Pre-1917: Ka-mi-akin, the Last Hero of the Yakimas (part 1 of 2)

Click to access kamiakinlasthero00spla.pdf

A classic of Washington territorial literature by Andrew Jackson “Jack” Splawn (1845-1917).

splawn for governor

(Image source: Yakima Herald)

Good news — this book isn’t only about Chief Kamiakin; it’s mostly Splawn’s perceptive notes on the early settlement era in south-central Washington. The author, an early Willamette Valley immigrant from the Midwest, was a rancher and cattle drover, so he also traveled around BC, Idaho, and Oregon quite a lot.

There are lots of Sahaptin words and names in this book, as well as Chinuk Wawa, nearly all of it meticulously translated by the author.

The Jargon material tends to be spelled in ways differing from popular published CW dictionaries, so we can infer that this is from Splawn’s own knowledge of the “Jargon”.

The book starts with a fictional reconstruction of aboriginal times, told with the help of CW. Page 2 “I will consult my tam-ma-na-was (guiding spirit)…” Page 5 “…lem-e-ies (old squaws)…papooses…The pipe was filled and lighted by the e-li-tee or slave…” Page 6 “…with a necklace of haiqua shells…” Page 10 “…ithel-le-cum, the ancient bone game…”

Page 17 tells of the 1847 arrival among the Yakamas of the requested Oblate Catholic missionaries Eugene Casimir Chirouse (“the older”) and Pasc(h)al Richard, themselves important in the history of documented Chinuk Wawa.

Page 43 tells a novel wrinkle in the story of the 1855-1856 war against the USA, that supposedly it was Mormons from Utah who supplied the Oregon Territory Indians with the weapons to fight the White government! This claim relies on interpreter Captain BF Shaw’s testimony.

Page 47 mentions a ” ‘siskiyou‘ (bob-tail) horse”, never a common word as far as we know, so it’s probably borrowed from a published source. Splawn shows he was familiar with Northwest literature at the time of writing.

Page 51, referring to Native fighters’ reaction to a US Army “big gun” (howitzer, as I recall) in the war: “They were sure that the ‘big medicine’ gun was an evil spirit.” Sounds like translations from Jargon?

One excellent thing that the author does is to interview Lo-kout, formerly “Loolowcan”, the Jargon-speaking man who guided author Theodore Winthrop (“The Canoe and the Saddle”, 1863) through the Cascade Mountains and the Yakama region. He shows up on 127 and several more times. On this page he describes Winthrop, whose prose famously drips racism, as “me-satch-ee”, ‘mean’.

Pages 129ff — the author tells of meeting (as a small boy) the HBC’s factor John McLoughlin in 1852, and of traveling as a teenager in 1860 from his family’s homestead at Brownsville in Linn County, Oregon, visiting the settlements of French Prairie and meeting major historical figures there such as Etienne Lucier, Louis Shangarette, and Michel La Framboise, known in the genealogies of Grand Ronde families.

Page 135 has an encounter with a Klickitat Indian man who is filling his pipe with “kin-ne-kin-nick” (presumably bearberry leaves) and tobacco.

On page 136 we see the Chinuk Wawa name of the Cascades (falls) of the Columbia River: Tumwater.

Is the Sahaptin place name “Moo-sum-pah” on page 137, where the author lived for a year in 1860-1861, a borrowing from CW músum ‘sleep’, with the Sahaptin suffix for ‘at — thus ‘sleeping place’? I see no similar word in the Umatilla or Ichishkíin dictionaries other than músmustsin ‘cattle, cow; buffalo’. (That’s the distinctly Sahaptian form of the word we know as Chinuk Wawa’s músmus ‘cattle, cow, etc.’, and there’s some chance it’s a secondhand loan, CW to Salish [with those languages’ suffix for ‘mouth; eat’] to Sahaptian.) This early in the frontier era of Klickitat County, Washington, I wonder if “Moo-sum-pah” was something like a Sahaptian people’s reanalysis from the Jargon, calling this area that Splawn says already had numerous farms ‘at the cows / the cow place’? Pages 137-138 are where Splawn says he did not yet know CW at this time, but he resolved to learn it fast when he met a pretty Native girl called Lal-looh “Sparkling Water” (my dictionaries say this is Sahaptin lúʔ lúʔ ‘sparkling’) who tried to talk to him in it and shared cooked camas and dried venison with him! (Note: Splawn later named his daughter Lallooh.)

Splawn also meets, at this point in his narrative, an old Klickitat man Squim-kin, who remembers meeting Lewis and Clark as well as the slightly later overland Astorian expedition led by Wilson Price Hunt.

Page 143 introduces someone with what may be a Chinook Jargon name, Stick (‘forest’) Jo, who carried the mail every other week for the US government between Fort Sim-co-e and The Dalles.

Splawn mentions his “tough and wiry roan horse, Clatawa” on page 144. This CW name means ‘go!’

An Native man’s quite fluent sentence in CW is quoted on page 145 (I see the same passage repeated on page 149 due to a printer’s error):


Yock-a charko quash pe clat-a-wa copa Dalles.
yaka chaku-k’wash pi ɬátwa kʰupa Dalles.
3rd.person become-afraid and go to Dalles.

DDR: ‘They got scared and went to The Dalles.’
Splawn: ‘They (had) got frightened and gone to The Dalles.’

What is so cool about this utterance is that the man uses yaka for plural ‘they’, which we often see in Native people’s and northern-dialect CW. Also he calls The Dalles “Dalles”, exhibiting the normal CW treatment of loanwords from local spoken English by stripping away the definite article!

