1951 movie: The Painted Hills (Lassie’s Adventures in the Goldrush)

Did you know Lassie has a Chinuk Wawa connection?


Chief Yowlachie (Daniel Simmons), upper right (image credit: Wikipedia)

Most Americans my age and older are familiar with the old “Lassie” movies and TV series, starring a female Rough Collie dog who always seems to save the day for the wholesome and sincere White kid who owns her.

Lassie-franchise plot lines were necessarily pretty thin, because the star couldn’t communicate in human language. So there also exists a decades-long tradition of comedians mocking the dog star.

That’s where MST3K comes in…read on.

Released in 1951 by MGM, “The Painted Hills“, a.k.a. “Lassie’s Adventures in the Goldrush”, was based on a 1930 book, rereleased under a modified title in 1952.

Because known Chinook speaker Nipo T. Strongheart was the “Indian consultant” on the movie, I kind of doubt there was “Jargon” in the original book, and I’m not going to risk the $20+ to check 🙂 

(I’ll write a separate article about Strongheart.)

I did buy a cheap DVD of this movie for my Chinuk Wawa archive. However, the references below are to the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 version (episode 510) — because you can watch that for free online. Plus, the snarky voiceover comments have an extra layer of absurdity if you understand the CW lines.

I’ve transcribed the CW dialogue scene by scene for you, and it’s as fluent as we would expect from a Yakama tribal expert of his generation. To give you an idea of the various actors’ accents, I’m using fairly precise phonetic symbols here.

Scene: Lassie is acting sick when her owner is absent

29:05 (Mr. Bald Eagle) “kámuks wík-sík. líli yaka hílu nánich yaka tayí.[‘The dog’s healthy. She hasn’t seen her master in a long time.’] (The Indian kids translate this broadly into English.)

29:20 (Mr. Bald Eagle) “hayas-úlu, míməlus pus yaka hílu nánich Jonathan.” [‘(It’s) starving, going to die if she doesn’t see Jonathan (her owner).’] (Indian kids translate.)

29:35 (the White boy) “mási.” [‘Thank you.’]

29:39 (Red Wing) “ɬax̣áya.” [‘Goodbye.’]

Scene: The Indian kids find Lassie in pain by a stream

1:00:05 (Indian girl) “okók kamúks! yáka kə́pit [indistinct].” [‘This dog, she’s finished ___.’]

(Red Wing) “yáka wéyk memalús! nəsáyka ískum yáka kópa Chákchak, háyɛk!” [‘She’s not dead! We’ll take her to Mr. Bald Eagle, right away!’]

1:00:50 (Red Wing, to his horses) “háyɛk!” [‘Hurry!’]

1:01:14 (Red Wing) “Chákchak! Chákchak!” … “nsáka nánich ókok kamúks, háyas sík, mámuk cháko kopa máyka.” [‘Mr. Bald Eagle, Mr. Bald Eagle!’ … ‘We saw this dog, really sick, (and) brought (it) to you.’]

1:01:38 (Mr. Bald Eagle) “ískam yaka tayí! ɬátwa ískam kəpa yaka tayí, típso; (ís)kam stík, wík-léyli yaka míməlus pus yáka hílu nánich yaka tayí, ayáq, ayáq, ayáq!” [‘Get her owner! (And) get her owner some grass; get* branches, she’ll die soon if she doesn’t see her owner, hurry, hurry, hurry!’] — The grass and branches seem to be for bedding for Lassie and to build a campfire, but this isn’t translated and those actions aren’t shown.

Scene: Indian ‘healing ceremony’ for Lassie by a campfire

1:02:00 (deep-voiced Indian man, apparently praying) “[indistinct] táyi, [indistinct] ɬúuush ílɪhɪ” [‘___ chief (God?), ___ good earth’]

1:02:46 (White kid) “mási.” [‘Thank you.’]

(deep-voiced man) “mamuk-ɬɛ́twa koba mayka háws. wík-líli yaka ɬúsh!” [‘Take (it) (the dog) to your house. Soon she’ll be okay!’] 


The character of Mr. Bald Eagle, the Indian veterinarian, is played by a Puyallup/Yakama actor, Chief Yowlachie; as a Washington Indian the same age as Strongheart, he likely grew up hearing plenty of Chinuk Wawa, and his accent is pretty much the best among the cast. 

A recurring feature in the CW here that’s not expected is the use of the “silent it” (null) pronoun in reference to the dog. As fluent as the rest of the Jargon is here, I can only guess that Strongheart’s CW was rusty and influenced by English, this many years after he would’ve been hearing it daily back home. 

What do you think?