Chief Louis Clexlixqen and BC’s French of the Mountains

Quite a late issue of Kamloops Wawa (October 1905, Number 215) has no Chinuk Wawa in it, but its handwritten (mimeographed) French contents tell us something remarkable about frontier-era BC.

With the final issue of 1904, the “Chinook paper” became more of a French and English paper. It continued telling us really interesting stuff, like this message to a relative of Father Le Jeune’s whom Louis had met in France the year before.

This is an apparent dictation in British Columbia’s under-documented fur-trade “French of the Mountains”. I’ll give my best try at an English translation that reflects how nonstandard Louis’s wording is (but some of it I think has been standardized by Le Jeune):





Louis a un mot à dire à Madam Jeanne Louis de Pleybert. = “Aye pas peur va. L’hiver passé, y a pas de
‘Louis has a word to say to Madame Jeanne Louis of Pleybert. = “Hey, no fear go. Last winter, there’s no’

neige. Pas capable pour tuer un ours. L’ours n’est pas venu par ce qu’il y a pas de neige. Et puis, tu
‘snow. Not able for kill a bear. The bear didn’t come because there’s no snow. And then, you’

sais, pas capable tuer l’ours avant l’hiver, et sa peau à cette heure pas bonne du tout; parait comme
‘know, not able kill the bear before winter, and his skin at this time not good at all; looks like’

la peau d’un cochon.

Mais attends un peu, tout à l’heure, l’hiver, il y a la neige en masse. Alors mon neveu il tue l’ours et
‘But wait a little, just now, the winter, there’s snow a lot. Then my nephew he kills the bear and’

on va t’y envoyer la peau.
‘we’ll send you the skin there.’

Moi j’ s’ presque aveugle pas capable pour voir l’ours pour le tuer. Mais mon neveu attend. Y va faire
‘Me I’m almost blind not able for seeing the bear to kill him. But my nephew is waiting. He’s gonna do’

ça comme il faut.
‘this right.’

Moi mon nom Louis 
‘Me my name Louis,’

Mon grand père Hlich-hlih-ken.[“]
‘My grandfather Hlich-hlih-ken.’

I detect no reason to think that the above was spoken in Chinuk Wawa or Secwepemctsín Salish. Le Jeune seems to be putting effort into depicting Louis’s way of talking just the way folks wrote Métis and uneducated canadien speech in that era.

And French of the Mountains, as far as I’ve figured out in 20 years of sporadic research on it, was very heavily influenced by the Métis French working language of the Hudsons Bay Company.

I should give an acknowledgment to my colleague Stéphane Goyette for his having suggested that there may be traces of the elusive FOTM quietly lurking in the pages of Kamloops Wawa. I think that guess may be proving true, and we may be learning more than we used to know about this additional contact language of historic BC.

(FOTM was rarely spoken of in its own right; we almost always hear fur-trade folks reported, preposterously, as generic “Frenchmen” speaking generic “French”!)

What do you think?