“Why the alahs are sticky”

Thanks again to my reader Jim Mattila, this time for sending along a scan of a neat old newspaper article involving Lushootseed speakers and Chinuk Wawa.


Lake Washington steelhead (alah?) (image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s a post-frontier telling of what’s said to be an Indigenous story from the Seattle area. Typical for documented pioneer usage in the locale, it appears to blend fluent “Jargon” with some Lushootseed Salish.

Some notes by me follow afterward…

1900 Why Alahs Are Sticky final copy


A Legend of the Lake Washington Indians. 

By Chelana.

ON the eastern shore of It-kow-chug [2]
(Washington) there dwelt a pow-
erful tribe hyas ahncutty (a great
many years ago) [3]. They were rul-
ed by a chief who had one son — 
a child of ten summers, who would inherit
his father’s throne when he died. Now.
the chief had ten nephews who wished to
take his place, but the chief knew that
their tum-tums (hearts) [tə́mtəm] were bad and he
grieved to think of the sorrow that would
come to his child. When he heard the
Soakhale Tyee (Great Spirit) [sáx̣ali-táyí] call him to
the happy hunting grounds he told his
mother, who was by his side, all that was
in his heart. He said, “Keep my son near
your side until he is grown, for the bad
siwash [s(h)áwash ‘Indian(s)’] will kill him.”

The chief had seen but forty summers
when he was laid with his fathers. He
was wrapped in the finest of furs and all
his arms and clothing were put in the
hollow trunk of a cedar tree wltn his
corpse. The tribe mourned for many suns,
sitting in the ashes of his camp fire and
crawling on their hands and knees in the
dust for a long distance to show their sor-

The grandmother kept the tenas man
(little boy) [tənəs-mán ‘boy’] with her all the time. One
day she took him with her to gather olal-
lies (berries) [úlali] and he strayed a short dis-
tance from her. One of the bad Indians
took him and carried him up to the slough
and hid him from his people.

When the lumei (old woman) [lamiyáy] found that
he was gone, she was frantic with grief,
she looked everywhere but found him not.
She went back to her house and told her
friends of the great loss. One of the ten
nephews told her that the Stick Siwash [4]
(spirit of the woods) had taken him away.
When the Stick Siwash heard that they
told so great a klim-in-a-whit (lie) [5] on him
he was very sol-ex (angry) [sáliks] and next day
when the ten were quarreling about who
should be chief, he mam-ook-ed [mámuk ‘did; worked’] black tam-
anus (magic) [6] and turned the tribe into
heaps of clam shells and fish bones.

The grandmother was away when this
happened so that she was spared as the
spirit wished her to be. She was old and
weak and had a hard time to keep alive;
she mourned constantly for her grandson,
and was near starvation.

One warm day in October she paddled her
canoe to a lonely point and sat in the edge
of the rushes on the !ake shore mourning
and crying and crying. “Achada! Achada!
Achaday![7] for the poor little boy who was
gone, who was gone; “Anah! Anah! [8] I’m
starving, starving.”

Now, the great thunder bird that is as
big as a house and who keeps watch over
the camp of the Stick siwash, heard the
crying and flew to the land of ice and
many fishes; he lit on a great piece of
cold chuck (ice) [9] [kʰúl-chə́qw] and commenced to muck-
a-muck (eat) [mə́kʰmək] fish. He picked them up and
picked them up until he had swallowed
many basketfuls, then he spread his wings
wide as the clouds and flew and flew
and flew until he came to It-kow-chug and
lit on the sand at the side of the grand-
mother. He opened his great big beak and
threw up many fish saying “I brought these
from your little bo-y! I brought these 
from your little bo-y! ah-ah-up-up-ou-ou.” [10]
until he had thrown up a great heap.

The grandmother built a fire and cooked
and ate flsh until she felt strong. Many
of the fish fell into the lake and now at
the same time of the year that the thun-
der bird brought the fish the streams that
flow into Lake Washington are full of
small trout that are always covered with
slime as were the first fish that the thun-
der bird disgorged.

