Lillooet…A Woman Tenderfoot in Bear Country

From the same area and time as “The Story of a Stump“, where hunters found a Chinuk Pipa message in the woods beyond Lillooet…

…comes this article involving visitors communicating with their hunting guides in the Jargon.

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A WOMAN TENDERFOOT IN BEAR COUNTRY

By FRANCES GIBBONS

ILLUSTRATED WITH PHOTOGRAPHS

All the Sensations That Make a Hunt Worth Remembering

ONE evening in May we swung off the old Caribou [Cariboo] Road, across the Fraser, and into Lillooet. Fifty miles by stage we had made that day, through the sunshine and flowers of the bench-lands, the skyline of the snowy Cascades towering above us, the swirl of the Fraser thousands of feet below.

Kloochmen (Siwash women) were straggling home in chattering groups, tired from the day’s work of panning the river banks for gold. Their red and yellow calico dresses wove glowing dots into the background of the sunset’s flame, brilliant kerchiefs flaunted over their straight, black hair. White teeth gleamed, and swarthy faces creased into laughing wrinkles, as they grinned at us a friendly greeting, half impudent, half shy. A cluster of houses lay peaceful in the distance. From out the cluster dropped half a dozen horsemen on wiry Indian ponies, jaunty with jingling spurs and leather-fringed “chaps.” They shouted “Howdy’s” as they tore whooping by in a haze of dust. This was Lillooet, tucked away in the shadow of the mountains, gateway to one of the greatest game fields in the world.

Our guide and outfit, arranged for weeks before by letter, were all in readiness. One night at the trading post. and to-morrow we were off for the open and a bear hunt. After supper we sat on the steps of the one hotel. The wide doors of two saloons sent a flare of light through the twilight. Board walks on either side of the widening of the mountain road, called by courtesy a street, afforded the promenade. Indian bucks and their klooches strolled up and down in groups and pairs, flirting, giggling, chaffing. Miners down from the placer diggings, the month’s clean-up in their pokes, “grinned up” between the rounds of black jack and poker. Prospectors swarmed the general store, outfitting for the summer season in the Bridge River country. A Chinese joint, set at the end of the row of wooden shacks, did a thriving business. Now and again its dingy windows were darkened by the shadow of a klooch signaling her white man for a bottle. Half-breeds, in from the ranches of the bench-lands, clattered through the crowd on their ponies, their shouts drowning the rattle of poker chips and the clank of glasses. A man’s voice sang snatches of “My Old Kentucky Home” in a sweet, high tenor. The singer was “]immy,” English remittance man and sometime Oxford fellow; he had never seen Kentucky, and he was very, very drunk.

But next morning the scant double row of houses lay prim in the sunlight as any New England village “back home.” The air was soft with the scent of apple blossoms, and across the hills the rancheree church bell called. “Long Nine” and “Smoky Liz,” still drowsy from last night’s copious libations, but on their way to early mass waved us a chastened good-bye as our pack train jangled out, bound for Seaton [Seton] Lake and the Mission Mountain trail.

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The Mission Mountain trail is calculated to breed painful meditation on the part of the innocent “Chechako,” albeit of unalloyed delight to the seasoned mountaineer. It is a threadlike trail, crumbling and treacherous, dipping close to the water’s edge in places, or soaring to sheer heights of shale-blue cliffs. We hunters three, the guide, and the eighteen pack-horses, with cook and horsewrangler bringing up an imposing rear, made something of a cavalcade, viewed from its various juts and angles.

Our first night’s camp lay at its end, at the foot of hoary Mission Mountain. The entire population of the Rancheree swarmed out to greet us as we rode in, ravenous and saddle-sore. “Anderson Lake Bob,” tyee of the village since the recent demise of “Johnny Bull,” is a famous bear hunter. The most inaccessible of bear dens holds no secrets from him. Early in spring, long before the snow has gone, he straps on his showshoes and, with a pack on his back, goes out alone and unattended on a private excursion for grizzly pelts. The average bear, faint from a winter’s fast, dazed and half blind in the unaccustomed daylight, though a fairly easy prey under such conditions, is apt to become peeved with before-breakfast intruders. Bob’s exploits make many a splendid tale fit for camp-fire spinning.

He was to join our party as guest and semi-guide. Hence the local interest in our arrival.

