Erskine and “Nes Persy”

I had read of a White kid who spent a goodly part of his childhood in the household of Nez Perce chief Joseph…

And in a recently published history book, I’ve found some Chinuk Wawa connections to that historical anecdote of the Colville Indian Reservation in northern Washington state.

That Portland, Oregon boy was Erskine Wood I (1879-1983), pictured here:

erskine wood

Here is that Chinook-speaking boy (image source: findagrave)

He was the son of well-known Indian fighter and advocate (!), radical lawyer, friend of Mark Twain and fellow author, Charles Erskine Scott Wood (1852-1944), later to be portrayed by actor Sam Elliott in “I Will Fight No More Forever”.

The following introduction to chief Joseph took place in the summer of 1892, so Erskine was about 13 years old, and capable of writing vivid and detailed letters home:


…In what the boy would describe as a “somewhat deep and magnetic voice,” the chief said in Chinook Jargon that “his heart was sick.”…

Here’s a little more:


…With Nicky Mowitz [Mowich ‘deer’?], Erskine would fish for trout…He tried talking with as many people as he could. Soon his Chinook Jargon was “as good as anybody,” and he started picking up what he called “Nes Persy.” “Whenever I learn a Nes Persy word I write it down,” he wrote his mother, “and think that is…lots of fun.”

His friend may have been known by a Jargon name mawich, and Erskine learned to talk good CW from the Nez Perces, who he knew by the then current pronunciation that we see reflected in Grand Ronde CW nipərsi.

Apparently there are a couple more references to Chinuk Wawa in this book:



— from “Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard, and the Nez Perce War” by Daniel J. Sharfstein (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2017)

What do you think?