1897: What John Miller Murphy’s Chinook Jargon meant

john miller murphy

(image source: UW Special Collections)

A column (or article) titled “The Interpretation” delves into the intended meaning of a Chinuk Wawa political comment.

Which is rich, because most folks already understood the original words.

This is really just an example of folks enjoying a joke and adding to it.

John Miller Murphy (1839-1917) was the founder and editor of The Washington Standard, an Olympia newspaper that served as a mouthpiece for his outspoken, independent political views. As a frontier-era pioneer of 1850, he would know a reasonable amount of Chinook.

A couple of notes before you dive into this now-obscure dogfight, although there are more shenanigans behind the scenes than I can justify summarizing:

  • The opening quotation about Thurston county has to do with Washington governor John R. Rogers having vetoed an appropriation of funds for the building of the state Capitol. He was quite the free thinker himself, by the way, having authored a sort of early science fiction novel!
  • The Washington Standard, published in that county, appears to be excoriating him for arrogant power-tripping.
  • “Pollywaups” looks to be a parody of “Puyallups”, of “politicians”, and who knows what else. (But I don’t think it has to do with “golliwogs”.)
  • Damphool” was a remarkably frequent word in the pages of the frontier and post-frontier era’s hyper-partisan Washington newspapers…most frequent, it seems, in none other than Murphy’s own paper!

What John Miller Murphys Chinook Jargon meant


What John Miller Murphy’s Chinook Jargon Meant.

“The Governor stated that as regards the citizens of Thurston county, while their position is to be commiserated, they are on the verge of bankruptcy, and expected the State to help them out.” — Oregonian.

With what a frigidity this iceberg speaks! With what a diabolic pucker of the lips he utters the word “commiserate!” With what harlequin gracefulness he bestrides the chair of state, with his eyes turned inward in adoration of himself! “Ugh! Ugh! Big Injun me of the Pollywaups! Me scalpem bill; me hyas tyee [big chief]; me memaloose hyu Boston [kill many White people]” — WASHINGTON STANDARD.

Which, being interpreted, meaneth: “And this is the damphool me worked so hard to elect. Ugh!” — Nooksack Reporter

In the case of Rogers vs. Cline, regarding the legality of Capitol bill, the Supreme court of the people decided in favor of Cline. — Washingtonian.

THE WASHINGTON STANDARD, one of the brightest Populist papers, calls Gov. Rogers “his accidency.” Doesn’t this sound somewhat irreverent? — Auburn Argus.

— from the Olympia (WA) Washington Standard of April 16, 1897, page 3, column 4

What have you learned?