1900: Instinct Versus Science


“Columbus Breaking the Egg” by William Hogarth (1752) (image credit: Wikipedia)

A replay of the popular “Indians can forecast the weather” trope…

…cloaked in veritability, as was often done by Whites, by phrasing it in Chinuk Wawa.

This CW is pretty clearly an idealization, a fictional phrasing.

Its spelling is taken straight from the post-frontier standardized dictionaries.

And no specific speaker is named, nor a claim to accuracy made.

There’s also the distancing language (“the aged bucks and kloochmen [and] the old settlers who could talk with them”)…

The tone of the newspaper article I’m sharing today is more a hazy puff piece than historical documentation.

The late date of its publication means that it’s no surprise readers are given an English translation.

instinct versus science

instinct versus science 2

instinct versus science 3

Instinct Versus Science.

With the Indians of this our north
west coast, the remarkable character
of our present winter is only another
version of the old saw, “We told you

It is quite generally known that so
far back as in the latter part of sum-
mer, the Indians of Western Washing-
ton were unanimous in their predic-
tions as to the character of the com-
ing winter, They all declared that
we should have mild weather and lit-
tle or no snow. When rallied for a
clue to their strange fore-knowledge of
coming events, they pointed to the
idle squirrels that were gathering
neither hazelnuts nor fircone seeds,
and to the lazy woodpeckers that
were storing away no grubs in the
trunks of decaying trees.

Nanich okoke kwis-kwis,” said the
aged bucks and kloochmen to the old
settlers who could talk with them,
pee okoke ko-ko-stick; mika wake
mamook muckamuck; klaska ma-
mook he-he konaway sun.” Or in
King George‘s” lingo, “See yonder
squirrel and that woodpecker, they lay
up no food but play all day long.”

So much for the untutored savage
who draws his conclusions from the
instinctive operations of the lower an-
imals around him. And now as if in
scientific confirmation of all this
lowly prophecy, there comes the con-
current-reports of ship-masters navi-
gating the north Pacific ocean routes,
that from some cause of course un-
known to themselves, the “Japan cur-
rent” has recently assumed quite an
unusual deflection towards the north
western coast line of the United States
and British Columbia. So here is the
so-called instinct of humble animal
life mutely publishing, months in ad-
vance, weather forecasts which hu-
man wisdom failed to discover.

It is now as plain to be seen as was
the Columbus egg-trick that the heat-
laden Japan current is, after all, the
physical producing cause of our pres-
ent mild winter. And it is equally
plain, too, that the white man got the
early news of what was to be, from the
red man while the red man filched it
from the squirrel and woodpecker.
But what Agassiz, Huxley or Spencer
will now arise and tell us where Mes-
dames Squirrel and Woodpecker got
their information?

— from the Olympia (WA) Washington Standard of February 16, 1900, page 2, column 4