That night we were the recipients of a “hiu potlatch[1] — a transcendent potlatch, a potlatch whose glories it is a delight to recall. Gifts of steaming muck-a-muck, baskets of wild strawberries, tiny, but of delicious flavor and sweet as honey, bushels of the bulbous grass root known as the “Siwash potato,” [2] were but a generous preliminary. Dried salmon, black with the smoke of the willow wick-i-up, was piled like stacks of kindling beside our packs. Fresh eggs, nestled daintily in baskets of woven grasses, were proffered as an especial delicacy, though they proved so tainted with the salmon diet of the rancheree chickens as to be unedible. Tobacco, tea, and chocolate were accepted in turn with profound formalities.

Our quarters, the home of the absent priest [3], were in the center of the village.

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Before each log hut around us blazed a tremendous camp-fire. Our own flared highest of all, lighting up the interior of the single room with its rafters of spruce and peaked roof of hand-planed “shakes.” Slabs of dried fish dangled from the ridgepole. A vividly colored chromo of the Blessed Virgin and a great bronze
crucifix gleamed, oddly distorted, in the flicker of light and shadow.

Outside, each man lounged on his blankets and took his share in entertaining our guests squatted in the circle of the camp-fire. Tin cups of “hooshum,” the native drink, made from the juice of the crimson “hooshum berry,” [4] together with pipes and tobacco, were handed about to men and women alike. “Mad Mary,” Bob’s widowed sister, enjoyed the role of hostess, her fine old face grave with the anxieties of the occasion. Leaning on her ironwood stick, a wisp of scarlet shawl over her head and shoulders, she fluttered about, driving the yelping dogs before her, rebuking the youngsters whose curiosity brought them nosing like little furtive-eyed animals around the packs of the white hunters.

Olallee Tyee [5], shrunken, beat, his hands like claws and face a mask of yellowed ivory, so old that he remembered the first white man who came across the border in search for “hiu sclow” (much gold) [6], droned endless yarns of those adventurous days when Siwash and whites alike gambled their lives against the perils of the Unknown with nuggets and a poke of gold dust for stakes. “Old Agnes,” too, proved a genius as a story-teller. Fat and villainous, with the wicked eyes of a she pirate, she retained not a trace of the gypsy beauty that had brought her the proud distinction of quondam wife to an English renegade of noble blood.

Portage Paul, lean and handsome, the best canoeman in the district, came in his cedar dugout, to smoke with the strangers, a silent but distinguished listener. “Young Alec” was there with his bride, displaying her in her wedding finery of ribbons, beads, and fringed buckskin, with that naive pride of ownership peculiar to bridegrooms the world over, whether whiteskinned or brown.

Withdrawn to the edge of the firelit circle, the women whipped soop-a-lally, timing their strokes to the rhythm of some weird native melody. The soop-a-lally was designed as the crowning triumph of the evening, a superlative treat, to be dispensed only on such supreme occasions.

Soop-a-lally is Siwash for ambrosia, nectar, double-distilled delight. Into a wide, flat basket, with sides woven roughly for the purpose, is poured a small cupful of hooshum. Acrid and puckery, the stimulating qualities of the beverage are much prized by the Indians in this land where the local term for refusing to sell a man whisky is to Siwash him. The women take turns at the basket, beating the liquid with thonged whips of frayed leather-root. When it froths over the sides of the basket, a sudsy, foamy, pink meringue, soop-a-lally is ready for serving.

Its appearance is a signal for a scramble. Hunting knives, wooden paddles. pieces of bark, and — alas for the appetite of the white man ! — fingers are utilized in dipping up the rose-tinted dainty. The last sound I remember on that first night out, after we had rolled into our blankets and tumbled on the floor to sleep, was the quarreling of the puppies

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and children over whose turn it was to lick the sides of the soop-a-lally basket.

“Bob says we’ve struck the best time of the year to get bear up here, all right,” said Schwartz, the guide, next morning, as we ate our sizzling breakfast of trout not a half hour from the lake, crisp bacon, and delicious coffee, made in the cold lake water and taken from the fire at the first bubbling simmer.

“Along about now the grizzly comes out of the timber and begins to work the slides. The leaves ain’t thick enough yet to hide him much, and he’s more in the open than he will be later on in the nut and berry season. The snow’s melting fast, an’ that new grass is mighty green an’ temptin’ to a bear that ain’t tasted a salad for close onto six months.”

