1903: Ways of Indian and Chinook Jargon

A post-frontier Portland human interest/editorial piece pronounces Chinuk Wawa long dead.

That’s news to us.

Although the Jargon was no longer indispensable in the City of Roses, that was no reason to imagine that it, and Native people, had vanished.

Perhaps 50 miles away as the crow flies, the population of Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, now little noted by the White Settlers who had demographically overwhelmed the Northwest, was refining its creolized Chinuk Wawa.

With this in view, it’s understandable and even interesting that the newspaper writer below was able to come up with such a myopic and ignorant evaluation of the state of Indians and Jargon.

Not to mention that J.K. Gill’s perpetual bestseller of a Chinook Jargon dictionary was still going through new editions every few years, with its important 1909 publication just over the horizon.

The Charles Graham who’s mentioned might just be a son of the Charles Graham whose claim for $10 in “Damages by Indians” in the 1855-1856 Washington Territory war dragged on for a quarter-century:

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He could be the Corvallis, Oregon, schoolkid whose grades were published in 1882 along with the other local pupils. He’s pretty likely to be the Oregon City druggist of the early 20th century.

There’s your grains of salt. Now read and think!

ways of indian and chinook jargon 01.PNG

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Ways of Indian and Chinook Jargon

Indians of every kind, especially blanketed and moccasined ones, are a rare sight on the streets of Portland these days, and are becoming scarce even in their own haunts. The Chinook Jargon, which was the chief means of communication between the early settlers and the Indians, and words and phrases of which not many years ago were heard on every corner, is now never heard, and it may fairly be said of the Indian that his name, race and tongue are things of the past. A recent visitor to the city, Charles Graham, whose father after being a pioneer resident of this state for some years, went back to Illinois and remained there, after having heard so much about the Indians here and their jargon, was very much disappointed not to see a single Siwash” on the streets nor to come across any one using or having any knowledge of Chinook jargon. It is probably difficult for a resident of old settled sections [back East] to realize how swiftly backwoods settlements grow and how completely they change in population and culture in a quarter of a century. Few come here nowadays expecting to find many Indians or to hear Chinook jargon in use, and those who do are bound to be disappointed. The Northwest is no longer the wild and woolly West of 50 or even 25 years ago, and the last dictionary of Chinook jargon was printed over 25 years ago and a copy of it could hardly be found now except in the case of some collection of curios. Whisky and high living have made Indians about as scarce.

— from the Portland (OR) Morning Oregonian of September 19, 1903, page 10, columns 3 & 4

What do you think?