Not a linguistic point but entertaining — Splawn notes Ferguson county, WA was created on January 12, 1863, and abolished on January 12, 1865, being replaced by Yakima County 😀

A bit later on, Splawn and a friend are rescued from Indian attack in north-central Washington by the famous Chief Moses, whose words are quoted in English but who almost certainly spoke them in Jargon. Splawn by this time had learned the language well; he must also have used it with Chief Tonasket in the area of the Canadian border. All of these events are part of Splawn’s trip to the Cariboo of BC, where he also encounters “Spanish” packers, that is, Mexicans.

In that region, near “Lytten” (Lytton), young Splawn gets acquainted (page 171) with a Mr. Sanford, “better known as ‘Boston‘ ” (presumably ‘American’; there were tons and tons of US citizens in British Columbia at the time).

I notice that Splawn keeps referring to Cache Creek as “Cash” Creek, a sensible interpretation since there was a gold rush going on.

We learn from page 172 a bunch of CW personal names…

At the main camp of packers down the creek [from Splawn and his friends] the social season was on. Squaw dances became the rage, at which the elite in full dress held high jinks. This particular set consisted of Skookum [‘strong; excellent’] Dan and Cultus [‘no-good’] Liz, Tenas [‘Little’] George with Klat-a-wa [‘go’] Kate, Mam-ma-loose [‘kill; dead’] Jim and Hi-u [‘plenty’] Jane, with several others, who would trip the light fantastic toe to the music of tin pans beaten by relays of the strongest natives they could find. 

In an 1863 anecdote in the Moxee, WA area, Splawn encounters some Indians who tell him to “Hi-ack” (‘hurry’) to get out of the cold weather.

Another acquaintance made in the Cariboo is with an Irish immigrant called Oregon Jack (pages 204ff), who I guess is the person whose name is still on the map of BC.

Page 213 is another encounter with a now overtly Jargon-speaking Chief Moses, in 1864: 


“Wake pooh, nika cultus he-he … Mika skookum tum tum(,) ancutta nika nanich mika
copa We-nat-sha.”
wík p’ú, nayka kʰə́ltəs híhi … mayka skúkum-tə́mtəm(,) ánqati nayka nánich mayka
kʰupa Wináchey.

Splawn: ‘Don’t shoot. I was only joking. … You are brave. I saw you before
at Wenatchee.’

A couple of neat features of this fluent Chinuk Wawa both indicate that central Washington Indians’ CW had lots in common with the Lower Columbia southern-dialect speech centered on old Fort Vancouver: (1) verb negation by wík (rather than hílu); (2) use of kʰə́ltəs (‘useless(ly)’) to express ‘only’ (rather than kʰəpít (‘finish’)).

Pages 213-214 tell how Splawn’s cattle-drive party tried recruiting Native helpers using CW, being refused with “Halo” (‘No’, hílu) :

213 214

Page 218 has the author confronting some Nez Perces in Idaho in 1865 with a Jargon command “Clat-a-wa” (‘go’) :


These men reappear soon after, quoted in English but apparently talking CW.

Page 235 referring to 1867, mentions “We-i-pah, the salmon man of the tribe” — perhaps quoting the (previously unknown) CW term for the traditional “salmon chief” of a Native community! The latter phrase occurs on page 403.

During an 1868 cattle drive northward, on page 238, on the Wenatchee River of north-central Washington Territory, we have a local Salish man’s quoted Chinuk Wawa threat to Splawn & company, and their taunting retort:

238 wenatchee

“Wake le-le-clip [SIC] sun, cupit okoke sunmika [SIC] nanich — okoke polikely mika memaloose.”
wík-líli t’ɬíp-sán, kʰəpít úkuk sán mayka nánich — úkuk púlakʰli mayka míməlus.
not-long.time sink-sun, only this day you see — this night you die.
DDR: ‘Soon it’ll be sundown, you’ll see just this day — tonight you’ll die.’
Splawn: ‘In a short time the sun will be down. This is the last sun you will see. Tonight you die.”

[SIC] Kock-wa Speel-yi. Pe komox mika tum-tum. Klosh mika killapi. Kah kloochman mitlite. Mika quas-copa sullox.”
mayka wáwa kákwa Spílyay(,) pi kʰámuksh mayka tə́mtəm. ɬúsh mayka k’ílapay qʰá(x̣) ɬúchmən míɬayt. mayka k’wás kʰupa sáliks.
you talk like Spilyay, and dog-heart. good you return where woman be.located. you afraid from fighting.
DDR: ‘You talk like Spílyay, and are dog-hearted. You should go back where the women are. You’re afraid of fighting.’
Splawn: ‘You talk like the coyote and a dog’s heart you have. It is well you go back where the women are. You are afraid to fight.’

I have a number of comments there.

(1) Is “clip sun” (t’ɬíp-sán) ‘sunset’ a noun? Looking in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary’s translation of this expression, that’s what I infer.

(2) Using “cupit” (kʰəpít) ‘only’ here is a neat contribution to the always tricky question of how to express ‘the last one, the final one’.

(3) “Speel-yi” is the Sahaptian myth-character Coyote, a legendary screwup, among his other traits.

(4) “Komox” (kʰámuksh) ‘dog’ is a perennially reliable insult in CW. I would have expected, though, the word order *“komox tum-tum mika”* *(kʰámuksh-tə́mtəm mayka)*, because it’s rare for a fluent speaker to break up a “tum-tum” expression of someone’s mental character with an intervening pronoun.

(5) By including a preposition “copa” in the final insult, Splawn is treating “sullox” as a noun, which is a use not recorded in the Grand Ronde dictionary; I’ll want to keep eyes out for any confirmation of this. Had he said “quass (s)pose sullox” (k’wás pus sáliks) ‘afraid to fight’, this would be clearly the usual verbal use of that word.

More neat finds to come in part 2!

What do you think?