A hasty smoke while the cook clattered together the last plates and pans ready for the pack. The Boy insisted on personally superintending the scouring of the new aluminum plates. Cook grinned as he took a bar of soap from his pack.

“He’ll get over that,” murmured Schwartz indulgently. The aluminum cooking outfit had been the Boy’s contribution — an excellent one, save when the screws dropped out of the skillet handles and let dough-gods [sic] and bacon into the ashes. The sun was not yet over the ridge, but the snow caps of the mountains were a streaky, soop-a-lally pink, and a feathery cloud of silver mist drifted slowly from the lake. The air was sharp from the snowbanked peaks. We left the fire reluctantly to walk stiflly to the waiting horses. It was hard to swing a leg over the saddle. Take it from me, the second day on the trail is no joy ride.

It was on our third day out that we made the trapper’s hut some ten miles up the South Fork of the Cadwalder [Cadwallader Creek]. This was to be our permanent camp, where were stored the extra supplies and pack-horses, for this glorious summer out o’ doors was not limited to the six weeks’ bear hunt. Later, when the season opened, we would take the trail of the mountain goat and the big-horn, the intervening weeks to be devoted to a prospecting expedition. hence the presence of the expert. As for the Boy, he was a traveling arsenal. We named his special pack-horse “The Armory.” My interests were represented by the very complete photographic outfit we carried, as well as by an extra supply of notebooks and sketching materials.

It was up the slides of the Cadwalder that we hoped to get a specimen of the hybrid as yet uncatalogued, which is neither brown bear nor grizzly, but has the characteristics of both. We had seen skins brought from this district. They were an exquisite creamy tint in color, combining the silver sheen of the grizzly with a shade much lighter than that of the common brown bear. The hair is long, shimmering in wave on wave, and only about the head is there a hint of the stiff roach of the grizzly. The skull is long and pointed, the snout wolflike, resembling in this respect the polar bear. 

These animals are to be found nowhere else in the world, so far as we have been able to learn, and are not to be confounded with the small, light bear of Vancouver Island.

Here Sam, the wrangler, deserted us, as the result of a vicious, if unobtrusive, internecine strife waged with the cook.

 

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Threats and bribes alike were unavailing. A promise to send back a “cousin” to take his place was the utmost concession to be wrung from him. Meanwhile, someone must stay behind to care for the animals and guard provisions from the raids of four-footed marauders. A tossed coin assigned the role to me, Bob obviously regarding it as a special manifestation of Providence. Early in the game he had expressed his verdict. “Halo mamook—hiu muck-a-muck” (“Won’t work — eats a lot”), he announced contemptuously.

Next morning at daybreak they were off, Schwartz at the head of the little procession, lithe and picturesque in his fringed buckskins. The Boy rode jauntily behind him, his wide sombrero tipped at a rakish angle that prophesied a sun-peeled nose before night. The Expert, in the regulation corduroys and flannel shirt topped by a bright silken neckerchief, sat his saddle in very straight, military fashion, so making amends for his lack of inches. Last came Bob, the furry tail of his squirrelskin cap waving jauntily as he rode with the loose-limbed nonchalance that makes the Siwash pony look the easiest mount imaginable—till you try one.

My hobbled horses sniffed and whinnied as the rest fell into line without them. We watched wistfully till the train filed out of sight around the slope. Presently I caught them again with the glasses, creeping up the mountain side, pasted in inky silhouette against the silver background of a snowy slide. Then I built my camp-fire and set a pot of beans to boil.

The hut perched on a flat between the angle of two steep slopes, a toy box no more noticeable than an ant hill in the midst of giant furrows set on end. The Cadwalder country is typical bear country. The stream cuts through the mountains, in a narrow, knifelike valley, piling them up, height on height, on either side. Some are precipitous, naked, awful. Some, gentler in contour, are clothed in the green velvet of pine and spruce. Everywhere the great walled heights are streaked and patched with the scarring, gray-blue dumps which are the slides where the bear feed. Through breaks in the skyline I could see the steely blue of the glaciers clinging. One big fellow directly across from my camp, miles up, would split and break in the hot mornings with cracks like a rifle shot. At night his sullen “Boo-oo” rumbled like cannon through the darkness.

