Shoalwater Bay stories, Part 2

juno at sitka

Juno at far left, at Sitka (image credit: Alaska Historical Society)

Today: Acelan’s Story. It’s quite possibly a true newly discovered wrinkle in an old story. 

For more on the Juno‘s voyage and the crew’s encounters with Indigenous people, see for example Ruby & Brown’s book “The Chinook Indians: Traders of the Lower Columbia River“.

You won’t find anything about Shoalwater Bay there, however.

(There’s also a popular 1980s Russian musical, “Junon and Avos: The Hope“, involving the Juno; I saw it in NYC in 1990 and still have one of the songs stuck in my head!) 

Well now, from “Stories and Sketches from Pacific County“…

Acelan’s Story

There used to be an Indian about Oysterville some forty years back, who was undoubtedly of the royal family.

This young man was, for his chance in life, very intelligent; he had quite a little farm cleared up and in cultivation, and had planted a nice little orchard. It was situated on the place now owned by Mr. John Hill, a little above the Nasel Landing and known as the I. H. Whealdon homestead.

But to our story — I once asked Acelan about the earliest account the Indians had of the first white men to visit our bay, and this is the story he told:

Ahncuttie ict tenas schooner, yaka charco siah copa cold illahee” — (a long time ago a little schooner came from a cold country far to the north). [1]

She hove to, just outside our bar, lowered away a whale boat and manned it with “toltum tillicums” (110 men) [2], pulled over the bar into what was first called Lighthouse Cove, but now North Cove, which was then a fine landlocked harbor.

It was “tenas sun” (early morning) [3] when they crossed, so they remained here all that day, trading with the Indians for fish, clams, and deer and elk meat. Acelan said they seemed to be “hias[4]hungry,” he also told that they had very long beards and said they were neither Boston nor King George men. [5] That they were “Lushan Tillicums,’ [6] and no doubt they were Russians and the vessel none other than the “Juno,” bought by Count Von Baranoff from Captain De Wolf, an American who sailed into Sitka. Rizanoff and his garrison at Sitka castle were starved out in the winter of 1815-6 and started in the “Juno” for the Columbia river, but then, as now, the water was rough, and so only their whale boat entered and got supplies from the Indians who have always been good and kind to the whites.

This, in brief, was Acelan’s account as handed down to him by the Indians of the first white men to enter Willapa Harbor.


[1] Ahncuttie ict tenas schooner, yaka charco siah copa cold illahee (ánqati íxt tənəs-skúna* yaka cháku sáyá kʰupa kʰúl ílihi) ‘long ago a certain small schooner came far from a cold place’. “Schooner” should be counted as a Chinuk Wawa word, I’m convinced, because (A) it was common in the local spoken English that CW speakers would encounter and/or use, and (B) it’s also known in CW environments elsewhere, for example in Kamloops, BC, and up at Bella Coola, where a prominent Jargon-speaking tribal man was known as Captain Schooner (1848?-circa 1925). An additional term for ‘schooner’ is historically documented at least as far back as 1884< mox stick ship > (‘two-mast ship’), but it’s not rare for Jargon words to have several synonyms. 

[2] toltum tillicums (táłlam tílixam-s) actually means ’10 people’!

[3] tenas sun (tənəs-sán) is literally ‘little-day’, i.e. ‘morning’. 

[4] hias (hayas-) in this context is clearly not the original adjective with its meaning of ‘big’, but instead the prefix that it early developed into, meaning ‘very’. 

[5] Boston … King George men (bástən[-mán] … kʰinchóch-mán), i.e. ‘Americans … Englishmen’. 

[6] Lushan Tillicums (lə́shən*-tílixam-s) ‘Russian people’: this word for ‘Russian’ is evidently new to us in Jargon (though I’d thought I’d read it once, maybe in a Duane Pasco Tenas Wawa issue), but it’s plausible enough. Ethnic Russians were not an unknown thing on the Pacific Northwest Coast during Chinook Jargon’s heyday. And for example we’ve previously read about a mixed pidgin of Tlingit, CJ, and Russian in Alutiiq/Eyak/Ahtna territory of south-central Alaska. (See “Weird Jargon & Shamans in Alaska“.)

Really interesting stuff. I’ve read of Capt. Robert Gray’s ship Columbia coasting south from Vancouver Island and its crew being unable to communicate with Lower Chehalis people in Gray’s Harbor, Washington on May 7, 1792. It’s equally fascinating to find an oral history of the first Whites to reach the Chehalis (and Chinook) territory just south of there in Shoalwater Bay.

íkta máyka cháku-kə́mtəks?
What have you learned?