1858: Earliest “Chinook Wawa”?

nevada democrat

hayu masi to henli (Henry Zenk) for sending this along…

Henry had read a paper I presented at the American Name Society annual conference in 2015, “Naming Chinook”, where I wrote that the earliest occurrence of the language name “Chinuk Wawa” that I’d yet found was — shockingly — of post-frontier vintage. I quote from my paper:

We can point out that this term is far from new, yet until recently it has remained very rare in English. I have found only a couple of occurrences of it, in an older spelling Chinook Wawa, from the 1890s, for example “For over thirteen months…I heard nothing except ‘Chinook Wawa‘” (Transactions, 1895:113). One of the other early uses of the phrase makes for an amusing visual illustration: Hoquiam, WA restaurateur Mose Freeland’s jokey menu (Freeland, 1906; Figure 1).

With further research, Henry has now found what we’d have thought existed — a known occurrence of the name Chinuk Wawa during the frontier era, in the heyday of the language. What he’s turned up is the earliest known example of it. Now I’ll turn things over to Henry:

Came across this while rummaging through paper folders full of old scans/xeroxes. From the Oregon Spectator, 20 July 1858 (evidently reprinted from the Nevada [City, in California] Democrat [of June 16, 1858]). Unless I’ve missed something in the meantime, I believe this may be our earliest record to date of the language being called “Chinuk Wawa“:

“THE OREGON JARGON – The S. F. Globe and Bulletin, have each published a vocabulary of the Oregon Jargon, for the benefit of Frazer river emigrants – that being a kind of universal language among the races that inhabit Oregon and Washington territories. An intimate acquaintance with that highly refined and elegant lingo, acquired during a long residence in Oregon, enables us to state that the above mentioned vocabularies will be of no service whatsoever to persons desirous of learning the “Chinook wawa.” No combination of the letters of the Roman alphabet can give an American an idea of the proper pronunciation of the words. A man of ordinary capacity, however, can acquire a perfect knowledge of the “language” in a few days, by conversing with educated Chinooks- Nevada Democrat”

By “educated Chinooks” the writer seems to mean Indians who speak Jargon. The same phrase occurs in an 1891 book “By Track and Trail” that I’ve previously blogged about. The association of the language with some vague tribal identity was common among Settlers for decades. — DDR.

A parting observation: Electronic searching of old newspapers is still in pretty early stages. I keep finding amazing amounts of Chinuk Wawa-related stuff by that method, but there are many issues of newspapers, and entire newspaper titles, that aren’t readily searchable online. One takeaway is that we still need to be looking through physical files in libraries, which I bet is how Henry originally found the above. Another takeaway is, we can plan on discovering much more CW that we hadn’t seen before, as more and more newspaper issues keep getting scanned, OCR’ed, and uploaded!

What do you think?