Stumanu (“William Brooks”), 1819?-1839: An early CW speaker

A “Chinook” fella born before Fort Vancouver was founded gives every indication of having spoken good Chinuk Wawa.


“ a Flathead boy”, posing in a Tlingit blanket (image credit: “A Native among the Headhunters”, page 257)

I’m talking about Stumanu / Stummanu / William Brooks, 1819?-1839. Known in his lifetime as a “Chenook”, he’s thought to have been born and raised at Qíqʼayaqilxam / Kwatsámts, ‘middle town’, the prominent mixed Lower Chinookan-Salish village at Baker Bay on the far lower Columbia River. In fact, that was at virtually the identical location as the also-Salish-named village of Chinook.

Despite the indeterminacies caused by spelling it in early 1800s English, Stumanu’s Indian name has the appearance of being Salish. Given his birthplace, we’d expect it to be specifically Lower Chehalis, something like:

  • Using known Lower Chehalis morphemes, a very good match:
    • S-təmə́n’əxʷ
      Noun-[a male personal name known without the “s-“; a.k.a. “/túni/ John”, son of a woman Kʷətə́y’təm’š who had Salish and Chinookan blood and mostly spoke Lower Chehalis, acquaintance of Emma Luscier per EL’s 1940s info to JP Harrington]. This name should have some literal meaning, but it’s not yet evident to me.
  • Alternatively, his name could be a Diminutive. Using known Lower Cowlitz morphemes, giving a word-form that we haven’t previously seen documented —
    • s-t’amín-uʔ
    • s-təmán'(a)-uʔ
    • s-tamán-uʔ
  • Or using known Upper Chehalis morphemes, likewise giving technically hypothetical forms —
    • s-t’əm-án(‘)-uʔ
    • s-tum-án(‘)-uʔ                        / s-tó:m-an(‘)-uʔ
      Noun-short-ear-Diminutive / Noun-short(Diminutive)-ear-Diminutive

Anyway, the fact that this young man was from the premier early-contact “Chinook” village suggests that he spoke not just Lower Chehalis and/or Lower Chinookan, but also the Chinuk Wawa that that village played a big role in creating, which was already beginning to “creolize” into a family language in that area.

Twice orphaned and with few family members left due to the “intermittent fever” (kʰúl-sík-wám-sík) epidemics, Stumanu and his younger brother and sister first went to get advice from Fort Vancouver’s chief factor John McLoughlin, then went to Rev. Jason Lee’s newly established Methodist mission on the Willamette River (NW Oregon) in 1835 seeking help.

Establishing himself as hardworking and useful to the missionaries, and now baptized “William Brooks”, he went along on a fundraising tour of the USA, i.e. back East. Traveling with Brooks and Rev. Lee were another Native boy called Thomas Adams, and three mixed-race sons of Fort Hall HBC employee William McKay. It’s very likely that such a group shared Chinuk Wawa as well as whatever amount of English each knew.

In the winter of 1838-1839, Lee and Brooks traveled the East Coast, speaking to fascinated crowds and raising money. It’s said that Brooks became more fluent in English on this trip — again, a point that supports the idea that that wasn’t a main language for him previously. Popular among the White Christian audiences he addressed, Brooks at first talked to them “in his native language”, which pretty clearly means the Jargon, as Rev. Lee was able to interpret that language. (But not Chehalis or Chinookan, though we have some interesting evidence that the Oregon Methodist missionaries were trying to use a kind of foreigner-talk Chinookan in their churches.)

Brooks’s first English-language public speech was on December 31, 1838, about midway through his series of appearances. Rev. Lee “expected a failure” that day, but the audience loved the young man’s words and manner. An example of the English that he spoke follows:


page 261 of “A Native among the Headhunters”

He’s colored man — he belongs to our Church. He can’t read, he can’t see nothing, but he sees Jesus Christ. Children, you say that old blind man, colored man, miserable — but he be very happy. O, I love that old man, because he love Jesus Christ.

Now, it’s virtually unthinkable that the respected and educated Rev. Lee taught Brooks to say the informal “can’t see nothing”, but it surely resembles CW hílu yaka nánich! I’m curious also about this “you say…”, which possibly reflects a typical Lower Columbia River Indian accent that pronounces /i/ as [ei] — in other words, Brooks may have been saying “you see…” here!

Here’s more:


page 262 of “A Native among the Headhunters”

All people have his fashion. The Chinese make little his foot. Indian make flat his head. You make small here.’ [gesturing at the waist]

Brooks’s consistent “his” here matches what I often find among Indigenous speakers of CW, for whom the generic 3rd-person pronoun is yaka, even in reference to indefinite animate plurals. (Specification of ‘they’ as ɬaska is optional for such speakers, and is limited to situations where specification of precise referents is needed.) Also Jargon-sounding is Brooks’s expression “make little/small”, odd in English but a perfect reflection of normal CW munk-tunus; likewise, a hitherto unknown CW *munk-ɬə́q’əɬ*, literally ‘make-flat’, would be instantly understood as a grammatical Causative verb, ‘flatten’.

A further Chinuk Wawa point comes up in Stumanu’s East Coast visit. He reunited in Philadelphia in early 1839 with ornithologist JK “kə́ləkələ-táyí” (‘bird-chief’) Townsend, the two having made each other’s acquaintance when the CW-speaking Townsend was researching in Chinook country. Surely there was Jargon conversation to be had!

There are also these two quotes of Brooks:


page 48 of “William Brooks, Chinook Publicist”

Great many ministers, when he ask me, ‘You got everything good in your country?’ I tell him, ‘No, sir.’ He ask me, ‘You got plenty good houses in your country?’ I say, ‘No, sir.’ Then he say, ‘I not go in your country.’ Now I don’t call that Christian at all; I say, ‘You stay home, sir.’

One thing, my friends, I must have put in papers … that no more these Americans carry rum in my country, spoil all Indians. He make it himself, he must drink it himself, these Yankees.’

There again you see the generic yaka (literally ‘he’) for ‘they’. And in early-creolized CW, the first question quoted would be msayka míɬayt kánawi-íkta ɬúsh kʰapa msayka ílihi?, again a normal way to talk in Jargon although odd in English.

Further Jargonisms here are packed into ‘carry rum in my country’, cf. lúlu lám kʰapa nayka ílihí. The word lúlu is equally ‘bring’ and ‘carry’. CW lám ‘rum’ is the generic CW word for ‘alcohol’ due to the nautical-English influence in the PNW, but it retained its more specific meaning in East Coast English. And the use of ‘in’ rather than ‘to’ or ‘into’ reflects a greater familiarity with CW’s one generic preposition than with the many nuanced ones in English.

This is one of those instances where we have essentially no direct documentation of someone’s Chinuk Wawa — and yet we’re able to assemble numerous clues to see that this person indeed spoke it fluently from childhood to the day he died.

All information above regarding Stumanu comes from two very good article-length studies of Stumanu:

A Native among the Headhunters” by Ann Fabian, Princeton University Library Chronicle 62(2):252-270 (Winter 2006).

William Brooks, Chinook Publicist” by Claude E. Schaeffer, Oregon Historical Quarterly 64(1):41-54 (March 1963).

What do you think?