1882: Trying to argue in Jargon for assimilation, with Indians you’re interviewing


Ainsworth, Washington Territory, 1884 (image credit: Legacy Washington)

“Into Eastern Washington by Rail” is a newspaper’s local-colour piece showing the reporter arguing with Indigenous people at Ainsworth (it was near latter-day Pasco), Washington Territory…

…The reporter proceeds from an assumption that these “Columbia River Indians” (likely Sahaptins; “Pasco” is a word of their language) are lazy.

He knows Chinuk Wawa, and has a pleasant conversation with his new Aboriginal friends — until he inflicts his prejudices on them.

Then he affects shock at their rudeness!

This is the height of ridiculous hypocrisy. The Settler town of Ainsworth, despite its ambition to steal the title of Washington’s capital from Olympia, was famous as an immoral and dangerous hellhole. Following an admiring (!) description of typical local scenery — upper Yakima Valley loggers “on a bender” — the newsman shows the depth of his thinking.

(I’ll separate this single paragraph into visually separated sentences, to make it a lighter read.)

into eastern washington by rail

As a contrast to these western sons of toil, here come, with indolent, slouching tread, four of the natives of the country.

They are dressed in blanket pants or leggings, moccasins, and wrapped in a blanket, as if the sun was not hot enough, and the sands of Ainsworth reflecting the sun’s rays make a smelter without much clothing.

They loiter close by and engage in conversation.

My old stock of jargon is called on for a medium of discourse.

They say they are Columbia River Indians, and this is their country; that they have no chief, he is dead; that they are fearful so many whites will come here that there won’t be room left here for siwashes.

In short, they wax eloquent, and with a little encouragement would detail to us a pitiful story of their wrongs. I change the conversation, however, and ask them why they don’t work as white men do, and raise bread, and earn money to buy food and clothese with, and be like white folks. It is surprising to see how suddenly these tillicums fail to understand you when you talk common sense to them, and mention the idea of work. They fold their blankets around their dusky forms when you do that, and say they don’t understand you, and will see you again. That was what this band of siwashes did, here at Ainsworth, this blessed Sabbath afternoon. 

— from the Seattle (Washington Territory) Post-Intelligencer of August 22, 1882, page 3, column 3

What do you think?