The hut was of logs, moss-chinked, with a single low opening. In one corner was my bed, a shake-down of spruce boughs covered with blankets. Provisions and pack-saddles filled the scant remaining space. At night, as the mountain dusk swept down, cuddling the angle where my camp lies hidden in a blanket of gray, I’d pile the logs on my dooryard fire till the flames roared to the pine tops. Down by the spring I’d fill a miner’s gold pan, culled from the Expert’s stores, with moist and sticky clay. Small pine knots, heavy as lead, with dripping resin, heaped on the pan of wet clay, when

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lighted and carried indoors to be set high on a cracker box, made the jolliest of open fires.

Candles stuck on bits of bark and thrust in chinks between the logs at my bed’s head added further cheerful illumination. There, curled in my blankets, on the spruce boughs, the door barricaded against four-footed raiders, I’d read and scribble, and never have the most luxurious city quarters afforded half the pleasurable comforts that did this solitary “bachelor’s” den, which later we nicknamed “The Studio.”

Up with the first morning breeze that stirred the tree tops and paddling [sic] down the trail to the “pool,” moss-rimmed and fringed with dainty grasses—a still pool, cold, clear, and dark, where deer sometimes came down to drink. After my plunge, every nerve a-tingle and body glowing, a brisk trot to the creek flats, where the ponies whinnied a good morning. There I counted noses, gave them a bit of salt, and left them to nibble contentedly at the scanty bunch-grass that was their breakfast.

Then to my own breakfast. The embers of last night’s camp-fire, aided by strips of silvery birch bark, flame into a merry crackle, and soon a fat doughgod browns his puffy sides on the red coals, the bacon is crispy and a tin of golden marmalade adds sweetness to the breakfast menu. My back propped against a mossy log, I watch the mists burn to rose and turquoise-blue and copper. The snow hollows blur about the edges. “Pop” goes the glacier and a miniature snowslide comes crackling down. The roar of the waterfall echoes and dies away and grows louder as a breeze springs up. A bluebird trills with a flash through the pines like a sapphire arrow. An inquisitive porcupine waddles up with his awkward, sidelong gait, to investigate the remains of the cooling dough-god phlegmatically. At last, stimulated to the point of “washing up,” the dishes are scoured with sweet pine ashes, and I’m off with a gun to scare up a partridge for luncheon.

Actually I was sorry when the mythical “cousin” materialized, loafing serenely up the trail one evening at sunset. Next morning I was off, and the real hunt on, for the first time, so far as I was concerned. In hunting bear, camping comforts are reduced to the minimum. No roomy tents, no open fires, no luxurious menus. Once a bear’s little, hoglike eyes glimpse a white tent flap, or that sensitive snout snifis the odor of cooking, not only will he desert the slides himself, but he passes the word on to the rest of his tribe as well. The boys were settled in an inconspicuous nook, well back among the alders and willows, the only canvas in camp a cover for provisions in case of showery weather. They slept rolled in blankets on the ground under a typical Indian wick-i-up. Two cleft poles set a suitable distance apart held a ridgepole, green saplings, supported by the ridgepole, slanted to the ground at an angle to afford shelter when thatched with a quantity of leafy willow boughs. Ten feet away, the wick-i-up could not be 

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distinguished from any other portion of the green thicket surrounding it.

Six good slides were well in sight of the little camp. Each morning we set out, carrying a lunch of bread and meat and chocolate, for the all-day wait on the mountainside. It’s an idle sort of hunt, is a bear hunt. There is no slightest resemblance to the tense, eager sport of trailing the big-horn; no long climbs of bleak and wind-swept steeps to an eerie mountain pasture somewhere near the sky; no hours of creeping ambush, crouched and straining, only to be detected long before reaching a vantage ground that promises a fair shot, and the whole nerve-racking performance gone over again.

Instead, a short, swift scramble through the jungle of undergrowth that fringes the slide, a stiff climb but an expeditious one. The guide assigns each man his hiding place, himself retaining the glasses and keeping lookout. Sheltered by a boulder, perhaps as big as a good-sized house. you sprawl comfortably on a gentle slope carpeted with short, thick grass, soft as a velvet rug. The sun drenches the mountainside in a golden flood. The air is sharp with the wild mountain tang of pine and sage. The alder’s fluttering leaves have still the waxy glisten of the spring’s newest gleam. Mosses and lichen swath the north side of your boulder screen, showing a freshened patchwork of tints and colorings. The upspringing breeze blows to leeward of the slides, and with a sigh of utter contentment, if you are a man, you realize that you may smoke.

