El Comancho’s Washington, DC newspaper column on Chinook Jargon (6 of 6)

siawash puzzle

The “Boys and Girls Page” also has this puzzle that’s stumping me

Today, a “Comancho Campfire Stories” installment that includes some possibly real Jargon —

— “possibly real”, because W.S. “El Comancho” Phillips spun tall tales mighty handily —

and leads us to a couple of new discoveries.

What a satisfying way to wind up this mini-series!

Following today’s article & my comments on it, see some more Comancho Quinault Chinooking.






THE Siawash [1] are the fish-eating Indians of
our Northwest Coast, living west of the
Cascade Mountains and north of the mouth of
the Columbia River. They are great water
men, and almost live in their canoes, which
they make by hewing out cedar logs.

One Fall when the salmon were beginning
to run up the streams to their spawning bids,
Chi-sask-tl, an old Siawash, told me he was
going up the river “te isku mhiyu pish mamook
smoke,” [2] which meant that he was going to
smoke his Winter supply of salmon, as all
Siawash Indians did then. We talked it over in
Chinook, and this parley ended in my going

The fishing ground was several miles up the
swift Quinault River, where a long, roaring
rapid held the fish back. They were very
plentiful at the foot of the rapid, and could
be caught with the double-pronged wooden
spears and the dip nets woven of tough fibers
of hemlock roots, which the Siawash were ex-
perts at making.

The upstream voyage was made by poling
the cedar canoe against the current, a job that
seemed easy for two husky Slawashes, although
the current was swift. When it ran too fast to
pole the boat, a tow line was attached and man
power on shore furnished the pull.

WHEN we reached the fishing ground the
Indians put up bark camps and soon we
weie very comfortably fixed. Then they made
smoke houses to smoke the fish in. These were
made of bark, with a fireplace in the center,
where maple chips could be made to burn in a
slow smoky lire that soon cured the fish.

Then the fishing began, every man picking
his place where the eddies below the rapid
brought the big salmon within easy reach.
Chl-sask-tl furnished me with a spear, and I
soon found a good stand on α big boulder by a
deep eddy, where hundreds of salmon just
waited to be caught.

Perhaps I got a bit excited. Besides, I did
not then know how deceptive clear, icy water
can be. So I made a great thrust at a fine,
big salmon, and down I went after my spear,
head first into the water. And it was coming
out of melting snow banks just a few miles up
the river!

Did you ever dive unexpectedly into 10 feet
of icy water? Woo! I thought I’d freeze before
I could swim ashore. And how those Indians
did laugh at me! If any one tells you that
Indians never laugh, don’t you believe it, for
those Siawash laughed for a week every time
they saw me. But I didn’t mind the kidding, or
the nickname of “man who fishes with his
hands” that stuck to me among Chi-sask-tl’s
people as long as I knew them.

BEFORE long we had all the dried fish we
could carry, and started back down the
river loaded nearly to the gunwales. It was a 
joy to watch the Indians handle those heavily
loaded little log boats as we shot the numerous

About halfway to the river mouth there was
a short, deep, shallow rapid. Here a small
canoe in charge of two young men struck a
boulder and turned over, and canoe, Indians
and fish, all mixed up, went whirling down
stream. Below the rapid the young men hauled
their boat ashore, dumped the water out, and
went calmly to work spearing the now very
wet “dried” fish that had sunk to the bottom
of the quiet pool below the rapid. So the cargo
was not lost, as the water soon dried off the
oily fish, and we went on to Chi-sask-tl’s camp,
with the rest laughing at the luckless
young men.

— from the Washington (DC) Evening Star of January 13, 1935, page 14, columns 3 and 4


First note: [1] This spelling < siawash > is rare in the Chinuk Wawa literature itself, and El Comancho practically owns the copyright on it there. It strikes me as sort of a compromise between the traditional Jargon pronunciation sáwásh (‘Indian(s)’) and the English-language-orthography-influenced [sáywàsh]. What I mean by that complex modifier is that frontier-era Americans, influenced by their home dialects or [dá:lèkts] of English, some of which merged /ay/ and /á/, had a tendency to write Indigenous-language /á/ with the letter < i >. ) < Siawash > also shows up in various popular articles and books around the turn of the century, including this Alaskan snapshot of Ahtna or Eyak kids, who likely understood some Chinuk Wawa:

copper river siawash kids

(Image credit: page 367 of “Alaska” in Locomotive Engineers’ Monthly Journal 37(6):359-371)

There’s some chance that < Siawash > is a previously undocumented Alaskan English dialect pronunciation of this Jargon loanword. The fact that we find it from a not-very-literate Seattle barmaid / union official in 1905 doesn’t put holes in this idea, as Puget Sound and Alaska were closely linked by trade and travel at that era. I additionally find it, for instance, in this 1904 FIeld and Stream article about the Tlingits of Sitka unionizing to get year-round deer-hunting rights.

(Bonus track: the amazing alt-country band Souled American singing “Field and Stream“.)

For a little more of Comancho’s Quinault-related CW writing, see his “About a Quinault Paddle” in Forest and Stream of January 3, 1914, pages 10-11.

And here, from Comancho in 1897 (datelined Latona, Washington, on Puget Sound), is a possible previously undocumented Chinuk Wawa term for the traditional herring rake — the Siawash fish comb” (písh-kʰúm)

fish comb

Second note: “…Chi-sask-tl, an old Siawash, told me he was going up the river “te isku mhiyu pish mamook smoke,” [2] which meant that he was going to smoke his Winter supply of salmon, as all Siawash Indians did then.” The CW quotation here says “to ískam háyú písh(,) mamuk-smúk”. We can safely cut out the English infinitive-marker to. This leaves us literally ‘get lotsa fish(,) make-smoke’, two clauses of good Jargon. It may be an accurate recording of what this man said in northern-dialect Jargon; the lack of a conjunction pi between clauses seems a bit more “Indian” than Settler in style, and he appears to use the fluent CW “silent it” object pronoun at the end.

What do you think?