The thunder bird flew to where the lit-
tle boy was hid and brought him to his

The Stick siwash mom-ook-ed tam-an-us
and brought the tribe back to life again.

The bad ten went to another country and
the little boy ruled well for many moons.


* Red trout in Lake Washington.

— from the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer of May 6, 1900, page 29, columns 4 and 5


ALAH[-]S* [1] ‘Red trout in Lake Washington’: most likely Lushootseed ʔílaʔł ‘an unidentified small red fish’, I suppose the Lake Washington steelhead (thus < alah > represents a local English and/or CW pronunciation [éyla]), but perhaps perhaps compare Lushootseed ʔuládxʷ ‘catch salmon’, s-ʔuládxʷ ‘general term for salmon and sea-going trout (e.g., steelhead)’. 

It-kow-chug [1] ([Lake] Washington) — I don’t find a word for this place in the Bates-Hess-Hilbert dictionary of Lushootseed, but I bet we can compare this one with Ld ʔítakʷ-bixʷ, Suquamish‘ people, perhaps followed by -al ʹStem Extenderʹ; plus the Ld čá(ʔ)kʷ ‘located toward the water; out on the water; etc.’ and/or the (coincidentally resemblant?) CW čə́qw/tsə́qw ‘water; body of water’. That is, possibly this name for Lake Washington is local Chinook Jargon ʔítakʷ-čə́qw ‘the Suquamish tribe’s lake’. However, my understanding is that the lake is traditionally Duwamish tribal territory, so it might be that < It-kow-chug > represents a formation on that group’s name-root dəkʷ. Perhaps a Settler confusion between the Duwamish and Suquamish is involved here. There’s no comparable formation based on that root in the dictionary, which leaves us wondering about the initial < i >, the < tkow > phonetics, and the < chug > ending.

hyas ahncutty (a great many years ago) [3]: this is fluent CW hayas(h)-ánqati ‘very-long.ago’. 

Stick Siwash [4] (spirit of the woods) — here is one of the very earliest occurrences in print of CW stík-s(h)awásh, literally ‘forest Indians’. The translation given by Chelana is interesting, in that Stick Indians are usually portrayed as physical beings, albeit ones having extraordinary powers. The occurrence of this CW phrase is among the several signs in the story that the writer indeed got it from an Indigenous person; Settlers seem to have been largely unaware of Stick Indians. Note that another CW term for Stick Indians is t’siyátkʰu, from Coast Salish.

“…a klim-in-a-whit (lie)” [5]: this CW word, t’łəmínxwət, isn’t documented as a noun in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary, but it seems to be known as such from at least George Gibbs 1863 onward. 

Black tam-anus (magic) [6]: black and red t’əmánəwas (which is ‘guardian-spirit power’) are extremely common expressions in the greater Puget Sound region’s CW, for types of Indigenous spiritual practice.

Achada! Achada! Achaday![7] These reflect Lushootseed ʔáčədà ‘an exclamation of mild surprise, often (but not always) about something that is unfortunate’. 

Anah! Anah!” [8] — This possibly reflect Lushootseed ʔənənaʔ ‘an exclamation of surprise’, but I imagine it’s mostly CW’s aná ‘exclamation of surprise; pain, sorrow, astonishment’. 

cold chuck (ice) [9] is a good old CW expression, kʰúl-chə́qw, which however isn’t documented in the Grand Ronde dictionary, so I thought I’d point out the difference. (They say q’ə́l-q’əl-tsə́qw, literally something like ‘hard-all over-water’, which I feel sure is historically influenced by the sound of kʰúl-chə́qw.)

“…ah-ah-up-up-ou-ou.” [10] This would seem to be sung non-word syllables, perhaps from a traditional Lushootseed story. Characters in such tellings often sing their most important line in the narrative. 


The story of the “alahs” carries a number of textual clues that its origin is indeed in traditional Lushootseed culture of the Seattle area, and that it was likely told to the Settler writer in the Lushootseed-influenced CW that was typical for that place.

What do you think?