To be sure, there are other days when the wind is in the wrong direction for a smoke. When the delicate shreds of silver mist that thread themselves in and out of the spirelike pinnacles of the cathedral peaks wad into sulky, dead-gray blankets, out of which comes drifting a swirl of snow, the sunny slope lies bleak in shadow, and the snow in the heights sneaks down upon you in a chilling drizZle. The icy raindrops trickle down your neck, and achy twinges cramp your shoulders. A bevy of energetic ants seek shelter up your trousers leg. They sting and tickle. Sharp pebbles and knobby bits of brushwood gouge tender portions of your anatomy.

Squirm and huddle to your boulder as you may, discomfort increases. That everybody else remains cheerfully undisturbed adds the final straw to your disgruntlement. Schwartz sits hunched against his mossy log, imperturbable as an Indian. Bob, a few feet below him. scans the opposite slide with binoculars, seeking that oblong dot or blot, different from all other dots and blots. and even the raindrops misting the glasses fail to

 

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disturb his placidity. The Boy’s wide sombrero acting as a partial rainshield, he seems nowise inconvenienced by the steady trickle, and the Expert, with his sweater tied about his neck, the loose arms flapping grotesquely, whistles under his breath and nibbles chocolate. You will cheerfully choose death from exposure rather than be the first to mention camp, you resolve grimly, and turn your attention to a feud that is raging between a fussy red squirrel and an impudent trick of a chipmunk.

The chipmunk has discovered the red squirrel’s cache of nuts, deep in a scooped-out hollow beneath the up-tilted end of a boulder. A flash of black and buff, a scurry of red, followed by squeals of staccato blasphemy; then, perched on the edge of the rock, his tail curled flauntingly over his impudent back, Sir Chipmunk deliberately cracks and eats one of the red squirrel’s nuts, holding it up gleefully in his wizened paws for the further tantalizing of red squirrel, who writhes and charters, his tiny face transfigured with rage.

I became so absorbed in this bit of byplay thatl failed to notice the return of the sunshine, when Schwartz handed me the glasses with a whispered “Look.”

Paddling [sic] leisurely along the slide was an enormous black bear, the largest I had, or have ever, seen.The glasses brought him so close that I could see his huge jowls shake and quiver as he rooted and snuffed in the edge of the snow, precisely as a hog roots. Once he must have suspected our nearness, for he reared slowly on his haunches and sat for a couple of minutes, turning his head from side to side and sniffing suspiciously. The sun lighted up his magnificent coat, turning its crow’s-wing black to gleaming bronze. I saw the Boy preparing to shoot. “Wait!” I implored. “Not yet!” Presently he dropped to all-fours again and resumed his comfortable search for an evening meal. At a signal from Schwartz, the Boy fired. It took three shots to finish him, but the Boy was egregiously selfsatisfied. Next day he stroked the long, shining fur of that seven-foot pelt stretched in the rack to dry.

A few mornings later Schwartz hurried into camp in great excitement. He had been out with the glasses taking a “cultas nanich,” preparatory to placing us for the day’s hunt. He had come on fresh sign on the trail, and farther up the trees were clawed and scratched with the newly inscribed autograph of a visiting grizzly. Following along the top of the ridge, he had finally spotted him—an immense fellow, evidently a

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stranger, traveling across the range and working the slides as he went. There was no dawdling over the camp-fire that morning, petting the horses, or teasing the cook. It was a two-mile jaunt, straight along the hog’s back, to where he had seen the bear. We jogged along rapidly for nearly half a mile, taking no particular care as to the silence of our going, when Schwartz stopped short, rigid as a pointer, down straight toward the foot of our long hog~back.

“For Gaw’ sake, is it rainin’ bear this mornin’?” he whispered. There, not two hundred feet below us, close to the warter’s edge, were two small grizzlies worrying the carcass of a goat they had dug from the half-frozen snow. They growled and snatched from each other, looking exactly like two half-grown puppies as they quarecled over scraps of bone and hide. We didn’t stalk. We simply scrambled, rough and tumble, down the tangle of alder roots to within noise of the water and their absorption in their dispute prevented them hearing us.

