Is “rancherie” a gold rush word?

tuolumne rancheria alex-thompson-with-horses-300x201

Tuolumne Rancheria, 1920s (image credit: Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk Indians)

In English, it’s primarily a Canadianism of a certain age.

But (many of) the earliest English uses of “rancherie” were in, or discussing, northern California.

An 1851 Calaveras County newspaper uses the word.

Soon after, papers nationwide were likewise using it in reference to Calaveras and surrounding goldrush regions, e.g. this 1853 Washington, DC mention.

An 1860 Sacramento state senate volume contains it.

The word surely migrated from northern CA to Oregon, where we can find it from about 1871.

(You can find “rancherie” a couple of centuries earlier yet, if you look in French books about the Americas.)

All of the above surely trace to New World Spanish (and maybe also Portuguese).

You keep finding the original word, rancheria, in frontier-era Spanish-language newspapers of California and New Mexico.

In places like those, rancheria is also a variant of “rancherie” in local English.

But as far as I’ve seen in a still superficial search — I so often wish for access to LexisNexis and other good fulltext search engines! — you don’t find either spelling in British Columbia till a relatively late date.

In fact the first I’m noticing of the more common “rancherie” is in an 1862 book discussing a Chilcotin community.

“Rancheria” shows up in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s 1887 history of BC, referring to the Fraser River gold rush time, circa 1858 onward.

The word fairly soon spread northward, referring to Bella Coola on the north coast by 1881, and showing up in neighbouring southeast Alaska by 1885.

I’ve visited Rancheria Falls in the Yukon Territory, a place whose name is surely of a similar vintage.

My overall conclusion, not a stroke of great genius but worth pointing out, is that “rancherie” and its variants should be considered a goldrush word in BC — simply because 1858 onwards is the era when the vast majority of English-speakers came in.

And they came primarily from previous goldrush zones, prototypically from California and Oregon.

The gold rushers made a huge linguistic imprint on BC, not only by turning Chinook Jargon into the major inter-ethnic language, but also by importing US English speech patterns…

What have you learned?