Robert K. Beecham, the Canadian “Chinook poet” of Everett

sacajawea

Page 4 of “Sacajawea…”

Robert K. Beecham (1838-1920), born in New Brunswick, served in a Wisconsin division in the US Civil War, moved to Everett, Washington in 1894 — which is a telling detail.

Known as “the Chinook Poet” and valued in Puget Sound communities as an entertainer at civic events, Beecham nonetheless would seem to have arrived too late to have much relevance for the “Jargon”.

Robert K Beecham

Beacham while commanding an African-American unit in the Civil War (image credit: Wisconsin Historical Society)

I first heard of Beecham (a.k.a. Captain Beacham [sic], from his military service) from a Washington State newspaper article calling him the Chinook Poet in his lifetime.

His 1905 book ‘Sacajawea, and other poems” includes a section titled “Chinook Poems” — which just mention the Chinook wind! There’s no Chinuk Wawa there, just his poem “The Breath of the Chinook” (pages 17-18), referring to the warm westerly wind.

breath of the chinook

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Beecham also wrote a 1911 firsthand account, “Gettysburg, The Pivotal Battle of the Civil War“, definitely not connected with Chinook Jargon. In it, he does compare “charging lines melt[ing] away as snow before the breath of the Chinook” (p. 244) — see what he does there? — but that’s about it.

You can buy a book-length biography of him, which likewise seems barren of Chinuk Wawa.

So all of this Chinook Poet business seems to be about Beecham’s love of the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest.

Now you know.

What do you think?

 

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