Crouching behind a clump of alder, I looked again. The larger one had wrested the breakfast from his smaller brother and dragged it a little distance away, where he snarled and snuflled as he munched, keeping a wary, sidelong eye on the little fellow, who sat on his haunches. the most comical look of anxiety on his eager gray face as he_ watched the disappearing mouthfuls. Occasionally he gulped and licked his chops, his mouth fairly watering. They looked so human! But humanity made no appeal to a huntsmanis soul. Bob and the Expert fired together. The first shot got the smaller chap. The other, with a bull-like roar, tore along the bank, scattering showers of snowy gravel as he went. He disappeared in an alder thicket through which we traced him by the blood splashes. Frequently the red blots ceased to lead in a straight trail. Round and round they went in a circle.

Then suddenly we found him. His way was barred by a fallen log. He could raise himself on his forepaws and almost make it, but he was shot through the back and his wounded hindquarters refused to drag themselves over. His tusks bated, his roach bristling in a fierce ruff over the thick neck, those powerful forepaws raised threateningly, he faced us gamely. One more shot and over he went, limp, his long-haired coat shining like silver on the blood-stained grass. Stopping only to slit the hides that the hair should not loosen, we hurried on after the coveted big fellow. We did not get him. That was all and it was a story in itself that must wait. For this is not really a hunting story, after all— merely a woman’s tale of things she saw.

— from Outing 62(5):610-618 (August 1913)

NOTES:

A “hiu potlatch [1] is totally a local English expression. It’s got “hiu” being used as an adjective ‘big; wonderful’ (contrast with its meaning ‘much’ in Chinuk Wawa). And it’s got “potlatch” as a noun ‘feast’ (contrast with CW ‘to give’). 

Siwash potato [2] seems likely to have been an expression in both local English and local CW. ‘Potato’ is the most frequently found word for spuds in my research on Kamloops-region Chinook Jargon. Another example of it is the place name, still in use, of Potatoes Illahee not far from Spences Bridge.

“The absent priest” [3] may well be the famous Father Le Jeune of Kamloops, who served Lillooet’s Indigenous community among numerous other villages.

Hooshum berry” (or just hooshum) for ‘soapberry; foamberry’ [4] was a remarkably widely used term in Interior BC English. It derives from one or more Northern Interior Salish languages: sxʷúsm ‘soapberry’. I’ve been wondering if this word was also used in local Chinook Jargon, as I run into it quite a bit in my research on CJ-using situations in that region. Notice, a couple of paragraphs later, how author Gibbons contrasts hooshum (the berry and its juice) with the extremely widespread Jargon term soop-a-lally (súp-úlali ‘soap-berry’; for her, it connotes what many others call ‘Indian ice cream’), a distinction that’s new to me and which may or may not reflect local usage. 

Olallee Tyee [5] is ‘Berry Chief’. The person referred to isn’t made clear. Gibbons doesn’t indicate that she’s aware this Chinuk Wawa personal name has a word in common with soop-a-lally! So I don’t think her Jargon knowledge was super sharp. 

Hiu sclow” (much gold) [6] is clearly local Lillooet Chinuk Wawa. < Sclow > is a widely used Interior Salish word for ‘beaver’, s-qláw̓ / s-qléw̓, which took on a secondary meaning of ‘money’, reflecting tribal interactions with the fur trade. In the present case it’s probably to be traced to St’át’imcets (the Lillooet Salish language). It’s known in Jargon in this region, as shown by John B. Good’s 1880 vocabulary from nearby Thompson Salish territory, which has < seealow > [sic] for ‘beaver’. My readers may remember that there are several competing Chinuk Wawa terms for white folks’ money, including dála from English, chikʰəmin from Nootka Jargon, and súniya from Cree; this last word is mainly documented around Lillooet and a bit eastward. (There’s also Armstrong’s 1857 < ek-ice-man >, but I really suspect that’s just a misprint for something like < chiceman >, i.e. chikʰəmin!)

As scanty as today’s sampling of Chinook Jargon is, it reinforces our existing impression that there was a fairly distinctive amount of locally used vocabulary in southern Interior BC’s CJ.

What have you learned?

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