1849-1852: The Nisqually journals and a PNW source of kabréys

There’s one major discovery that leaps out at me from this extensive, sometimes overlooked document of fur-trade days…

This is “The Nisqually Journal”, kept for years by whoever was in charge of the Hudsons Bay Company’s Fort Nisqually at the “top” (south end) of Puget Sound in Washington.

I encourage anyone who considers themself a researcher type to read the whole enormous thing, as published (links below) and even more of it in the archive. There’s so much here, including names and doings of individual Salish people (and at least one Yakama, Slugomas Koquilton), Hawai’ians, French-Canadians, Red River immigrants, missionary priests, HBC officials, etc., some Cowlitz and Lushootseed Salish place-names that might not be indexed elsewhere, events at Victoria and aboard visiting vessels, and so on.

I feel I hardly need to say this, but virtually every one of these people whose names we already knew — is known to have been a good Chinuk Wawa speaker. Fort Nisqually was a very important place indeed for the stage of CW history between the Fort Vancouver creolization and the rapid expansion north via Puget Sound into modern British Columbia. 

Okay, here’s my tally of the published portions of the Nisqually Journal…

Part [1] (pub. 1919) Washington Historical Quarterly 10(3):205-230 (July 1919)

  • page 228 (September 1, 1849) — “News of the Snowqualmies coming & making a settlement with the Bostons for the affair of 1st May last.” I.e. with the Americans, who are consistently distinguished from the “Englishmen” in this journal. 
  • page 229: “Cowlitz Jack…reports of having seen the Victoria runaways at the ‘Skokoom Chuck[‘] on their way to Cowlitz [Farms], they were provided with horses.” See below for more about this CW place name. 

Part [2] (“The Nizqually Journal”) WHQ 11(1):59-65 (January 1920)

Part [3] WHQ 11(2):136-149 (April 1920) 

Part [3] WHQ 11(4):294-302 (October 1920)  

Part [4] WHQ 12(1):68-70 (January 1921) 

Part [5] WHQ 12(2):137-148 (April 1921)

  • page 139: September 23, 1850: “Jollibois, Trudelle, Cowie & Indians Squally & Mousa-mous reroofing Store on beach.” This would seem to be a Chinuk Wawa name — we see them sometimes on the frontier — músmus ‘cattle; cow’.
  • 141: October 10, 1850: “A man of the name of ‘Godon,’ a halfbreed arrived here with ‘Cush’ on Tuesday from Victoria, he says that he had leave from Mr. [James] Douglas to come here but we can not vouch for the truth of what he says, he is making Cabrasses &c.” This is one of the newly found1 local pieces of evidence for CW kabreys; see below. 

Part [6] WHQ 13(2):131-141 (April 1922)

Part [7] WHQ 13(3):225-232 (July 1922)

Part [8] WHQ 13(4):293-299 (October 1922)

Part [AA] WHQ 14(2):145-148 (April 1923)

Part [CC] WHQ 14(3):223-234 (July 1923) — this installment contains nice examples of how folks locally used English “stick”, referring to wood that was cut to build stables and to make axe handles — an influence on Chinuk Wawa stík ‘wood, tree, stick’

Part  [xx] WHQ 14(4):299-306 (October 1923) 

Part [DD] WHQ 15(1):63-66 (January 1924)

Part [EE] WHQ 15(2):126-143 (April 1924) 

  • Page 135: May 24, 1852 — “Bill & Wyamoch out Cabassing Oxen, brought home one.” A footnote links this verb with two other points in the Journal, one that says “cutting hides for cabraces“. These are further local links with CW kabréys! I point these out because as of the time when the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of Chinuk Wawa was being put together, we hadn’t known of any Pacific Northwest use of this word. It’s a Canadian/Métis French term, said to have been borrowed from North American Spanish. 

Part XYX WHQ 15(3):215-226 (July 1924)

Part ASDF WHQ 15(4):289-298 (October 1924)

  • Page 292 “Leggs two (Betsy and Cendre) kept in for Wagon & Cart work.” This second horse name may be Cendré, the same North American French word that gave us Chinuk Wawa’s sándeli for a particular color of horse. 
  • Page 293 “McPhail and the sheep are reported to be near the Skookum Tsuck, 15 dead.” (This is a tributary of the Chehalis River.) Here’s a very nice old confirmation that folks indeed pronounced the Jargon word for ‘water’ as tsə́qw in the general lower Columbia River region. 

These are just a few highlights that grabbed my attention as I scanned through the Nisqually Journals. While there isn’t a great deal of Chinook in there, this is a rich document of a CW-speaking work and social environment. If I were going to make a movie of what daily life was like in the Jargon-speaking world, I’d base it on a close reading of these documents.

Plus, it’s wonderful to find a Northwest example for the etymology of kabreys!

Bonus fact: I’ve long wondered just exactly what a kabreys is. The Grand Ronde Dictionary defines this word as a ‘rawhide lariat strap’. This sounds, to my city ears, like a rawhide rope. When I google the cowboy Spanish word “cabestro”, I get lots of images of halters, the equipment you place around your animal’s muzzle. (Yes, I’m thinking in terms of dogs, because I have so little horse experience!) When I google the French “cabresse”, I find images of Caribbean brands of rum. Huh. But switching over to a text search, I found a nice article specifically about the Métis people of Canada, which defines this word as follows, and I suspect this ‘lasso’ (rope) is the excellent match with GR’s sense that we’d hope for:


This definition of “cabresse” is backed up by another good source that I found. By the way, the Grand Ronde pronunciation with /ey/ strikes me as matching the Michif-French pronunciations in the St. Laurent (Manitoba) community dictionary…

What do you think?