Welcome to Halo Chemuck, California

One early frontier town in California combined 2 pidgin languages in its name…

halo chemuck

“Rancho de Bidwell”, in yellow at the bottom, became Halo Chemuck 
(image credit: GoldfieldsBooks.com)

This was Halo Chemuck, in Solano County, California. 

Chinuk Wawa contributed < Halo > (hílu) ‘none’.

California Pidgin Spanish / Indian contributed < Chemuck > ‘food’…

…which by a weird coincidence sounds like CW’s < muckamuck > (mə́kʰmək) ‘food; eat’!

The town was located 

…on the N. W. bank of the Sacramento river, near its junction with the San Joaquin, and about midway between San Francisco and the gold placero…

— from the Californian of September 23, 1848

The name is said to have originated from the harsh winter of 1846-1847, when the indigenous Patwin Southern Wintun people who had been assisting the settlement’s founder complained of the poor food supply:

During the long, hard winter, the hungry and discouraged Indians frequently used the expression “Hale-che-muck”, which meant “nothing to eat”, hence the origin of the name of the Bidwell settlement: Hale-che-muck! !

— from Rio Vista — History and Development, by Mrs. Duncan S. Robinson (1926)

The town’s name was also spelled Halo Chamuck, Halechemuck, Halo Chamo, Hala-chum-muck, etc. — the variability shows it wasn’t in existence long. It became known as Suisun and/or Rio Vista.

So early in the US settlement history of the region, Chinuk Wawa still had a remnant presence around Sacramento in  northern California, due to this having been an important fur-trade era outpost from the 1820s on.

California Pidgin Spanish likely existed decades before that, and was seemingly more widespread. “Alta” California, the modern American state, was never densely settled by Spain or Mexico. This means the conditions for pidgin usage — which I might sum up as a local population outnumbering newcomers but having economic reasons to communicate with them — persisted for generations. 

I’ve often pointed out that pidgin languages can, and even tend to, coexist with each other. We’ve seen this on my site with West Coast Chinese Pidgin English, Chinuk Wawa, Nootka Jargon, and others. Today we see another example that encapsulates the simultaneous use of two pidgins in northern California.

There’s plenty more evidence to come; stay tuned.

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