1938: Rankin, “Frontier Days” of a cowboy

rankin portrait

M. Wilson Rankin (1857-1938), originally from Pennsylvania, was a pioneer cowboy of Colorado & Wyoming…

…but he spent time on the Columbia River frontier as well.

In his self-published autobiography, he remembers just a bit of Chinuk Wawa spoken with Native people of that region. It’s written in a wildly individualistic spelling, suggestive of its authenticity.

On page [122], in the spring of 1881, Rankin (“the rider” as the narrator styles himself) …

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In dealing with the Indians, it was necessary to understand the Chinook jargon. “Niwitkie, nice kumtux Chinook wow wow,” meaning “Yes, I understand Chinook talk, although not perfect.” It was the prevailing tongue between whites and Indians in the northwest. It was first introduced by French Canadian trappers and traders in their dealings with the Indians.

The author is overly humble — the above sentence does mean ‘Yes, I understand Chinook talk.’

Page 123 is one of the many examples of the writer’s own folksy sketching:

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Page 124, at the White Bluffs on the Columbia:

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An old Siwash Indian, with a view to earning a few dollars, was camped on the river bank, and with log canoe he conveyed the very few travelers who came that way, across.

Upon inquiring of the Siwash, in Chinook, his price for passage over the river, “Cocha chikmun, mika tikie, copa sous,” his answer was, “Mox chikum,” meaning two dollars. He, in a query as to where the traveler was going, said, “Caw mika klatawah.” the reply was, “Nika clatawah copa – Spokane.”

I’m not sure what that < sous > is meant to be; whoever typed the book from the author’s handwriting must have been equally in the dark. Maybe it’s sán ‘day’, as if to ask the rate for hiring a day’s labor.

Of interest to my readers who have enjoyed reading about the Michif language is an illustration by the author on page [127], where Rankin is among the Red River “halfbreed” Crees at their reservation in Montana:

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You can read the entire book for free online. It’s a great read, as the author saw a ton of history firsthand.

What do you think?