1904: Wreck of the Clallam (Part 1 of 3)

steamship clallam

If you’re looking for shocking news & amazing Chinuk Wawa reading practice, pick up a copy of Kamloops Wawa…

Today we’ll start another mini-series that’s hard to look away from.

The editor of Kamloops Wawa, Father Le Jeune, makes this particular issue of his newspaper an echo of a then-popular idea that several fatal tragedies (from the Iroquois Theater fire to the death of Josette at Nicola) might be a message from God for us to stop and think.

This is my opportunity to tell you that misfortune was popular entertainment in those days. Poems and sheet music of songs — including “murder ballads” — sold countless copies as people shivered vicariously over the terrible things happening to their fellow citizens.

Today’s article fits right into that genre of literature. Some things never change.

Plus, people were already superstitious about this steamship and this particular sailing, according to Wikipedia:

During her launching on April 15, 1903, the woman who swung the bottle of champagne at her bow missed, and when the U.S flag was unfurled, it was upside down, in the sign of distress. These were deemed unlucky signs by the superstitious among the waterfront and marine trades.

Known as “the bell sheep’s premonition” after the fact; an odd event occurred to the Clallam in Seattle as she was loading her northbound passengers and freight at Pier 1, at the foot of Yesler Way. Black Ball Line steamers often carried sheep bound for Port Townsend and Victoria along with a trained mascot or bell sheep which always led the herd aboard. On this occasion, the bell sheep that usually made the voyage absolutely refused to board the vessel and was finally left behind when the ship departed Seattle at 8:30 a.m.

Here’s the beginning of the story, with the Chinook Jargon first, then my comments, and the writer’s English version of it following.

Wreck of the Clallam part 1 Chinuk Wawa

     Kopa Fraidi < 8 > Shanwari, iht aias 

     kʰupa fráydey* [1] éyt djánuari, íxt (h)áyás(h)

on Friday eight January, a.certain big

     ‘On Friday the eighth of January, this big’ 

stimbot, iaka nim Klallam, iaka mash Siatl [2] tawn

stím-bót, yaka ním Klálam, yaka másh Siátl*-tʰáwn

steam-boat, its name Clallam, it leave Seattle-town

‘steamboat called the Clallam departed the city of Seattle’ 


tiki chako kopa Viktoria, kakwa kwanisim iaka kuli

tíki cháko [3] kʰupa Viktória, kákwa kwánəsəm* yáka kúli

want go to Victoria, as always it travel

‘headed for Victoria, as it normally travels’ 


kopa Siatl pi kopa Viktoria.

kʰupa Siátl pi kʰupa Viktória.

to Seattle and to Victoria.

‘between Seattle and Victoria.’ 

     Kopa ukuk Fraidi < 8 > Shanwari < 55 > tkop tilikom

     kʰupa úkuk fráydey* éyt djánuari fífti-fáyv tk(‘)úp*-tílikam

on that Friday eight January fifty-five white-people

     ‘On that Friday the eighth of January 55 white people’  

klatwa kopa ukuk stimbot, tiki klatwa kopa

łátwa kʰupa úkuk stím-bót, tíki łátwa kʰupa

go on that steam-boat, want go to

‘were travelling on that steamboat, intending to go to’ 

Viktoria. < 44 > man mamuk kopa ukuk stimbot:

Viktória. fórti-fór mán mámuk kʰupa úkuk stím-bót:

Victoria. forty-four man work on that steam-boat:

‘Victoria. Forty-four men were working on board that steamboat:’ 


kakwa klaska mitlait < 99 > kanawi kanamokst kopa

kákwa łáska míłayt náynti-náyn [4] kánawi kʰanumákwst kʰupa

thus they exist ninety-nine all together on

‘so there were 99 in total on’ 


ukuk stimbot.

úkuk stím-bót.

that steam-boat.

‘that steamboat.’

     Wik saia iaka kro kopa Viktoria; klunas

     wík-sayá yáka q’úʔ kʰupa Viktória; t’łúnas

not-far it arrive at Victoria; maybe

     ‘It had nearly arrived at Victoria; in about’ 


iht wiht awr pi iaka tlap kopa Viktoria,

íxt wə́x̣t áwr pi yáka t’łáp [5] kʰupa Viktória,

one more hour and it reach to Victoria,

‘another hour it would reach Victoria,’ 


pi iaka tlap skukum wind, pi kaltash ukuk:

pi yáka t’łáp [5] skúkum wínd, pi kə́ltəsh [6] úkuk:

and it find strong wind, but unimportant that:

‘when it encountered a strong wind, but no matter:’


ayu taim iaka tlap skukum wind pi wik iaka kwash:

(h)áyu tʰáym yáka t’łáp skúkum wínd pi wík yáka k(‘)wásh:

many time it find strong wind and not it afraid:

‘many times it had encountered strong winds and wasn’t alarmed:’


drit aias ukuk stimbot, drit aias tlus iaka.

dlét (h)áyás úkuk stím-bót, dlét (h)ayas-(t)łús(h) yáka.

really big that steam-boat, really very-good it.

‘that steamboat was really big, it was an excellent one.’ 

Ukuk tilikom [Ø] kuli kopa ukuk stimbot ayu tomtom…

úkuk tílikam [Ø] [7] kúli kʰupa úkuk stím-bót (h)ayu-tə́mtəm…

those people travel on that steam-boat much-think…

‘Those people traveling on that steamboat were thinking…’


…fráydey* [1] éyt djánuari…: you can see that the names of days and months are taken from local spoken English. This raises the question, is there an English dialect that pronounces the name of the first month like this (Janwary)? Father Le Jeune’s Chinuk Pipa spelling of it is puzzling. 

Siatl [2] is written with a dotted underline in the Chinuk Pipa, which is the official way to show that a word is a name. 

yaka másh Siátl*-tʰáwn tíki cháko [3] kʰupa Viktória: the tíki cháko (‘wanting to go’) part, having no expressed subject of its own, is how you make a “while doing X” expression.  

łáska míłayt náynti-náyn [4] (‘they existed 99’) is a typical way of expressing ‘there were 99 of them’, with an alternative phrasing being łáska náynti-náyn / náynti-náyn łáska ‘they were 99’. 

…t’łáp [5] kʰupa Viktória, pi yáka t’łáp [5] skúkum wínd: in one sentence we see two different specialized uses of t’łáp (literally ‘to find; to get’), first ‘reach (get as far as a place)’ and second ‘encounter, run into’. 

pi kə́ltəsh [6] úkuk: this is basically just a variation on the ever-popular < cultus kopa nika > ‘I don’t care (it’s unimportant to me)’ etc., so it’s intended as ‘this was unimportant; (it was) no matter’.

úkuk tílikam [Ø] [7] kúli… (literally ‘those people [Ø] traveling’, i.e. ‘those people who were traveling’): this demonstrates once again that you make a relative clause (a verbal expression to modify a noun) without using any special word word like English ‘who’. 

Wreck of the Clallam part 1 English

from Kamloops Wawa #208 (March 1904), pages 10-11

By the way, Le Jeune’s “starlights” thwarted my research skills — it wasn’t apparently a known term in English — until I came across the mention of “deadlights” (porthole shutters/covers) in the Wikipedia article noted above.

What have you learned?