1887: Willoughby on “Quinaielt” life

The first thing to say about C[harles L.] Willoughby’s [1832-1888] brief ethnography, “Indians of the Quinaielt Agency, Washington Territory” is…

…the first thing that he himself says in it. And that’s this:


…in effect:

The biggest ethnolinguistic group on the Quinault rez in 1887 was Lower Chehalis Salish speakers! “Ayhut” (Oyhut, úyxat ‘the path’ in CW), Chehalis (that era’s name for Westport), Humptulip[s], “Hoquiano” (Hoquiam), Montesano, Georgetown (Shoalwater Bay), and perhaps Satsop as a borderline case, all hail from ɬəw’ál’məš (Lower Chehalis) country — the co-homeland, along with Lower Chinookan territory, of Chinook Jargon.

No wonder there’s such a tremendous amount of Chinuk Wawa in the 1971 Quinault dictionary!

(Before I move on, may I specify that the Hohs would more likely be considered non-Salish, as their traditional language is a variety of the unrelated Quileute.)

Here Willoughby, a PNW coast pioneer of the early 1860s, documents a fascinating moment in frontier-era life, when Indigenous people on the newish Quinault Indian Reservation, established by a treaty of 1855, continued in most of their ancient ways of doing things, but with introduced Euro-American ways modifying those customs.


Need I point out, the author has that weird mix of White prejudices and accurate powers of observation that we so often grapple with in the historical record of our region. On the positive side of the scale, he even includes excellent illustrations of Quinault life, which I’m making a point of showing to you today for their high informational value.

Most of these illustrations can be suspected of being intentionally “posed” by Willoughby; the people in them are dressed in strictly traditional ways, whereas 1880s Washington Indians in non-ethnographic photos wear acculturated dresses, pants, coats, hats, etc.


Some of the illustrations here may have informed Hillary Stewart (whose niece participated in our first Chinook Wawa Gathering, in 1998) in the making of her superb reference books on PNW Indigenous technology; the following image reminds me of something straight from her pages:


A medicine man or “doctor” (CW dákta) called Sammy owns a few carved wooden images used i.n his curing practice; he refers to these, too, in CW as “doctors” (page 278). It’s an indication of the greater level of communication in CW than in either English or Quinault that Willoughby reports these images are called “se-guan, meaning a mole” in Quinault. That’s in fact identifiably an ancient Coast Salish word for a ‘curing spiritual power’! The confusion came up because Willoughby was told that these spirit board travel through the ground to do their work, and from the description of their appearance, they may have been images of moles.

A description is given of the experience that made Sammy a dákta. He “saw spirits and < tamanaws > (images) ‘and their little bones were rattling.’ Sammy had power given him by the < Soccali Tyee > Bird (the ruling bird spirit)…” Now, CW t’əmánəwas is more usually understood as a ‘spiritual power’, and sáx̣ali-táyí (‘above-chief’) is ‘God’ or ‘Creator’! Maybe in fact Sammy told Willoughby it was a bird spirit that had originally empowered him; maybe he meant the Thunderbird, an entity we have few ways of speaking of in CW. A myth of the < Soccali Tyee > Bird, also referred to as just < Soccali Tyee >, is related in a pretty close transcription of someone’s pidgin-looking English (pages 279-280), with quite a few indications of significant CW influence. The same is true of the following “A Story of Men and Animals”.

There’s not much more of direct Jargon interest in Willoughby’s article, but I find the above thought-provoking. We have little other documentation of CW use in Quinault country.

What do you think?