“Exploring the Olympic Mountains…1878-1890”

Settlers considered much of Washington state unexplored wilderness until pretty recently.


James Christie is second from left (image credit: My Northwest)

An excellent book provides us with a great deal of information on, and reports from, the Newcomers’ efforts to find out what was out there in the mountains that span the Olympic Peninsula, in the northwest corner of the northwest corner state.

This book is “Exploring the Olympic Mountains: Accounts of the Earliest Expeditions 1878-1890”, compiled by Carsten Lien (Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books, 2001).

The compiler points out (page 12) that this book was published before he could receive information on the explorations of Arthur Dodwell and Theodore F. Rixon, so it will be interesting to pursue historian Harry M. Majors’ research on them.

One great thing to know, which this book demonstrates really well, is that in the late 19th century, this corner of WA remained a frontier zone in the sense of cultural contact, too.

Thus, we find a fair deal of Chinook Jargon in these pages.

Page 22, in a newspaper report of the 1889-1890 Seattle Press Expedition, mentions: “According to the accounts of the Indians, the great Seatco, chief of all evil spirits, a giant who could trample whole war parties under his feet…became offended at them” (the long-ago Native people).

godevil 1

page 42

Pages 42 and following discuss that expedition’s construction of what they variously call a “travvis” (travois, a Métis term), a “snow-buggy”, a “go-devil”, and in 35-year-old Scottish-born member James H. Christie’s words a “carry-all”. This word seems likely to me to have come from exposure to French Canadian/Métis carriole ‘sleigh’; Christie is said to have been an experienced explorer of North America by the time of the expedition. This “go-devil” is humorously illustrated, as you see here.


page 43

Page 107 has the explorers camped on the Lower “Quinaiult” River — a spelling of Quinault that’s both typical of frontier times, and truer to the Salish name kʷínaył. “We arrived at Owyhut soon after dark.” This is the modern Oyhut or Oyehut, Chinuk Wawa úyxat ‘the path’, now a suburb of Ocean Shores, WA.

Among the ʔéʔɬx̣ʷaʔ people (Elwha S’Klallam Salish) on page 118, the cheechako newspaper reporter acting as the expedition’s narrator tells us:

Being unable to speak Chinook and the Indians[‘] English, being rather mixed, I could gain very little information beyond the fact that a short distance beyond the present camp they were utterly ignorant of the country, but that their fathers recollected that at one time one of the Quinaiult Indians had crossed the mountains and remained some time within the Clallams.

By 1889-1890, the S’Klallams were among the most confirmed frequent speakers of Chinuk Wawa north of the Columbia, largely due to their proximity to (Fort) Victoria just across the water on Vancouver Island.  And most Settlers who had been in western Washington longer than a couple years also spoke good “Jargon”. A shame that the reporter was so unusually ignorant; we could’ve wound up with some excellent information from a Native perspective.

My readers know that I take it as my duty to report any & all contact languages of the Northwest that I find in my research, and I have to tell you that on page 202 is an example of West Coast-style Chinese Pidgin English from the vicinity of Port Angeles, WA. A Chinese cook at a a sawmill seems to take the unexpected arrival of the Conrad/Olmstead Expedition’s explorers in 1890 as a visit by begging tramps, and he answers their request for food with “You got money? You pay?”

In the section on the (Judge James) Wickersham expeditions of 1889 and 1890, we learn that early North Bay / Case Inlet Settler (first name omitted) Sherwood’s “half breed sons have erected a white stone monument over his grave and there he lies alone in the wilderness, surrounded by fast decaying signs of his early efforts to bring civilization to the Indians while his family and troop of Indian “tilacums” have paddled away to another “illahee”. (Page 213) (tílixam ‘people’, ílihi / íliʔi ‘(living) place’)

