1861: Gold Hunting in the Cascade Mountains


Albert Bierstadt, Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon, circa 1889 (image credit: artandobject.com)

One of the earliest, and least known, publications in Washington Territory…

…naturally contains some nice bits of Chinuk Wawa.

gold hunting tp

The booklet I refer to is the 1861 “Gold Hunting in the Cascade Mountains“, by someone using the pseudonym Loo-Wit Lat-Kla, i.e. the Sahaptin name of Mt. St. Helens, to tell of a group of adventurers who were first to reach its summit on September 28, 1860.

One thing I see as worthy of being pointed out is the spellings of Native words. Many of the place names mentioned here later wound up changing spellings, but make no mistake, it’s virtually always a source of insight to give serious consideration to pioneers’ made-up-on-the-spot ways of writing such words. We find < Kalima > for modern < Kalama >, Washington (page 6). There’s < Cha-la-cha > for modern < Chelatchie > (page 7; one of several Salish place names missing from Kinkade’s Cowlitz dictionary). Both exemplify a trait also often prominent in early Anglophone Settler writing of Chinuk Wawa, where the letter < i > can represent phonetic /a/, and < a > can stand for the sound /ey/ ~ /i/.

The entire booklet is written in a style pretty close to informal spoken English, including dozens of shock-quoted and italicized slang words. This adherence to the colloquial also suggests his Jargon is from real experience.

A comment in page 7 shows that “Camas Prairie” was the common name of an expanse on the lower Lewis River.

Page 10 brings the first overt account of the group’s interpreter speaking Chinook Jargon with Indigenous people in this Lower Cowlitz Salish – Upper Cowlitz Sahaptin (Taidnapam or Klickitat) border zone.

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Late in the afternoon, while looking for a place to camp, one of our men came suddenly upon an Indian who seemed to be frightened out of his wits, and indeed there was not much wonder; for our men being unlearned in the language of Chinook, began to call vociferously for our interpreter, which the Indian mistook for a summons to surrender. He was entirely unarmed, and stood and trembled. Our interpreter soon made him understand that we had mistaken our way and wanted to be put right. While talking with him, another Siwash, in the person of “John (Boston) Staps,” made his appearance, and very soon informed us that we were several miles to[o] far; that we must return to the further side of the volcanic rocks, where the trail would turn off, if there had been one, but since no trail had ever been made, it would be next to impossible.

Page 11 has the visitors’ guide arguing in Chinook for a delayed start to their exploration:

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Like all the Indian guides I ever saw, he [John Staps] had a great deal to do before starting; his family were starving (he had just told us they were catching hi-u salmon,) and must be removed to the berries, which were just then getting ripe; his moccasins had to be mended, and his horses had to be hunted up. Finding our eloquence as well as our “motive power” — the “almighty dollar” — unavailing, we submitted to the proposed arrangement; but what to do with ourselves, in the meantime, troubled us to determine.

On page 14 seems to partly translate some of his half of a conversation in Chinuk Wawa:

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The rain soon began to pour down in torrents, for which the Indians credited the “Bostons,” saying we had caused it by our much talking.

After eating our suppers, the guides were invited to help themselves. While they were thus engaged, our interpreter began to ply John Staps with questions about the mountain, to ascertain the Indian idea of it, as well as to learn whether any white man had ever ascended it. He replied to a few questions, but when he found them coming thicker and faster, he stopped eating, looked around, laughed, and said: “Bostons great man; he eat heap and talk heap, all at one time. Siwash can’t.” Having thus delivered himself, he set about his supper again, with a zeal and a relish which seemed to say, “You see I can enjoy ‘Boston’ muck-a-muck, if I can’t [enjoy] their wa-wa.” …

Also page 14 is a mostly translated recounting of the guide’s information about vision quests at Mt. St. Helens:

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When an Indian boy wished to be received into the council of the brave of his nation, he would ascend the mountain peak as far up as the grass grows…His return to his people was hailed with every demonstr[a]tion of delight…He was no longer a tenas man, but a great brave. 

Page 16 has another mostly translated indirect quotation of the local Indians expressing their belief that it’s a bad idea to climb the mountain:

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…nor would they agree to go with us. They shuddered at the idea, and strongly protested that our persistence in this, to them, mad attempt, would inevitably bring upon us the sore displeasure of the Sah-hah-ly Ty-ee of the mountain, who would inflict upon us a severe penalty for our temerity.

The word for ‘chief’ is elsewhere often spelled as < Tie > in the book.

Page 25 — guide John Staps is a bit skeptical of the explorers when they return claiming to have summited the mountain:

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…[he] finally inquired how high we ascended. When informed he professedly believed us, because, he said, the Bostons could do anything when they had their Tamanawos with them; still there was a good deal of the incredulous lurking in his deep, dark eye.

Certainly this doesn’t amount to much Chinuk Wawa, but what there is of it appears genuine, and it conveys some fairly rich cultural information from some Native people who used this language to communicate with newcomers.

What do you think?