1853-56: Two brothers’ diaries (Part 1 of 2)

Patterson Fletcher Luark (1814-1901), formerly of Illinois, spoke Chinook Jargon, you betcha.


(Image credit: Oregon-California Trails Association)

He and his brother Michael Fleenen Luark (1818-1901) emigrated to the Pacific Northwest in 1853, arriving in the Olympia area of brand-new Washington Territory by September. This ranks these brothers among the first thousand or so Euro-American Settlers in modern Washington State. Patterson’s family eventually moved to Chehalis Point in modern Westport on Grays Harbor in 1858, and stayed put.

(Westport is where the traditional village of T’sx̣íl’s (‘Sandy Point’) was located, from which we got the name of the river that lets out there, and the inhabitants: the Lower “Chehalis” Salish.)

We are fortunate enough to have access to both brothers’ diaries, preserved at the University of Washington. Part of these have been published as a book that’s unfortunately out of print. But they also have been more fully transcribed, and closely examined, in a 2007 Indiana University thesis (Master of Library Studies) by Rita F. Jablon, “Early Settlement in Washington Territory: the Diaries of Patterson F. Luark and Michael F. Luark, 1853-1856“, which is a freely viewable PDF. 

It looks as if younger brother Michael knew and used more Jargon than Patterson did, although much of what we find of it in his diary is in an English-language matrix, rather than consisting of entire CW phrases. Michael’s greater CW use might be explained by his living alone for much of the time covered by the diaries, and thus having perhaps less interaction with English speakers, and more dependence on and interaction with Indians, few of whom are known to have spoken English well at the time. (For instance, on July 20, 1855, an Indian friend of Michael’s “has made some curious little disclosures with reference to some of our finest American Ladies in this part of the country” — gossip that probably happened in Jargon.)

Patterson, on the other hand, had his English-speaking family with him. 

I’ll just show you in chronological order some things that the brothers wrote that are of interest for us Chinookers. The CW of their time and place is a kind of “missing link”. It was a recent import of the lower Columbia River’s creolized speech. And, as settlement expanded, it formed the nucleus of the later, pidgin, northern dialect of Jargon. 


September 4, 1853: In the vicinity of Monticello (Longview), Washington, Michael observes “the finale of a [drunken] spree amongst the Indians”, or, he corrects himself, between a “Sandwich Islander” (Hawai’ian) and a “renegade Scotchman” and their Indian wives, typical ethnic compositions for lower Columbia households at this era. All 4 can be assumed to have spoken Chinuk Wawa, although the newly arrived Luark brothers likely didn’t understand much of it yet. Michael’s initial characterization of the group as “Indians” may have to do with the language they were speaking! 

September 26: Patterson buys flour from the well-known Métis fur-trade veteran “Permondo” (Simon Plamondon), and camps on < Lacamas > Prairie, a nice early occurrence of the creolized CW lakamás ‘camas’. Other local “French men” are mentioned throughout the diaries, as are a large percentage of the known important early Washingtonians. 

On September 28 Michael visits what I take as Cowlitz Landing, observing that this Métis community was formerly a thriving settlement of HBC retirees but is now plagued by alcholism. On the same day Patterson mentions camping near the < Scookumchuck > River near modern-day Centralia-Chehalis. “Skookumchuck” (skúkum tsə́qw ‘strong water’ = ‘rapids’ or perhaps even ‘waterfall’) was the original name of Centralia. 

Patterson describes a location “on the north side of Bushes Prarie [George Bush’s land] not far from < Tumwater >” (tə́mwáta ‘waterfall’) near Olympia on October 7. Bush is the famously generous half-African American settler of that place. 

Mentioned on October 8 by Michael is a now less-known place name from the French Canadians’ influence, the local Deschutes River — I imagine it’s a synonym for < Tumwater >. 

On December 14 Michael mentions < Scoocumbay“on Hammersleys Inlet”. 


By January 6th, just 4 months after arriving in the Territory, Michael is slangily saying he “fell in with some of the < Tyees > returning from Cowlitz where they have been to the first Democratic [Party] Territorial Convention”. (táyí ‘chief, leader’) 

On January 17 Michael refers to someone, perhaps an entire Indian community that his party visited during the day, “the < Siwash >”. (sáwásh ‘Indian’)

On January 19, his entry says “I staid [stayed] but did not work on account of the cold[,] want of logs and hands for the mills[,] and < muck a muck > in the ____” [I.e. that last bit is a word or words illegible to Jablon, who also did not notice that < muck a muck > is Jargon (mə́kʰmək ‘food’); I wonder if the last word was also CW]. January 21 has a recurrence of this Jargon word. I also notice that “Muck” looks to be a Settler nickname for the Muckleshoot River, in Michael’s entry for October 2, 1885!

Not directly language-related, but illustrative of the continuing reliance by Settlers on Native people (who thus had less incentive to learn English than to use the more familiarly Indigenous language, Chinuk Wawa, with them), is a January 28 note by Michael that he has built a cupboard from “some old indian boards”, perhaps salvaged from a traditional longhouse, much as he obtains a canoe from an Indian grave island (míməlust-íliʔi ‘dead(.person)-place’) on April 27. Another example of reliance on Native people is Michael’s April 10 resort to hanging up Indian mats in his dwelling to reduce the effects of a rainy wind; on April 16, he buys more of these from Indians. Encounters with Indians such as April 3’s hiring of two Indians and a canoe, and April 28’s Indian prostitution, can be presumed to have happened in Jargon. 

Another local place name, < Scoocum > Creek, is mentioned on February 24 by Michael. 

Michael notes on April 5 the former HBC/Puget Sound Agricultural Company farm at Nisqually as being now occupied by “french and Indians”. This was another Métis [but no longer Red River colonist] community where Chinuk Wawa was spoken.

(Most of the Red River folks had already quickly departed for Oregon settlements in the Willamette Valley, such as French Prairie. However, on October 12, 1855, Michael notes a conversation with a Mr. “Pierceall an Indian [sic] brought here by the Hudson Bay Co many years ago [circa 1840] from the French settlement on the Red river of the north and having now a Clickatat [Klickitat Sahaptin] wife”. On October 16, 1855, Michael clarifies that this “Piershell” is a “French halfbreed” living at “the Boisfort” (Boistfort).)

To be continued in Part 2!

What do you think?