Wickersham spoke good Chinook, and always took a keen interest in Native languages and cultures. So he alone gets a ride in Skokomish man’s canoe: “While we were gravely debating how to get six persons in the leaky boat capable of carrying only four, an Indian Canoe came in sight. Hailing him in Chinook, one of the loggers got him to come ashore and engaged passage for me in his canoe. We found another small leaky boat, our transportation being now assured we embarked — I with the Indian “canim” and the others divided between the other boats…The Indian canoe “canim” is the natural boat, long narrow and with elegant lines, it skims the water like a bird.” (Page 214) (kəním ‘canoe’)

Wickersham was prosperous enough that he owned a rare item, a Kodak camera, and he used that as well to document Native cultures. In the following passage we’re possibly seeing how cameras were spoken of in Jargon (either the English loan “box” or its older Chinook Jargon synonym lakʰaset):

In my lonesomeness I tried my gun on some ducks floating, apparently between sky and water at a considerable distance but without effect. “Bill” [the Skokomish canoeist] was greatly delighted at the “skookum” gun and the speed at which it operated…”Bill” assured me that the “Boston” who was rowing the boats behind us was “cultus” and could not paddle along with him. “Bills” bump of vanity was equal to that of a “Boston” and his praises had to be sung even if he had to do it. He told me great stories in his broken Chinook jargon and English and was considerably in importance when I took a photo of him at the beach at Union City. After charging two dollars for his services, he paddled off Skokomishward, a wiser and richer man by reason of his few hours ride with a “Boston man” who carried the myserious photo “box.” On parting with my siwash voyage[u]r, I went to the hotel…The [Skokomish] tribe now numbers some 100 people — a boat load of whom just now lie on the beach in front of the hotel and I get a picture of the boat and some of the “Klootchmen” or squaws. (Page 215) (skúkum ‘powerful; excellent’, bástən ‘American’, kʰə́ltəs ‘no-good’, bástən-mán ‘American man’, sáwásh ‘Native’, ɬúchmən ‘woman’)

Page 221 indirectly mentions the northern-dialect Chinook Jargon phrase “skookum chuck” (powerful water) for a tidal bore. This is in connection with the Olympic Peninsula town of Shelton, which “is situated on the elbow of the Big Skookum. “Skookum” in the Chinook jargon means strong; “Big Skookum,” then means the big strong which is to be applied to the force and speed of the tide rushing through this narrow place in its endeavor to seek its level.”

On page 239 Wickersham discusses the (unnamed) sister of the well-known frontier-era Klallam chief “The Duke of York”; she married a male Settler. “History does not record the details of the royal marriage — whether it was celebrated with pomp and ceremony by a “Boston le plet” [bástən-lipʰrét American preacher] in the house of some pioneer, or whether the bride stood, as usual, barefooted on the wet sands of Whulge [Puget Sound] as the tide was going out at even[ing] and amid the smells of fish, whale oil and blubber, and surrounded by the greasy tribes of Clallum, pledged her life, her strength and her royal honor to dig clams for her “Boston man” [American husband] until he should see fit to depart for “the states.” That is, Washington wasn’t yet part of the USA at the time.

There were a number of simultaneous expeditions through the Olympic Mountains, and on page 277 is a note from the report of one conducted by the US Army. About 7 miles up the Quinault River from “the agency” (Taholah), Lietenant Joseph P. O’Neil reports “We stopped over night at Ha Ha a Mally’s place; this place was occupied by Charley High as man[,] Chow Chow and Ha Ha a Mally, and their squaws and papooses.” (háyás(h) mán ‘big man, headman’)

On a later page (293), O’Neil notes again “We stopped that night at Ha-Ha Mallay’s Boston (white man’s like) house.”

