1870: From Our Warm Springs Correspondent (a tall tale)

ten little injuns

(Image credit: Google Books)

Published letters to the editors of newspapers in earlier days were customarily signed with a pseudonym, to protect the writer’s anonymity…

…Which might help explain why letters to advice columns still have phony names attached to them.

Today’s letter is not really an example of either of the above. It’s constructed as a report from Warm Springs Indian Reservation in Oregon, by “Little Injun”. That may be a humorous reference to a song peaking in popularity at that time, known as either “Ten Little Injuns” (which many Americans still know), or “John (or Tom) Brown had a Little Injun“. If you click on the links, you’ll see that this song started out as a mighty prejudiced ditty indeed.

What today’s letter is, certainly, is an interesting example of just how very early it was that Pacific Northwest editors started throwing untranslated bits of Chinook Jargon into their columns.

Today we have a clipping from 1870, still the height of the pioneer era in Oregon, demonstrating that average Settler readers were expected to understand quite a bit of CJ.

(They were also expected to enjoy the racial stereotypes you’re about to read; fair warning to you. Speaking for myself, I do like the made-up word “hugum-bussoming” — hugging bosoms!)


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From Our Warm Springs Correspondent.

Little Injun still exists, and now descends from the mountains to the plain. As his winter’s muckamuck [food] is stored away, and his tum-tum [heart; feelings] good, he can now recline in enviable quietude, and watch the sportive antics of his clutchman [woman] as she carries in the nights’ [sic] wood, or he carries her shawl for her while she trudges along so happily, with three hundred pounds of flour on her back. 

Since my last letter the opening day of the new year has dawned on mankind, and with that dawning has passed into oblivion’s dark retreat, many a heart-ache, many a bitter tear for misspent hours; hours that will perhaps cause remorse for years to come. To me it is especially hard, as I cast my eye back through the dim vista of last year, and see the mountainous pile of hopes forever wrecked — the lost, loved and long to be remembered salt salmon and cammas. Well do I realize that the great pendulum of time never ceases to tick; that thus days, minutes and years are being ticked away; and that at the final tick there must be a striking — for either the Temperate or Torrid zone. Thusly am I warned, and will commence anew to run on tick.

1869 is no more; 1870 is upon us. To my tillicums [friends; relatives] I cannot see in what the change has been an injury. They have grown older, perhaps, but not wiser. Time’s variations affect them but little, as they know nothing about them, and the law forbids the use of hour glasses. Thus are they denied some of the joyous times of the Bostons [Whites].

While the Bostons are passing New Years in banqueting, dancing, hugum-bussoming, tax-paying and turning up hour-glasses, we Indians are content with plenty of cammas and salmon, but never indulge in hugum-bussoming. We always observe the day. By the first glimmering of the morning sun our clutchmen cuts the wood and gets breakfast; combs her hair with her fingers, and greases it with salmon oil. She then has an of-fishal scent. Her toilet is finished by a red blanket and fifty pounds of beads, all of which make her look hias closh [very nice]! We bucks dress ourselves in a strink [sic] of beads, and are ready to accompany our dearest Samantha Jane’s. Our dancing may be neither elegant nor entertaining, but we enjoy it, and feel as happy as a big sunflower. The thrill of joy running through my heart, like a hog through a mudhole, when the maiden of the forest, for whom, only, my heart pulsates so quickly, casts that glance of tender love from her dark almond eye full upon me, filled with, ah! so much love, tenderness and dirt, makes me feel just like I wanted pap to see me. Then, when she reclines that uncombed head upon my manly bosom, my heart more rapidly pulsates at the thought of, the cussed tokens of remembrance which commence to crawl over me. 

Now, Mr. Editor, I turn my hour glass bottom upwards for the success of the Albany REGISTER through the present year. Your paper is interesting, and much thought of up here. So here’s a turn of hour glasses to all the subscribers you have and all you’re going to have.

Little Injun.

— from the Albany (OR) Register of February 12, 1870, page 1, column 4

íkta máyka chaku-kə́mtəks?
What have you learned?