Rock of Crescent City, California. The fella refused, saying the rock was “Hi-yu Masacha(háyú masáchi = ‘much evil’).

Page 231 has a letter where Chase bemoans Chinuk Wawa’s status as a non-language. (!)

A 2005 article by Thomas Blackburn brings us “Some Additional Alexander W. Chase Materials” including the following remarks by him about an Umpqua chief and about Chinuk Wawa. The spellings and a garbled fact or two imply that he knew CW much more from personal experience than from exposure to its printed literature:

chase on jargon

There’s also a quotation of a Native woman describing her plump baby as < tennas man hi yu grease >, “little man plenty grease” (a boy who’s nice and fat).

And, capping off today’s reading, a small discovery made while I was searching for information on Chase. George Bundy Wasson remembered his grandmother Gekka standing with him overlooking South Slough of Coos Bay, Oregon, and saying to him, in Chinuk Wawa: “All this land belongs your [sic] hyas papasSomeday, Chawch, you get it back.ʼ Quoting this in a book chapter that also cites Chase’s work, his son explains that hyas papas (literally ʹgrand/great/big fathers’) is ʹgrandfathersʹ and that Chawch is Jargon for ʹGeorgeʹ.

What have you learned?
What do you think?