The 1860s Kavanaugh diary found

mrs kavanaugh

Mrs Kavanaugh in 1913 (image credit: Go Anacortes)

This Chinook Jargon speaker and early Puget Sound pioneer was married to Princess Tol-Stola, the Swinomish Indian ex-sister-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson C. Davis…which is far from the most interesting thing here.

First sheriff of Whatcom County, far northwest Washington Territory, Irish immigrant James Kavanaugh (1826-1885) kept a sparse but always exciting diary.

kavanaugh diary

— from the Anacortes (WA) American of March 13, 1913, page 4, column 3

< Hyas Tillicum > is English-influenced Chinuk Wawa, literally ‘big friend’ but intended as ‘great friend’. Read on for more such 1913 editorial Jargon…

I had a hard time tracking down more than the above notice, i.e. the actual transcribed diary.

But eventually I was able to locate the whole serial on a single website, albeit possibly scanned out of order. No matter.

The nice thing is, this resulted in a bit of Chinook Jargon material we’ve never seen before!

To start with, there’s this Jargon solicitation from the 1913 newspaper editor, trying to get more oldtimers to share their memoirs publicly:

kavanaugh diary 01

from The American of March 13, 1913 (?), page 1 (?)

nánich yakwá!
look here!
‘Look here!’

     Nesika tikegh konanaway [SIC] oleman Boston-s klaksta [1] mitlite yakwa 
     nsáyka tíki kánawi úl-mán bástən-s łáksta míłayt yakwá
     we want all old-man American-s who live here
‘We want any elderly Whites who lived here’

ahnkottie, kopa [2] potlatch nesika ehkahnam’s [Ø] [3] huloima cole-waums [4] 
ánqati, kʰupa pátlach nsáyka ikánum-s x̣lúyma kʰúl-wám-s
previously, to give us story-s different winter-summer-s
‘long ago, to send us stories (of) other times’


     Chako mika [5] pe wau-wau pe mamook peh peh kopa King George [6] 
     cháko máyka pi wáwa pi mamuk-pípa kʰupa kʰinchoch-
     come you[.Singular] and talk and make-written in British-
‘Come on and talk and write (it) in the English’ 


That’s some very rusty post-frontier Chinuk Wawa, clearly modeled on a sentiment that was thought up as a conventional advertisement in English first, and then translated while leaning heavily on a Jargon dictionary.

The results of that awkward process are mixed: 

  • Feature [1] < klaksta > ‘who?’ is more indicative of English influence than anything else, although we know a few examples of fluent speakers talking this way.
  • Feature [2], < kopa > ‘to’, is clearly wrong, though; this preposition is not used to introduce a verbal “purpose” expression in any fluent Jargon I’ve researched.
  • There’s no sure explanation, other than low fluency, for the lack of a preposition [3] where an English speaker would’ve been thinking of a phrasing ‘stories of times past’. In fluent Jargon I’d expect a totally different structure, something like literally ‘stories how old times (were)’.
  • Feature [4], the English “-s” plural on nouns ( < ehkahnam’s … waums >, as well as the earlier < Bostons > ), is not ungrammatical, but it’s only a sporadically used structure … primarily in the Chinuk Wawa of English-speaking Settlers, of course.
  • Feature [5]< chako mika >, a command ‘come(,) you!’ is another indeterminate point. Putting an intransitive verb first in its clause is fine, fluent Jargon style, but including a pronoun after it when giving an order is really unusual. Note that < chako mika > may have been sort of a fixed expression in Settler speech; we also know of it in southern interior British Columbia’s Chako Mika Mall!
  • Feature [6], calling the English language < King George wau-wau>, sounds odd, at least to my ears. It’s what you’d call the language if you looked up first ‘English’ and then ‘language’ in a dictionary, but I feel like I’m more used to hearing English called bástən-wáwa ‘American/white.people talk’, especially on our side of the border.

As for Kavanaugh’s own, frontier-era, Chinook Jargon, well, there’s not much. (I’m puzzled where there are any translations from Jargon to English provided by Fred G. Abbey!)

  • On page 2 of the same issue, Kavanaugh refers (August 30, 1864) to his wife as “the “Clootchman” “, in quotation marks.
  • On April 7 (1865?) at Lummi, he “got a watch from Indian Clootchman“, and summarizes her presumably Chinuk Wawa account of how she got it.
  • April 10 has Kavanaugh and our Jargon-speaking acquaintance Captain Roeder in pursuit, all the way across the boundary to New Westminster, BC, of the thieves of a “Siwash canoe”.

By the way, it makes quite an impression on the reader to find interspersed in all this the diarist’s notes about the climactic events of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination. He’s a Union man, not to spoil anything for you.

In the installment of March 20, 1913, Kavanaugh cryptically writes (as transcribed and typewritten by an archivist), “Jim Victoria Chaco Jack Pain was drowned today…” I can only guess this might have been intended as two clauses; ‘Jim came (from) Victoria’ (with a perfectly grammatical use of no preposition) and ‘Jack Pain was drowned today…’

Aside from the abundant colorful anecdotes and opinions in his diary, we find on June 27, 1871 a classic frontier-era note that Kavanaugh is now writing with an ink concocted of Oregon grape juice.

Well, that’s about all I have for you from this diary.

What have you learned?
íkta máyka chaku-kə́mtəks?