1895: “The Siwash” (part 2 of 2)

Continuing to the end of this surprisingly interesting book…


An additional related CW term that we hadn’t known before is described on pages 41-42:

The Skal-lal-a-toot [seemingly a loan into Twana from the well-known Dxʷləšucid (Lushootseed Salish) word sqəlálitut ‘spirit power’; see the 1994 Bates, Hess, & Hilbert dictionary for a list of known types of it] was a name applied, it seems, to the stick ta-mahn-a-wis [stík-t’əmánəwas ‘forestt’əmánəwas‘], or spirits of the woods which are accredited with the power to change people into toads, birds, beasts, etc., and keep them as long as they like, or until they see fit to return them to their proper form.

bowl and spoon

page 47

Part of this book’s quirky charm is its sensitive use of language, both CW and English. From page 51 I learned the very rare word “infatuous”, seemingly meaning ‘senseless; foolish’!

Chapter XIV “Their Daily Existence” is typical of its time — Euro-Americans were fascinated with Indian antiquity, but simultaneously went to great lengths to insult Native people’s present-day lifeways. Their perceived inferiority of personal appearance is attributed to their constant use of the “canim” (kəním, ‘(Indian) canoe’)!

siwash canim

“Building Siwash Canim”, page 63

In passing, on page 65, a phrase “the salmon canim” is used for the type of canoe reserved for fishing; I wonder if that was a commonly recognized term, sámən-kəním

Local trader / Indian agent / Settler William Deshaw is quoted on page 67, with an idiosyncratic and maybe Salish-influenced form of the slang word kibosh: “That put a squibosh on the whole business.” I’ve found just one other occurrence of “squibosh” in print, and it’s from the same era and carries a similar sense of a party-pooper.

On page 72 we see a use of a clearly CW phrase, “stick-siwashes” (stík-sáwásh) as a loan into Settler English; here it looks to have its literal CW meaning (‘forest Indians’ i.e. primitive tribes) rather than its conventional meaning within the Jargon (‘dangerous forest beings ~ Sasquatch’) :

Our Indians have not advanced far enough yet for their myths to contain any of these lofty ideals and refined sentiments which crept into the poetic legends of Greece, neither have they any conception of infinite power. But nevertheless the performances of their Demi-gods, with that queer mixture of power and weakness, and our “stick-siwashes” bear a striking resemblance.

The subject and title of Chapter XX, “The Stick-Pan“, is yet another previously unresearched Chinuk Wawa term, as page 77 informs us: 

Stick-pan” is the Chinook name of a shallow wooden tray upon which the Puget Sound Indians served their food in their days of savagry [savagery].


Now, “pan” is new to us within CW, but it makes sense as a period-appropriate new loan from spoken English in the Puget Sound area, where, typical of the later-vintage, northern dialect of Jargon, many older words including some for household vessels had been lost. The above pasage from a Settler telling of a Snohomish Coyote tale is “Ya-ka de-late klosh stick-pan” … “Mi si-ka hi-as tick-kee o-coke.” That is, “yaka dléyt ɬúsh stík-pán” … “msayka hayas-tíki úkuk”, which the author leaves more or less untranslated. (It means “He [sic] is a really good tray” … “You folks desire it”, with typical Settler CW yaka for an inanimate thing — although in this instance, the tray is something that Coyote has transformed himself into!) 😀 

I should say that there are further occurrences of CW in this book, but I’m not reproducing them here, as they don’t supply new information for us, and they don’t seem to represent anyone’s natural spontaneous speech in the language. A related point — several Indigenous legends are reproduced in the text, attributed to named individuals who almost certainly told them to the author and/or his friends in Chinuk Wawa, but little or none of their CW is shown to us. 


Mask Used to Appease Crying Children — Old-Man-House Tribe (page 83)

Pages 106-107 relate a Setter’s memory of a CW conversation with a Native leader in the Seattle area:



This “De-late mi-ka cum-tux”dlé(y)t mayka kə́mtəks = ‘You really knew!’

Page 107 also quotes Sealth’s daughter Angeline speaking in CW when shown a painting of her dad:


…i.e. nayka pápá hayas-ɬúsh = ‘my father is/looks very good’. That “utch-i-dah” is Lushootseed and it’s an exclamation we’ve seen from other sources in Seattle-area CW. 

Besides printing or reprinting material from pioneer friends of his, including from James G. Swan’s famous 1857 book, Costello pads his book with anecdotes from the minutes of Puget Sound treaty sessions. These are from the published minutes. A lot of the PNW is surveyed, from the Washington Coast up to Kodiak Island in Alaska. 

One such borrowed anecdote (evidently from the Protestant missionary Rev. J.L. Gould, who was an acquaintance of the good younger CW speaker GIlbert McLeod of southeast Alaska) is this one of a Haida woman’s concept of large numbers — 

300 years

page 143

Mrs. Schooltka’s CW answer when asked how long she had lived with her husband is reported, with the usual atrocious punctuation of Jargon published by Whites, as “Klo-nass, ni-ka ha-lo, cum-tux; nika tum-tum klone hundred years(t’ɬúnas(,) nayka hílu kə́mtəks, nayka tə́mtəm ɬún hə́ndrəd yírs). Costello makes this mean “that she was not sure, but thought she had lived with him about 300 years.” I have a different take — ‘I reckon I don’t know; I suppose 30 years.’ I think this because (A) Chinuk Wawa was a second language for this woman, and it was never extremely commonly used by Haidas; (B) the sentence contains the common British Columbia expressions t’ɬúnas (as a discourse marker ‘I reckon’) and ‘hundred’ and ‘years’, both newly borrowed from English in a rapidly changing speech economy; and (C) it’s a known fact that numbers above about 5 in CW tend to be squishy, with folks often confusing e.g. 6 & 8, 100 & 1000, etc. So I feel pretty sure she had the non-ridiculous quantity ’30’ in mind. 

The supposed eyewitness account from an unnamed “early missionary” of a potlatch involving human sacrifice and devil worship strikes me as bullshit (page 146). I’ll not quote its stagey-sounding Jargon dialogue. Like a later piece in the book on the “Legend of the Crucifixion” (Chapter XLI), it comes from the pen of the nationally popular YA writer, Hezekiah Butterworth (1839-1905), who at some point traveled in the late-frontier PNW and published one of his “Zig-Zag Journeys” books on it in 1890.


” ‘Kla-how-ya’ — How are You”, page 157

Page 162 adds to our store of PNW doggerel poetry that involves Chinook words. This piece, “Indians in the Hop Fields”, is as racist as usual in the late 19th century, involving for example the hateful turn of phrase “his ughly [sic] klootchman“. Did I mention I want to do live readings (and a podcast) of all that cruddy poesy, with maybe an airhorn blasting every time the author says something reprehensible?

What do you think?