Pre-1917: Ka-mi-akin, Last Hero of the Yakamas, part 2 of 2

Returning to A.J. Splawn’s excellent 1917 book now…

On page 239 an African-American Settler in north-central Washington named Antoine, virtually certain to be a Jargon speaker (“he could talk the language of almost every tribe of the Northwest”), is blamed for some trouble between Natives and Settlers:

239 negro Antoine

PERHAPS the earliest known occurrence of “Stick Indian” referring to supernatural forest beings (and some of the clearest evidence that it’s from a CW stík-sháwásh) is on page 249 in an obviously Jargon 1869 conversation with an old Indian named Mowit while Splawn is recreationally camping at “the stream known as Salmon-le-Sac” (‘Salmon bag’, presumably ‘fish creel’; nowadays most widely known as an exit from I-90). I’m fascinated that this Sahaptin man addresses the chief of the Stick Indians by what appears to be a Salish personal name, Tal-le-lasket: 

249 stick indian

“Tal-le-lasket, nica Mowit chaco lolo schwe-yap-po, kopa okoke illahee. Wake mika cultus
kopa nesika”

Tal-le-lasket, nayka Mowit cháku lúlu shuyápu kʰupa úkuk ílihi. wík mayka kʰə́ltəs
kʰupa nsayka.

DDR: ‘Tal-le-lasket, I’m Mowit, coming bringing a white man into this country. Don’t be troublesome
to us.’
Splawn: ‘I, Mowit, come bringing a white man into this country. Don’t do us any harm.’

Again the Lower Columbia-style verb negator wik is used. You’ll notice the occurrence of the Sahaptin word for ‘white man’ in this CW; I’ve found a number of other Sahaptinisms documented in this area’s Jargon.

Splawn makes a great deal of use of this phrase “Stick Indian” throughout this book, which may imply that it was already current in his 1860s heyday. On the other hand, publication didn’t come until 1917, and it’s conceivable that he added this phrase that much later. I infer from other information that it was current by that time; my Salish teacher, born 1925, used this English expression routinely.

An extremely notable figure in CW history, Father Louis-Napoleon St. Onge, is noted on pages 262 and 328 as having re-established the Catholic mission in 1867 that had been burned by American volunteer soldiers in the 1855 Indian war. It’s also of interest that a number of French-Canadian settlers of this time in the Walla Walla region are named.

Splawn much later runs into a fellow old-timer, Alkali Dan, whose politically incorrect resentment of the newer Settler “Chechaquos” is voiced on page 289 (with the CW-to-English loan of chxí cháku ‘just now came here’) :

289 alkali dan

An 1870 race by Splawn’s horse is won with an unusual tactic (page 299), whipping both its rider and the animal and hollering “Clat-a-wa” (ɬátwa) ‘go’:

299 racing

Circa 1872, storekeeper Splawn accepts a big order for liquor from some cowboys intent on a bender (page 300), but gets them to take it down the road a bit. His Native employee At-wine (Antoine) reports on whether they are still alive, and here too we see the invariable use of yaka for either singular or plural third persons:

300 pight

“Yes, but yock-a-hi-yu-pight” … “hi-yu-moo-sum
yaka hayu-páyt … hayu-músum
3rd.person Progressive-fight … Progressive-sleep
DDR: ”they are fighting … sleeping’
Splawn: ‘they are fighting … having a big sleep’

Page 340 introduces an early frontier encounter, circa 1853, between Yakamas and some White surveyors referred to as “el-li-mas (white men)”, which is CW x̣lúyma ‘different, strange; stranger(s)’; one of these was able to talk CW with the Yakamas:

340 shuluskin

The next page tells how Splawn got to know his brother’s friend Shuluskin in 1861 by talking Chinook with him:


Page 379 tells of the first Settler wagons through the Yakima Valley, in 1853; none of these people could talk Chinook Jargon, it’s specified. This is typical; most Whites arrived knowing nothing of local speech out here, but quickly learned CJ.

A photo of a big game of ithlecum is found on page 400:


Page 407 describes the basics of the Sahaptin language’s numeral system pretty accurately, but it’s remarkable that a Chinuk Wawa word creeps in:

407 numbers

This “potum-penox” for ’11’ would be pútimt ku náx̣sh in normal Sahaptin, but Splawn has ku ‘and’ explicitly replaced by Chinuk Wawa pi, giving us a hybrid between CW táɬlam pi íxt and Sahaptin; both mean literally ’10 and 1′.

In telling a traditional Sahaptian story, page 418 mentions “ko-ho-ho (the ancient Indian football game)”. Also known in English as ‘shinny’, this game is qʰohoho in the Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary. Its occurrence in Splawn strikes me as a remarkable find, as I haven’t run into the 3-syllable form of it in other old documents, which tend to call it something like coho.

Page 420 gives as an apparent Sahaptin term for Stick Indians Elequas Tein, apparently what the Umatilla dictionary shows as ílukas ‘wood, firewood, stick’ + a form of tiya ‘pushing, crowding’ — thus a probable source of the local English ‘stick-showers’ for Bigfoot, who is said to poke sticks into people’s tents.

Page 426 brings another legend told partly by CW words, “mit-whit” (mítxwit ‘stand (still)’) ‘stop!’ and “Kloochman” (ɬúchmən) ‘the woman’, a name of a mountain:


…as does page 428 with its “deleet-an-cut-ta” (dlít ánqati) ‘really long ago’…


We’ve learned quite a good deal of useful information from this well-written, well-observed memoir.

What do you think?