Chinuk Wawa as far east as Montana in 1862?

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[Bitterroot Valley] (interleaf pages 375-376)

Many years afterward, Randall H. Hewitt memorialized his cross-country journey during the Civil War overland to the Pacific Northwest in an amazingly overlooked book…

…titled “Across the Plains and Over the Divide: A Mule Train Journey from East to West in 1862, and Incidents Connected Therewith” (New York, NY: Broadway Publishing Co., 1906).

From the title and subtitle, you can tell that he was traveling late enough in the frontier era to have had access to at least some of the earlier published Chinook Jargon guidance.

Indeed he used it, as at least a couple of picturesque episodes show.

Randall Hewitt

Randall Hewitt (pages 10-11 interleaf)

Hewitt admits in the Preface (page i and following) that he sometimes fell short in fulfilling his dad’s request for a daily journal of the still-epic crossing. But that only tells you that the incidents he does recount were impressive at the time, and stayed with him for the 44 years it took to put this book out.

The emigration detailed in Hewitt’s book seems to have been inspired by the need of a relative (uncle?) of the author’s, newly appointed Washington Territory Chief Justice — and old Illinois acquaintance of fellow lawyer Abe Lincoln — Christopher Hewitt, to reach Olympia and excecute the duties of his office. Evidently quite a chunk of the family decided to accompany C.H. westward. They’re all listed, as is some of the rest of the author’s distinguished pedigree.

One noteworthy detail of some value is on page 6, where The Author tells of his relative Christopher having served in the 1855 Indian ” ‘Chinook’ Indian War”. This is a name for it that I hadn’t encountered before. I don’t doubt some folks thought of or spoke of it that way, since quite early on, for English speakers “Chinook” came to mean virtually any Indigenous tribe of the Northwest, just as “Siwash” (also mentioned on that page) did.

On page 8, the author is still just revving up, telling more about his illustrious judge kinsman’s exploits, and those of his colleagues, prior to the 1862 trip. Judge E.P. Oliphant of Washington Territory’s 2nd District, which was the counties along the Columbia River, is described as having personally benefited from WT’s status as the local “Gretna Green” (or Reno!). Further local slang taken from Chinuk Wawa (the noun “potlatch“, from pá(t)lach ‘give’) is part of this picture:

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In the narrative itself, it’s mighty interesting to see the author comment on page 22 that he was unfamiliar with the expression “six bits” (75 cents). This was in Missouri, but it directly relates to the huge role of informal English in forming Chinuk Wawa, including CW’s bít / mít ‘a dime; [effectively] half of a quarter-dollar’.

Chinook Jargon is first overtly mentioned on page 377, when the party is in the Bitterroot Valley of what’s now) western Montana. This is just remarkable if we’re to take it at face value, because there’s virtually no historical evidence known otherwise for the Jargon’s use in that state. Hewitt connects the language, by implication, with the fur-trade companies’ well-documented and quite early presence in that region, and the area is predominantly the traditional territory of “Flathead” Salish people, whose close westward relatives the Pend d’Oreilles and Spokanes definitely did use the Jargon. So it’s not past credibility, only amazing, that Chinuk Wawa may have been used so far east. Note that Hewitt seems to imply that the French-sounding “tobac” for ‘tobacco’ was Jargon. (Frederick Whymper’s 1883 book has it so, too, even though this form didn’t seem to make it into any official dictionaries.) As an early Washington pioneer, Judge Hewitt already spoke CJ, which is said to have garnered good will from Indigenous people at that time:

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On pages 394-395, seemingly in north/central Idaho, some Nez Perces definitely speak Chinuk Wawa, maybe with a tiny speck of pidgin English, speaking of heap Bostons getting tenas gold, a few hyas; they know the difference between a King George Man and a Boston, and all their firearms are King George muskets:

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A bit further west, in Coeur d’Alene Salish country of modern north Idaho, page 416 has the travelers bartering “powder, shot, salt, soap, and trinkets” for the Indians’ “peas and potatoes — wappatoes in Chinook”. (That’s wáptu.)

The Native people of this area — who rode cayuses — were still, previous to any signficant White settlement, exclusively supplied by the Hudsons Bay Company, as page 410 discusses:

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Page 414 references Indigenous people using canims (canoes).

In case you’re on the fence as to whether that’s supposed to tell us the CdA tribe was actually speaking any Chinuk Wawa, pages 417-418 tell how a local young man took a liking to a “Miss Ellen” who was in the emigrant party, and tried negotiating a bride price in Jargon:

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That quotation “Nika potlatch hyu dolla wpa tenas klootchman” has a typesetter’s mistake in it; it corresponds to Náyka pá(t)lach háyú dála kʰupa tənəs-łúchmən. By the way, the very next words in the narrative specify this as “one of the very few humorous episodes in our wearisome journey” — so, to repeat my point, this book is filled with the occurrences that stayed most vivid in the author’s memory. The Jargon quotation is therefore pretty reliable, and the reference to cuitans rides its coattails.

On page 444, Nez Perce chiefs Joseph and Lawyer are mentioned in connection with a few Jargon words, which may just be for color.

On page 503, at the then-important town of Monticello, Washington Territory, a Cowlitz Salish Indian wants to trade pish (‘fish’) for the author’s rifle. This man may not have known Chinuk Wawa, or known it well, as “his jargon” isn’t understood by the author, who mostly has to use a stablehand as an interpreter. Hewitt is pretty clear in distinguishing the slangy noun “jargon” (nonsense or unintelligible speech) from Chinook Jargon, as also on page 101 when he’s surrounded by lots of people using “western phrases” in English.

Page 512 tells of crossing western Washington’s Skookum Chuck (skúkum-tsə́qw, ‘strong water’ = ‘rapids’) River, and discusses the significance of the name.

Page 519 mentions the skookum house (jail) in Olympia.

You can see that there isn’t an overwhelming quantity of Chinuk Wawa in Hewitt’s memoir.

But what there is is reported soberly and in what strikes me as a fairly accurate fashion, although in four-and-a-half decades’ retrospect.

What do you think?