A different member of O’Neil’s expedition, Frederic J. Church, notes on page 301 that in the Wynoochee and Wishkah Rivers area (Lower Chehalis Salish country), “The indians say “Hiyu Coal” in the Mts — but refuse to say where — 60 yrs. ago there was an indian village of 1,000 inhabitants on the Wynooche Whiskahl — that a medicine man got lost, became a bad Sewash & came & killed them all…” (háyú kʰól*; ‘coal’ is an often overlooked Chinuk Wawa word)

Bernard J. Bretherton also participated in the O’Neil expedition. On page 311 he discusses “the beach from Copalis Rocks to Oyhut…At 6 P.M. we reach the place designated as “Oyhut” which is really nothing but a sand road across the neck of land seperating Gray’s Harbor from the Ocean…”

James B. Hanmore and Harry Fisher, also members of O’Neil’s party, is thought to be repeating a report from the Oregonian newspaper of March 11, 1890, that one of the Seattle Press expeditioners in these mountains “had seen…Indians tipping the beam at 300# avoirdupois, [who] chased the buffalo & Elk, and whose mother tongue was as strange as it was unknown to all races.” Stick Indians? (Page 371)

A typically jocular reference for the time to Chinuk Wawa comes from these same men on page 374: “Jumbo was reported absent without leave, and one mule sick. Mr. Price and Fisher understanding the Chinook jargon and mule-ology repaired to the bushes and after a brief consultation administered a dose of Epsom Salts, and other medicaments that we could remember connected with unhappy hours in boy hood days.” This also repeats the persistent trope that animals understand Chinook!

Also from these two guys is page 419’s mention of traveling by a Native village near Lake Quinault. “As it was raining hard we merely passed the Kla how ya six, and passed on, anxious to reach our destination, which was the site of Quinault City, some three mile south, and across the N.E. corner of the lake.” (ɬax̣á(w)ya(m), shíksh ‘hello, friend’)

Further on in their report, page 423 mentions “One or two trails branched off at different points and sign boards were up upon which were written trail to Walker’s Hes’s, and Baungardener’s. Also one industrious man of the Siwash family had his sign on the trail opposite his ferry.” That “Baungardener” might very well be a relative of the later Lower Chehalis-speaking elder Nina Bumgarner.

Lastly, the same two fellas quote some actually spoken fluent Chinuk Wawa from Quinault tribal people. Page 449 tells us, “Formerly, they had been compelled to land their supplies at O-E-hut on Grays Harbor, transport them upon waggons or sail boats in favorable weather up the Ocean beach, to the mouth of the Queets, and pole up in canoes from that point…I prepared lunch upon the beach, and set out again. I had not gone far untill I heard in a loud voice Kar Mika Klatawa (Where are you going) (in Chinook jargon). Hyas Salt Chuck (To the Ocean) I replied before seeing my red friend. At this his canoe shot out from beneath the lapping boughs and he paddled over, asking me to ride. He was alone and with out gun and spear, in search of Muck a Muck (food) for the little ones at home. He was a Quinault Indian and spoke excellent Chinook, but no English of account…I had no fear for my safety, but all indians have a weakness for tenas guns, or revolvers, and I had rather loose six months pay than an Army revolver. We became talkative and exchanged names. Giving mine as Fisher, it was necessary then and there that we meet in the centre of the floating canoe and shake hands, as by coincidence his name too was Pisher, as he pronounced it. We were now staunch friends…” (qHá mayka ɬátwa? ‘where are you going?’, (Ø) háyás(h) sáltsəqw ‘(to) the big saltwater’, mə́kʰmək ‘food’, tənəs* gə́n-s* ‘little guns’)

Fisher & Hansmore relay in English some observations made by “Pisher” in Chinuk Wawa. (Back-translation, anyone?) This includes a novel theory that the Chinook salmon & the dog salmon are a single variety. Pisher/Fisher tells the explorers that “a fair sized stream came in from the west. This Fisher informed was Nellis Creek, and that ten Boston houses were located up the stream (meaning ten white families had taken up claims, erecting cabins)…He could not inform me why this was called Nellis Creek, [(]any more than that it was a siwash name) but I have since learned that a Mr Nellis was the first settler here…We soon arrived at his destination…I informed Fisher that I had no chickamin (Money) and made him some presents of fishing tackle, of which he was very proud.” (bástən háws ‘American homes’, sáwásh ním ‘Native name’, chíkʰəmin ‘money’)

