1869 [1852], Alaska/Yukon: The Kohklux map

A Lingít chief of Klukwan, Alaska drew the oldest known map of southwest Yukon Territory in 1869 — and Chinuk Wawa was involved.


Tom Buzzell points out Haines, AK, on the Kohklux map (image credit: AlaskaPublic.org)

Even better, this early USA-era Alaska CW may be an extremely rare trace of Russian-era Alaska CW; read on.

In a loving re-publication by the Yukon Historical & Museums Association (Whitehorse, 1995), the rediscovery and importance of this cartographic treasure are told of. 

The back story:

Mapmaker Kohklux, probably better known by another version of that name, Shotridge — which his son Louis made more famous through his work with anthropologists such as Franz Boas — was observing a visiting scientist, George Davidson. 

Davidson had come to Klukwan to observe a solar eclipse that he knew was coming. Kohklux, under the kind of US military threat that was often put onto the powerful Tlingits, agreed to host the researcher and his support party.

Evaluating the events of the day through the eyes of traditional knowledge, Kohklux is said to have offered Davidson “anything” in order to learn how the scientist had made the sun disappear. In short order, the chief got some paper and created a highly detailed map of his own “route from Klukwan to Fort Selkirk [Yukon Territory] and his return trail” on an 1852 trip. 

The YMHA publication aptly points out to us (on page 6) that Kohklux spoke Chinuk Wawa, which would be the only language shared between the researchers and him so early in the USA era of Alaska history. 

Kohklux, as a hereditary Lingít chief, had the special right to the jealously controlled trade with the Interior tribes, who we have seen were customarily referred to by the Chinuk Wawa-derived label “Stick” (stík ‘forest’, as contrasted with coastal) Indians. 

sticks on the beach

Sticks on the Beach at Lake Marsh”, from Frederick Schwatka’s Alaska memoir (image credit: Project Gutenberg)

Therefore his map to the Yukon was rare, specialized knowledge of great value. It was likely the most precious thing he could conceive of trading for the American scientist’s knowledge. 

I really appreciate how the YMHA publication makes sure we realize Kohklux’s two wives participated in making the map. They had likely been crucial participants in any trading trips their husband made to the Yukon, and co- knowledge keepers.  

About the map itself: its value for Chinook Jargon studies includes its precise locating of numerous Interior villages, likely Tutchone Dene, labeled “Sticks”. This is one of the very earliest documented occurrences that I’ve seen of this term. 

[Here, for your amusement, is a French article that misunderstands both “Stick Indian” and the identity of the destroyers of Fort Selkirk.]

There’s also the notation on the map of a place called “King George House” [kʰinchóch-háws], “which is the Chinook name for a Hudson’s Bay [British] establishment’ (page 22), i.e. Fort Selkirk. That’s a cool little discovery, as we haven’t previously seen a term for this in Jargon!

An important historical note is that the expedition on which Kohklux based his geographical information was led in 1852 by his father, and destroyed HBC Fort Selkirk due to its infringement on Tlingit traditional trading rights.

This could place the term “King George House” before the 1867 US acquisition of Alaska. We’ve never yet found more than fleeting evidence of CW use in Alaska under the old Russian regime, so these 3 words could really add to our understanding of the Jargon’s northward spread. 

I should say that on page 20 of the YMHA publication, we see that Davidson took the Tlingit name of Lake Laberge, < Kluk-tak-sy’ee > or < Kluk-tak-sy’a >, as including “< Sy-ah > in Chinook mean[ing] far away, or long distance”. The evidence indicates to me that this is folk etymology, not an accurate understanding of Tlingit. But one neat point is that Davidson’s spelling of the word is a rare one, suggesting he either took it after the fact from the somewhat obscure 1873 Blanchet dictionary of CW, or else made it up based on his personal experience of the Jargon. 

The above is, from one viewpoint, an extremely small amount of CW data. But taken in historical perspective, we have here a significant contribution to our knowledge of this language’s presence in southeast Alaska and, perhaps, southwest Yukon.

What do you think?