1892: More court objections to Chinuk Wawa

A tragic post-frontier court case involving Lummi (Coast Salish) people gets snarled up in questions of allowing Chinook Jargon to be used…

This one takes on extra interest because the young man testifying also tried using the Lummi Salsh language, and “imperfect” English.

I see one heck of a lot of racism in the reporter’s wording here, and in the mutually contradictory choices of language being offered to the witness. And it looks like folks were trying to lure him into testifying against himself. Yikes.

the prosecution rests


Evidence For the State All In in the Swiloos Murder Case

Henry Williams Tells Again His Story of George’s Guilt

How Moses Younkin Was Beaten to Death — Other Evidence


the prosecution rests 2

the prosecution rests 3

     Henry was called at 11:30 o’clock in
the forenoon, the last witness placed
on the stand by the state. Major Cole
moved that, owing to his deficiency in
the use of English, his testimony be
given in Chinook through Victor
Roeder as interpreter. Mr. Piles ob-
jected to having testimony given in
Chinook, on the ground that it was a
confused jargon, in which it was im-
possible to translate English with any
degree of accuracy. If an interpreter
was employed he wanted the testimony
taken in pure Siwash or Indian.

     Major Cole insisted that Chinook was
the common language of Puget Sound

     Mr. Piles wished to introduce evi-
dence on the subject, and called out for
Major Boniface Hallam, Hilaire Crock
ett, Chief Henry and all Siwash philolo-
gists to come forward. He soon had a
number of Indians of assorted lengths,
like the strings of a harp, and various
shades of complexion, standing in a
row before the court like the ten little
Indians of the nursery rhyme. They 
testified that they did not use Chinook 
now, but talked pure Siwash.

     Major Cole stated that there was a
bitter feeling against Henry among the
Indians and objected to an Indian in-

     Before the question was determined
the noon hour arrived, and a recess was
taken until 2 o’clock.

     When the court adjourned counsel
for the state announced that they
would conduct the examination in
English. The oath was then admin-
istered to Henry in Shakespeare’s 
tongue and he took the stand. The de-
fense objected to his testifying on the 
ground that he was an accomplice and
could not testify against himself.

     The court asked Henry if he wished
to testify and he said “O, yes!”

     Jerry Neterer, of Calvert & Neterer,
his attorneys, stated to the court that
they consented to his testifying to
what transpired while he was with
George. Mr. Piles objection was over-

      Henry then testified as follows, in
imperfect English:

     My Home Samish. I think I am
14½ years old. I know George Swi-
loos two or three years…


the prosecution rests 4

     …The jurors complained that they
could not understand the witness, and
the court called Victor Roeder to be
sworn as an interpreter. This experi-
ment did not succeed, and the court re-
turned to the English language.

     Henry then continued his story of
the murder.

— from the Fairhaven [now Bellingham] (WA) Herald of March 9, 1892, page 1, columns 2-4

What do you think?
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