The narrative continues from page 450 onto page 451: “Two of the men, Fisher and Charles Moses, understood Chinook, and Addie Moses, Charle’s sister about 13 years old, understood english having gone to school at the Quinault agencey, but from some cause she would not divulge the fact, and I did not become the wiser until later on. I informed them that I was a Washington man, and had come across the Olympics from Hoods Canal. They were surprised to learn that the Queets penetrated so far into the mountains and they called meskookum tum tum man (meaning brave heart) to cross those mountains alone…A paper was now presented me in which Charles Moses, a Quinault Indian, had declared his intention to sever tribal relations and file upon the tract of land that we now were upon — reading this translated in Chinook, also a note from Mr Hollenbeck pertaining to a business transaction, they admitted me and my story in good faith, and made much of me, much to my embarrassment.” (skúkum-tə́mtəm mán ‘strong-hearted man’)

Page 452: “A visitor appeared in the person of indian Dick…He spoke a little english, and good Chinook. He run an eating house at the mouth of the stream, and with his boats carried people to any point desired…A peculiar arrangement across the stream attracted my attention and upon asking the nature they mutely hung their heads, uttering the word Mem-a-loose in sadness. It was their cemetry [cemetery] of which they did not wish to speak…I had a long talk with the old man regarding the Olympic mountains, and he informed me through a Chinook interpreter that He was perhaps the oldest of the old, and that he had never visited the mountains, and that he was not aware of any one white, or red, that had ever crossed them at this point…Of ordinary size and speaking Chinook, taken in consideration with their many cultured customs of the white man, completely explodes the Press Parties mythical reports of the Olympic indians, and other strange sights reported in the Seattle press.” (‘eating house’ might be the expression we know from BC, mə́kʰmək-háws; míməlus(t) ‘dead people’)

And on page 453: “Charlies Kloochman, or his wife in our language, was cutting wood, a scene that I could never tolerate with my own people, and I relieved her of the task to the merriment of the male witnesses.” At the mouth of the Queets River, “it was…23 miles, to the O-E-Hut“.

sea otter derrick

A rare eyewitness image of a Quinault Native sea otter derrick (a hunter’s lookout platform), page 454

Page 455: “I crossed the Chopailis [Copalis] by wading and met Indians and whites hauling freight to Grigsbys store. Reaching O-E-hut, which is the Chinook name for a trail or road, I stopped at one of three houses upon the beach to make enquiries. They were half breeds and well fixed. There were none of the males at home, and the women folks spoke poor english, but very good Chinook. This trail or O-E-hut turned to the east, crossing Damons point, at about 5 miles above its Southern extremity.”

Additional spellings of things already mentioned come on page 465: Oehut and John Hyassman.

On page 466, apparently somewhere pretty far up the suddenly flooding Queets: “We camped here many days, hoping that McGinty would relent and give up; but halo, our hopes were all in vain.” (hílu ‘no’)


(Image credit: ebay)

One last bit: on page 468, having come back down the Queets River, “we dropped anchor at Tisdel’s store for a new supply [of tobacco] and viewed the strides of civilization. Mr. Belcher had cleared seven acres as smooth as a city park, with Mrs. Tisdel promoted to chief clerk in the store and masticating chinook as easily as a school girl chews taffy tolu gum.”

Bonus fact:

That comment about McGinty relenting threw me onto a sidetrack.

Is “McGinty” a vintage expression that I wasn’t understanding?

I haven’t figured it out fully, but here are some neat clues.

vinum marianum

For that sinking feeling, Vinum Marianum beats the divil himself. — McGinty

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?