Arabella Clemens Fulton

Arabella Clemens Fulton (1844-1934) took the Oregon Trail relatively late, in 1864…

arabella clemens fulton

(Image credit: Findagrave)

…and she settled first in the area of Boise, Idaho Territory, before moving on to Texas (1872) and Washington (1883), winding up in Okanogan County and Ellensburg, central Washington.

So late in the frontier era, “Belle” would’ve had less need for Chinuk Wawa than previous Settlers did.  But it was still spoken where she spent time, and sure enough, it makes appearances in her memoir…

I’ve found two versions of her autobiography. One is a published book, “A Pioneer Woman’s Memoir” edited down quite a lot by Judith E. Greenberg and Helen Carey McKeever (New York, NY: Franklin Watts, 1995).

Page 14 (? — pages are unnumbered) in the unpublished full memoir has Mrs. Fulton, at some unnamed location during the initial wagon trip west, interacting with a Native man who approaches her with the greeting “How!” That’s Siouan, from Lakota or a closely related language, and it would place their encounter pretty far east. But he goes on to ask if their wagon train is ” ‘Ki-yi?‘…meaning way off”, and I suspect that’s Chinook Jargon sayá ‘far’. All it would take is one person reading Arabella’s handwriting and not knowing Jargon. and we’d have such a misspelling in the transcribed version I’m looking at. (It’s preserved in the book too.)  The conversation ends with him saying ” ‘Bye-bye, clatawa!‘ meaning ‘Must be going!’ ” That also would be Jargon; various early sources say American English ‘bye and bye’ was used in CJ as a synonym for áłqi to connote future tense, although it looks as if the “cheechako” Mrs. F. might’ve mistaken it for a childish ‘goodbye’, since newcomers often thought of Jargon as primitive. Of course łátwa ‘to go’ is one of the most frequent words in the language.

The following is another of the scant few appearances of Chinuk Wawa in her memoir, and not surprisingly, this comes from the late-settled north-central Washington, where Jargon held on pretty long. Here we have “Boston Man” (‘white people’), “Cultus Jim” (‘No-good’ Jim), “Siwash” (‘Indian’), and “klooches” (‘women; wives’, a borrowing and modification of łúchmən in Settler English), as well as commentary on the locally heavy use of CJ:

arabella fulton memoir

From “Tales of the Trail“, page 207 (?)

My overall impression is that Mrs. Fulton wasn’t a highly fluent speaker of Chinuk Wawa, but that she was familiar with it and could give accurate examples of it when the subject came up.

What do you think?