1911: Seattle to have a ripping skookum potlatch!

Perfetly typical for a bustling big city after frontier times, this Seattle newspaper needed to explain Chinuk Wawa words to its readers.

Equally typical — it did a bad job of it.

Some of you have already noticed that the picture below is of Lingít people from Alaska, where Winter & Pond were a famous photography studio. So you’re already shaking your heads…

This article’s strength is in showing us that the Jargon had already become just a picturesque symbol of the local past, in an era when the passage of 14 years amounted to deep history.

Please don’t use the following Chinook words the way this writer, desperate to pad 3 columns on a tight deadline, did!

chinook indians in festival garb


Seattle To Have a Ripping Skookum Potlatch
In Celebration of Beginning of Golden Era

SEATTLE, July 11 — Seattle will
have a Potlatch — a Skookum Pot-
latch if you please — July 17 to 22.
In the days when the first French
and English traders mingled with
the red men of this region, the
Chinook jargon developed as a
traders’ language. It is a strange
mixture of the native dialects with
French and English. “Skookum
Potlatch” is Chinook for “Big Do-

Of old it was customary for an
Indian chief, in Chinook the “Hyas
Tyee,” to call his tribesmen about
him at least once in his lifetime for
a grand feast which ended in the
chieftain stripping himself of all 
his worldly possessions and giving
them away, distributing them
among his people. This was called
in Chinook a “Potlatch.” Event-
ually the word came to mean any
great picnic or celebration. It also
means a general giving of gifts.
Seattle is to have some Potlatch 
— a Skookum Potlatch, to be ver-
nacularly precise. “Skookum
means “good” in Chinook.

From July 17 to 22 Seattle will
hold a grand carnival in celebra-
tion of the arrival of the first gold
laden ship to arrive In any port
following the discovery of fabu-
lous riches in gold in the Yukon.

For Seattle dates her era of
prosperity from July 17, 1897, the
date of the arrival of the steamship
Portland in Seattle’s harbor with
the first cargo of gold shipped
down from the north. The hill-
cutting, the paving, the rush of
public improvements that reached
the stupendous amount of $10,000-
000 a year started with the arrival
of the Portland.

And now Seattle will celebrate
with a Golden Potlatch, a golden
picnic a golden gift time, a gold-
en celebration, which will include
an entertainment combining the
original Potlatch sports and other
features with all that is modern in
great public entertainments.

— from the Tacoma (WA) Times of July 11, 1911, page 8, columns 2-4

Kahta mika tumtum?
What do you think?