Sixes, Oregon: a triple play, Dene to CW to English
Well yes, I do get some of my linguistic information from the press releases of brewing companies…
(Image credit: TownMapUSA.com)
And I found this one worth considering.
Medicine Hat (Alberta) Brewing has announced a new beer, their Bussmann Cranberry Sour. Their copy writer tells us:
Before the Bussmann family started growing cranberries in Sixes, OR, named in Chinook Jargon for the word “friend,” this prized fruit was known as a common delicacy that indigenous people shared with explorers throughout North America.
This is news to me.
I’ve known of the town of Sixes for decades, but had never connected it with Chinuk Wawa shíksh ‘friend’ — popularly written as < sikhs >, < six >, and so on in older Settler-oriented documents.
To referee this point, I turned yet again to a book I’ve never seen, Lewis A. & Lewis L. McArthur’s “Oregon Geographic Names” — as cited in Wikipedia. (The copy I’ve ordered hasn’t arrived in the mail quite yet.) The info there is:
Hodge’s Handbook of American Indians says that one of the variants of the name of the local tribe, the Kwatami (a subdivision of the Tututni), was “Sik-ses-tene“, which is said to mean “people by the far north country”. Though this is most likely the real source of the name, the spelling “Sixes” was probably used by miners drawn to the Oregon gold rush who were familiar with the Chinook word “sikhs“. The current spelling was used as early as 1855, and Sixes’ post office was established in 1888.
The Kwatami name of the place looks genuinely Athabaskan; its ending < tene > is recognizably a cognate with Diné ‘people’, the Navajo name for themselves.
And I find it reasonably plausible that early White newcomers to this part of southwest Oregon picked up (only) enough Tututni to know its meaning — so that they could parse out, with the help of the CW that was certainly spoken in that setting, what might seem to mean ‘friends people’.
My research hasn’t turned up anything contradictory to the story as told above. So “Sixes” looks to be a place name Anglicized from a Chinuk Wawa folk etymology of a Dene word!