More clues in Franchère 1820

I’ve long owned a copy of Gabriel Franchère’s memoir of life at Fort Astoria (Pacific Fur Co.) in the early 1810s…

lac des loups marins

Lac des Loups-Marins, Québec (image credit: Wikipedia)

But my copy is the later English translation by his great-grandson Hoyt C. Franchère, published as “Adventure at Astoria, 1810-1814“. (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.)

It’s been interesting to get into the French-language original lately, because in it there are useful clues to the history of Chinuk Wawa, many of which you wouldn’t twig to in the English.

Gabriel Franchère, incidentally, is reported by Ross Cox 1831:208 as having such great skill in “the Chinook language”, obviously Chinuk Wawa, that “Mr. McTavish made him handsome offers to join the North-west Company”. So I’m keen to pay attention to what he tells us. 

Today I’ll refer to both editions. 

An example of information found in the French original that may tell us something we want to find out is Franchère’s spellings of names in Hawai’i. We see Ohahou on page 42, and Ohèhy on page 43. Like the typical English and Chinuk Wawa versions of these (Oahu, Hawaii; wáhu, wáyhi), these lack any indication of their original Polynesian pronunciations with glottal stops (O’ahu, Hawai’i). And this may support my recent claim that these particular words in CW are more sensibly traceable to English (and French) than to the Hawai’ian language as spoken by the Kanaka workers in the Pacific Northwest. 

French page 56 compares Hawai’ian houses to “our Canadian barns” — granges — a good example of how common this French-Canadian noun was, which gave us CW laklásh. (Which is not in most Chinuk Wawa dictionaries, but it certainly appears as a loan in various Indigenous languages near old Fort Vancouver, indicating that it’s Jargon.)

Another fine corroboration of a CW word is Franchère’s frequentloups-marins(literally ‘marine wolves’) for ‘seals’ (the sea animals; mentioned on French pages 28, 29, 87, 96, 132). The frequency of this word in Canadian French backs up Horatio Hale’s 1841 Ft. Vancouver-area recording (published 1846) of < lu-marán >. Also of note in my view is that Quebecker Franchère appears not to use the synoyms loup de mer or phoque.

English page 45 is one of the author’s first mentions of the Chinook Indians, “whom, besides, we may not have understood perfectly”. From the evidence, I take it that these Canadian and American traders, just arrived at the Columbia River from Hawai’i a couple days previous, and with no advance information on the linguistic situation out here, were communicating with the Chinooks mainly by signs (gestures) and whatever English words the locals already knew. (Lewis and Clark 4 years before had documented the latter.) But the Astorians must already have been picking up identifiably Indigenous-sourced pidginized words, both from Nootka Jargon and from Chinookan. (L&C also documented these.)  

The traders meet an old blind man called Soto, locally considered to be White, who says his Spanish father was among those shipwrecked in Clatsop country years ago. This would make the Spanish the first to “discover” the Columbia River! “Old” at the time often meant say 50 years old, dating his father’s arrival to circa 1760 or earlier. (English page 51.) We have to wonder how Soto conveyed this information, as his dad left this country when Soto was quite young. Did the son know some Spanish, and could his presumable terminology “español” be understood by the French Canadians present (compare Fr. “espagnol”? How else would he know a word for ‘Spanish’, an ethnicity with virtually no presence in the region at this time? 

English page 53 / French page 90: two strangers dressed like the tribes east of the Rockies are encountered at Tongue Point (on the lower Columbia), with whom the fur traders can communicate only in Cree, which these messengers from Spokan(e) country barely comprehend.

On English page 56, we find “a large assembly of Indians from the neighborhood of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Gray’s Harbor” at Baker’s Bay in Lower Chinookan territory on the Columbia River, sturgeon-fishing. The former might be Makahs, if not the geographically closer Quileute-speakers or Quinault Salish. To be frank, I’d suppose Quinaults would have more relatives here, and as neighbors of the Chehalis, would have an easier time communicating in this mixed Lower Chinookan and Lower Chehalis Salish-speaking area. We have to keep in mind still that the Astorian fur traders didn’t yet know much of any language to communicate with Indians, and were probably told only that these folks had come from a few bays (or days’ travel) northward. In any case, the Gray’s Harbor people are explicitly identified by Franchere as being “called Chehalis” (“Tchikélis” on French page 94). 

English page 57: “On August 11 a large number of Chinooks brought us a strange Indian who had, they said, something of interest to tell us. This savage told us, in effect, that he and ten of his tribe had been led off by a Captain Ayres to hunt seals on the islands of Sir Francis Drake’s Bay…” (This bay in California?) This man and his compatriots eventually made their way (back) north, it seems trying to reach the Columbia River area. He “…knew several English words”, as would many Indians of the lower Columbia. “He told us also that he had been at the Russian trading post at Chitka [Sitka], on the California coast, in the Sandwich Islands [Hawai’i], and in China.”

Many further implicit traces are present of at least some shared communicative medium; here are a few examples, with my added emphasis:

  • English page 60’s “…the natives of the vicinity told us they had seen the marks of shoes on the sand in that neighborhood.”
  • Page 61’s “We soon met a canoe of natives who told us that the runaways had been taken prisoner by the chief of a tribe dwelling upon the banks of the Willamette River, whom they called Cathlamets.”
  • Page 63’s “These natives, believing us to be lost, so reported us to Mr. McDougall, who was overcome with joy and surprise at seeing us once more.”
  • Page 97’s “An Indian and his wife who had accompanied us advised us to make one of the chiefs our prisoner.”

An incident very important to Chinuk Wawa history — the origin of our word píltən ‘crazy’, on page 67 (English; page 15 French): “In this area they also came upon a young American who was deranged, but who had some lucid moments. The young man told them, during one of his clearer intervals, that he was from Connecticut and that his name was Archibald Petton [Pelton].” (Brackets are Hoyt Franchere’s.) It would be a good little history research project to dig through records back East and learn more of Pelton’s life story. The word píltən is one of the very few I know of in the world that comes from people’s direct expreience of a single named individual! 

English pages 80 and following relate the destruction of the Tonquin at Nootka, as told by a Gray’s Harbor Chehalis Salish man who witnessed it. A footnote specifies that the lengthy and expressive telling that we read here is embellished from his limited stock of words intelligible to the Euro-Americans, which he augmented by signs and gestures. Thus, again we see that the Astorians hadn’t yet developed much linguistic skill at dealing with Indigenous people out here — and, I surmise, more proof that CW was in its infancy in 1811. 

A tantalizing passage from English page 98: “…we thought it our duty to conform to the custom of the country and give them the remainder of our goods to pay for or, according to their expression, “to cover the bodies” of their two compatriots.” I wonder if this is a custom specifically of the lower Columbia, or if it’s something the fur traders knew from experiences back East. If it’s a PNW thing, could it have been known to these guys in CW — something like “mamuk-ípsət ɬaska íɬwəli“? 

French page 185 mentions in passing the < Haïqua >, which English page 111 calls “white shells…which are a kind of coin of the Indian realm”. This is our CW háykʰwa

Another important word is < outhélekane >, ‘candlefish’ (eulachon), on English page 113 / French 188. 

Of course I’ve skipped over the parts of this book that don’t have to do with the Pacific Northwest, but Franchère was a good writer and an excellent observer of Native life, showing fewer than usual of the racist prejudices of his time. 

What do you think?