Circa 1852: A “Pioneer Experience” to back-translate

This happened on an Oregon Settler homestead claim near Cape Horn, below the Cascades of the Columbia River.

It is indeed told in racist language.

I’ll spare you much of that, just presenting the section that’s relevant to Chinuk Wawa.

What we have here is the narrator’s reminiscence of an apparently genuine CW dialogue with an intruder into her cabin, with the Native person’s half rendered in pidgin-style English.

This is just begging for a “back-translation” into the original Chinook Jargon.



I had always known it was better not to show fear to an animal, especially if that animal were an Indian, so I asked him in the best Chinook at my command what he wanted, and he answered, after a grunt, “Me want tobacco.” “I have none,” I answered. Deliberately he took a few puffs from his pipe, then said “Me want money.” Again I returned the same answer, and after a longer pause and more puffs he spoke, saying, “Me want firewater.” …


Then he drew a long hunting knife from his belt and said threateningly, “You gi’ me tobacco, you gi’ me money, you gi’ me firewater or me memiluse [kill] you.” …


…I uttered a piercing scream. He evidently heard the echo or or thought some one might be near, for he walked quickly out, sprang on his horse and, as a parting warning said, “Me come back by’m by, no Boston man here — you see.”

— from page 159 of “Pioneer Experience” by “Philophe”, in The Coast (Wilhelm’s Magazine) XII(3):159-160 (March 1907)

qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? What do you think?