1877, Idaho: John Emery is the victim of a pretty rough joke

emery and schlosser store

At left: the Emery & Schlosser store in Idaho City? 1974? (image source: history.idaho.gov)

You have to go back real early in Idaho history to find good Chinuk Wawa spoken there…

…Mission accomplished today!

In what carries all the marks of real folks’ speech, a quirky untranslated 1877 news article tells more about a man who is mentioned elsewhere on the same page.

Typical for CW in that state prior to the 1880s or 1890s, this comes from the southerly Boise region that was associated with the early fur trade and the Oregon Trail.

John (H.?) Emery appears to have been a local dry-goods merchant (perhaps of Emery & Schlosser’s Store), and, I’m guessing, a bit of a cheechako:


JOHN EMERY killed a ten-pound goose on More creek last Sunday morning. John says it was the first large game he ever killed, and was, of course, a little excited.

— from the Idaho City (Idaho Territory) Idaho Semi-Weekly World of March 30, 1877, page 3, column 1

Hmm…Was that someone’s domestic goose he was chasing? Was he made fun of for his ignorant hunting technique, wading in after the wildfowl? Or for his naive excitement, showing up in town dripping wet with his catch? Was he lampooned for hunting on a < Suntay >, if the Jargon word (see below) meant that day rather than ‘week’?

Maybe all of the above?!

Some student of Idaho history can make a nice research paper out of that little question.

In any case, Emery took a ribbing, delivered in pioneer insider talk, for this same hunting exploit. And it would seem folks figured he wouldn’t understand it, as it wasn’t in English.

Some of the following Chinook teasing is slightly unclear. I believe we’d understand the intended humor better, if it weren’t for details like these:

  • One mystifying sequence is < Pe wake siyah mimoluce kopa iscom. > I’m undecided whether this was supposed to mean ‘And it was almost dead(,) (ready) for the taking’ (with a technically ungrammatical < kopa > in the function of showing a verbal purpose; < spose >, as seen later in the paragraph, would be expected) — or something else.
  • There’s also the place where the writer (or the typesetter, perhaps more likely) left out a causative marker mamuk-; I’ve indicated this with a bracketed [momoke].
  • Similar to that is < Spose cumtux > (‘to know’), which I suspect was conceived as < Spose [charco] cumtux > ‘to find out’.

Well, read and evaluate it for yourself:

john emery

JOHN EMERY is the victim of a pretty rough joke. Here it is:

Tonky Suntay tenass sun clonass quinem tintin conche John Emery okeoke
táʔanłki sánti tənəs-sán t’łúnas qwínəm-tíntin qʰə́nchi John Emery(,) úkuk
previous week/Sunday little-day maybe five-hour when John Emery(,) that
‘Last Sunday morning it was about 5 o’clock when John Emery(,) that’

hyass close chickum iscom man closke [sic] mitlite kopa Mr. Fulmer’s mocoke
hayas-łúsh chíkʰəmin-ískam-mán(,) łúsh míłayt kʰupa Mr. Fulmer’s mákuk-
very-good money-get-man(,) well exist at Mr. Fulmer’s sell-
‘expert money-maker(,) was comfortable at Mr. Fulmer’s’

house. Yockky cumtux wawa cockwa tintin kopa yochky [sic] quallan, pe
háws. yáka kə́mtəks wáwa kákwa tíntin kʰupa yaka q’wəlán, pi
house. he hear voice like bell with his ear, and
‘store. He heard a sound like a bell, and’

yochky cumtux okeoke lemorow cullaculla. Pe wake siyah mimoluce kopa
yaka kə́mtəks úkuk limuló kə́ləkələ. pi wík-sayá míməlus kʰupa
he know this wild bird. and not-far dead for*
‘he recognized that wild bird. And it was nearly dead for’

iscom. John yochky hyac get up pe [momoke] mitlite polalay copy yochky
ískam. John yaka háyáq gitə́p pi [mamuk-]míłayt púlali kʰupa yaka
take. John he quickly get.up and exist powder in his
‘the taking*. John hurriedly got out of bed and (put) powder into his’

muscuit, pe clatawa mimoluce okeoke cullaculla, closka mitlite kopy More
mə́skit, pi łátwa míməlus úkuk kə́ləkələ, łaska míłayt kʰupa More
gun, and go kill that bird, they exist at More
‘gun, and went to kill those birds, which were at More’

tenass chuck, pe okeoke hyass cullaculla ticky momke [sic] hyu teehe copa
tənəs-chə́qw, pi úkuk háyás kə́ləkələ tíki mámuk háyú tíhi kʰupa
little-water, and that big bird want make much fun in

‘creek, and the big(gest) bird wanted to play around in’

chuck pe okeoke tenass man clatawa kopa chuck cope yochky toeweit [sic].
chə́qw pi úkuk tənəs-mán łátwa kʰupa chə́qw kʰupa yaka tʰiyáʔwit(,)
water and that little-man go in water with his leg(,)

‘the water and that young man walked into the water(,)’

Spose [charco] cumtux cah yochky mitlite, pe yochky mitlite muscuit copa
spos chaku-kə́mtəks qʰá yaka míłayt, pi yaka míłayt mə́skit kʰupa
in.order.to get.to-know where he exist, and he have gun in

‘to find out where it was, and he had the gun in’

yochky lema, pe momoke poo pe memoluce ict hyass cullaculla, pe yochky
yaka límá, pi mamuk-p’ú pi míməlus íxt háyás kə́ləkələ, pi yaka
his hand, and make-shoot and kill one big bird, and he

‘his hand, and shot and killed the one big bird, and (then) he’

charco copa town. Yochky tumtum hyass close wake cockwa ict man copa town.
cháku kʰupa tʰáwn. yaka tə́mtəm hayas-łúsh(,) wík-kákwa íxt mán kʰupa tʰáwn.
come to town. his heart very-good(,) not-like one man in town.

‘came to town. He was delighted like no other man in town.’

Cullaculla mitlite tatlum pound. Hyass close copa okeoke tenass man. 
kə́ləkələ míłayt táłlam pʰáwnd. hayas-łúsh kʰupa úkuk tənəs-mán.
bird have ten pound. very-good for that little-man.

‘The bird weighed 10 pounds. That’s great for a young fellow.’

Nowwitka six!
nawítka síks!
indeed friend!
‘Yes sir!’

— from the Idaho City (Idaho Territory) Idaho Semi-Weekly World of March 30, 1877, page 3, column 3

My general take on the above is that it’s pretty damn fluent Chinuk Wawa, apparently descended from early-creolized lower Columbia River CW.

It’s definitely Settler speech, for instance in linking events into a single narrative with pi ‘and’, whereas an Indigenous teller would almost certainly have said álta ‘(and) then’. The closing exclamation, nawítka síks, isn’t the first time we’ve seen White folks using Jargon to say what I’m pretty sure was ‘yessiree’ in their minds 🙂

One or two novel expressions here may be worth our taking up, for example míłayt [‘had’] 10 pʰáwnd for ‘weighed 10 lbs.’ There aren’t many other examples in old documentation of how to express the weight of something!

Another extremely lucky find for those of us who study Chinook Jargon!

What do you think?