From Grand Ronde to Cheney: Chinuk Wawa translation in Eastern WA, 1881

new recruits

The newly recruited Spokane tribal students, 1881. Their hair would’ve been cut off and their Native clothing replaced with military-style uniforms right after this portrait was made. (Image credit: The Oregon History Project)

An unexpected early Chinook Jargon connection between Grand Ronde country and Spokane territory…


Theoe same kids are probably in this 1882 photo of the school (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In the following incident, the ardently assimilationist military veteran visitor from Forest Grove, Oregon seems not to know Jargon, but a Mrs. Yeargain, who we know of from 1865 McMinnville near Grand Ronde, seems to have come along to help talk Indigenous parents into sending their kids to the brand-new second US Indian residential school.


INDIAN STUDENTS — This week Capt [Melville C.] Wilkinson, U.S.A[rmy]. [1835-1898], in charge of the Indian school at Forest Grove, Oregon, was in Cheney for the purpose of talking to the Indians in regard to school matters and encouraging them to educate their young men and women. The Indians gathered together here, and speeches were made by Capt Wilkinson and the Indian chiefs. Mrs Dr Yeargain acted as one of the interpreters, interpreting the speech of Capt Wilkinson into Chinook jargon and the Indian interpreter translating the speech from Mrs Yeargain to Indian language [i.e. the Columbian and/or Spokane Salish languages]. The speeches of the Indian chiefs were similarly interpreted to Capt Wilkinson. After an interesting and satisfactory meeting seven girls and four boys of Chief Lot‘s tribe were placed in charge of Capt W. who started with his charge [SIC] on Wednesday for Forest Grove. With these, Capt Wilkinson states he will have about ninety Indian students, whose ages range from seven to sixteen. Chief Moses would not consent to any of his children going. — Tribune.

— from the Seattle (WA) Daily Intelligencer of July 17, 1881, page 3, column 3

chief lot

Spokane tribal Chief Lot, circa 1900 (image credit: UW Libraries)

“Mrs. Dr. Yeargain” was a really accomplished woman, Dr. (!) Emily L. Yeargain [circa 1850-1901] of Portland, from a Yamhill County pioneer family that included her brother, U.S. Senator George Wyclif McBride.

She would’ve grown up speaking early Grand Ronde-style Chinuk Wawa; it’s quite something to contemplate her communicating — and getting real results — in that medium with Salish chiefs of the Columbia Plateau.

What have you learned?
íkta máyka chaku-kə́mtəks?