1897: Everette thinks “Stikine” is “Stick Indians”

A self-taught frontier linguist has some odd ideas…

Dr. Willis Eugene Everette sent a comparative Alaskan vocabulary list of Tlingit, Athabaskan, and Inupiaq in 1897 to the Smithsonian Institution, and Chinook Jargon — which I show elsewhere he didn’t really know well — enters into a prominent blunder that he makes.

everette tlingit

The language used by the natives of the Upper Yukon river, and the chain of lakes at its watershed, is really a Klinkit, or Chilcat river Indian language: They call themselves Klinkgit or Stikinca — i.e. — “men of the woods”. They are quite closely allied to the Lynn Channel and Sitka — Citka — “snow men” — Indians, but are regarded by the latter, as an inferior race, although, are often intermarried.

There’s definite confusion in there. On the Upper Yukon River in central Alaska, the traditional languages spoken are Athabaskan (Dene). It’s just remotely possible that Everette the amateur was among the first to notice what has become a proven scientific fact, that Athabaskan and Tlingit are remotely related to each other. But that’s doubtful.

He probably meant to write “Upper Stikine“. That northern BC waterway is populated both by Tlingit communities and Athabaskans who have long spoken Tlingit with them. The latter people have for many decades been called “Stick Indians”, which is a translation from Chinook Jargon meaning, you guessed it, “men of the woods” more or less.

In other words, Everette confused the common name of the river, an Anglicization of a Coast Tsimshian version Stik’iin of the native Tlingit Shtax’héen, with Chinuk Wawa!

That’s understandable on a certain level. The Stikine River, as I understand the old documents I deal with, was the major route of access to northern interior BC in the frontier era. The Hudsons Bay Company certainly felt it was of enormous importance. And thus, the Stikine was the main way to reach the “Sticks” tribes.

But in his own report, Everette documents the relevant words in (respectively)  “Klinkit, Kutcakutcin and Yukaniyut”. With ‘snow’, for example, none of them remotely resemble “Sitka”, which in any case is Tlingit Shee T’iká Outside-Edge-of-a-Branch Tribe‘:

everette snow

And the words he records for ‘man’ are likewise non-matches for his Jargon-influenced folk etymology of “Stikine”:

everette man

Note also that the word “Tlingit” itself is the Tlingit word for ‘people’, lingít, and “Stikine” in the original Tlingit means ‘Bitter Water Tribe‘.

Everette doesn’t note words for ‘forest’ or any related concept, but the point is amply demonstrated already.

This was an enthusiastic but poorly informed White man of the 1800s. A product of his time, he felt comfortable in the role of an expert and pronounced drastically wrong ideas as facts that the enormous majority of his peers had no way of checking.

If that sounds harsh of me, that’s not my intention. All of my work is devoted to finding and sharing previously unavailable knowledge that relates to Chinook Jargon, and to the contact among languages in the Pacific Northwest. This has involved more than 20 years of linguistic research in communities and archives, graduate school, and paid professional consulting. And when I identify and correct a misconception or misrepresentation, that’s just me doing science in the public interest.

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