1858-60: A puzzler, gestures, & “their language”

john keast lord

John Keast Lord, 1818-1872 (image credit: Dictionary of Canadian Biography)

John Keast Lord was a talented, fun-loving English naturalist & veterinarian on the US-British Boundary Commission that set limits between my greedy American ancestors and my defenceless Canadian ancestors 🙂

The Fraser River gold rush(es) of 1858 lent urgency to that work. Us Bostons were swarming BC, implicitly and explicitly threatening to take the place over from us King Georges.

Were Indigenous people given consideration in that fight? Hardly.

“JKL” — that was one of his authorial pseudonyms — had already had plenty of adventure in his 40 years by the time he was attached to the border survey in the (then two) colonies of British Columbia and Vancouver(‘s) Island:

  • He had become a victim of his convivial instincts, as his biographies put it;
  • had served in the Crimean War under the Turks;
  • had been shipwrecked on a whaling voyage;
  • and had outdoorsman skills from fur-trapping in scarcely settled Arkansas.
jkl illo

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

So this fella was no n00b upon arrival out here, and he also seems to have picked up some Chinuk Wawa fairly fast. Here’s an example where he used it in a pretty determined, in fact creative way.

Lord here puts to work the often-mentioned but little-documented auxiliary mode of hand gestures while Chinooking with a Stó:lõ Salish leader, to learn what the heck species of animal was outside his camp whistling all the time.

Because, contrary to the ideas in the heads of international politicians then, you absolutely had to deal with Indigenous people to do more than scrape by in their country, and Chinuk Wawa helped you enormously to do so.

Pages 349-350 of his “A Naturalist in Vancouver Island and British Columbia“, volume 1 (London: Richard Bentley, 1866), show the author speaking what he, like many newcomers in Pacific Northwest tribal lands, understood to be “their language” …

puzzler 1

puzzler 2

puzzler 3

… Partly by signs, and by using as much of their language as I knew, I endeavoured to make the old chief comprehend my queries.

After attentively watching my absurd attempts to produce a ringing whistle by placing my fingers in my mouth, and blowing through them until my face was like an apoplectic coachman’s, a smile of intelligence lit up his swarthy visage: then I violently dug imaginary holes, and explained that the sounds came about twilight; he nodded his head, dived into the tent, and disappeared in the smoke, to shortly emerge again with a rug or robe, made from the skins of an animal that was quite new to me. …

mountain beaver

Mountain beaver (image credit: Scientific American Blogs

(The animal, some of you will have guessed, was what was known in early-creolized Chinuk Wawa as < sewellel >, the mountain beaver.)

So today we have a pretty neat example of how the Jargon was seen — both metaphorically and visibly — in the prime stage of its use in BC!

What do you think?