Why Granville Stuart’s Chinuk Wawa was Grand Ronde-ish

When I’ve previously written about Montana settler Granville Stuart’s CW vocabulary, I’ve mused about how surprisingly Grand Ronde-like it is.


(Image credit: Amazon)

So far, all I’d found out previously was that Stuart had participated in the “Rogue River War” of 1855, in southwest Oregon Territory, prior to moving to a part of Idaho Territory that soon became Montana Territory.

Now I’ve come across a book-length biography of this energetic and intelligent (and sometimes Native-hating) pioneer. 

“As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart” was written by Clyde A. Milner II and Carol A. O’Connor (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2009).

The section of this book that tells us more about Stuart’s years in Chinook Jargon-speaking regions is like the average Western town along a highway — blink and you’ll miss it.

Pages 33-38 do, though, present us with useful clues that I hadn’t had access to before this.

The essentials are these:

  • Granville and his brother James Stuart were in the Klamath River region in mid-1854, prospecting for gold.
  • One man in their group had a Shasta (Chasta Costa)-tribe wife. That’s one of the tribes who wound up forcibly relocated to the new Grand Ronde reservation far to the north. 
  • The brothers participated, although peripherally, in the Rogue River Indian War in 1855.
  • In 1856 they were back out there prospecting. Granville stayed on their mining claim when another war, now with the Modocs, started.
  • James and Granville headed east in mid-1857, winding up in western Montana.

So, for about 3 years, Granville was on the southern edge of the Chinuk Wawa zone. It doesn’t sound like he would have had extensive personal interactions with Native people, although he would’ve known folks who did. 

I want to put forth an idea that the excellent Grand Ronde-influenced Jargon vocabulary in Granville Stuart’s “Montana As It Is” could have something to do with someone like Ben Wright, who Stuart admired enormously. Wright had come to Oregon in 1847 with future Indian Agent Joel Palmer, who wrote a popular memoir that included a Chinook Jargon word list. Palmer appointed Wright as a Sub-Agent for southern Oregon. I’m thinking Wright knew excellent Jargon, and may have made a handwritten lexicon of it, as so many other pioneers did. 

If not Wright, then someone else having similarly extensive experience with Oregon Native people could easily have provided Stuart with the superb Chinuk Wawa that wound up in his book. These were peak years for Oregon Trail emigration, and virtually all Settlers had to learn CW to make survival easier for the first several years of their residence as a minority among Indigenous people in this region. 

At any rate, I believe the crucial factor is the simple fact that Granville Stuart spent 3 years among people who knew the thriving early-creolized Chinook Jargon that was still the norm everywhere people spoke the language. Milner & O’Connor’s biography specifies that he’s known to have gone on to be fascinated with learning languages, including French — maybe he was himself already keeping notes on CW?

All of this is somewhat tentative and speculative — but Stuart’s published lexicon is so compelling that it deserves more investigation.

Bonus fact:

This is my great excuse to share a sketch of early Missoula, Montana with you. If you know the place, this is pretty recognizable still: 


(Image credit: Helena Independent Record)

What do you think?
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