“Camas stick” revisited!

camas stick

Columbia Plateau “camas stick” (image credit: Oregon History Project)

Dedicated to the memory of Pauline Pascal Flett (1926-2020), whose love of and work for her Spokane Salish language put me on the path to being a professional linguist.

I’ve previously suggested, and am now going to claim more strongly, that “camas stick” is a previously unrecognized Chinuk Wawa phrase.

Even the great early CW dictionary maker George Gibbs — albeit elsewhere than his famous 1863 dictionary — supplies us with evidence for this claim, with his < kamass stick > / < kamas stick >.

Here’s what I consider to be plenty more evidence that this phrase needs to be added to our dictionaries of the Jargon…

Among the Chinookans:

From southwest Oregon’s Takelma people:


from Edward Sapir, “Takelma Texts“, 1909, page 261

From southeast Washington’s Cayuse tribe:

camas sticks whitmans

from Matilda Sager, “A Survivor’s Recollections of the Whitman Massacre“, 1920 [1847 data], page 13

Again from southwest Oregon, the Klamaths:

camas stick klamath

from Frederick W. Coville, “The Sage Plains of Oregon“, (National Geographic Magazine, December 1896), page 401

From southwest Oregon too, Rogue River country:

camas stick rogues

from Percy T. Booth, “Valley of the Rogues“, 1970, page 58

Also from southwest Oregon, Klamaths again:

camas stick modern

from Frederick W. Coville, “Notes on the Plants Used by the Klamath Indians of Oregon“, 1897, page 93

From northwest Oregon, Willamette Valley:

From Idaho, the Bannock people:

From coastal Washington Territory, the Nisqually Salish people:

camas stick newspaper

from A.B. Rabbeson, “Pioneer Reminiscences: A Legend of the Aborigines“, 1886, page 1, column 2

[Editing to add another example, found the day after publication: William Fraser Tolmie’s 1837 list of Klickitat Sahaptian tree names, courtesy of Jack Nisbet (personal communication): “Vine maple…Kliketats make their Kamass sticks of the branches”.]

Briefly putting all of that together, kamas-stik is looking like a commonly used phrase of frontier-era Chinuk Wawa for what I know in local English as a “digger”.

What do you think?