1913: Turkey trot put to shame

I believe the reference here is to the dance craze, not to Thanksgiving-season charitable footraces.

Here’s a 1914 cartoon about how the Turkey Trot’s fast ragtime dance had already lost its popularity:


(Image credit: Wikipedia)

And here’s an article comparing central Washington state Native dancing with it. My comments will follow.



Go Without Sleep Four Days to Show Endurance — Indians meet in Dance and Feast.


ELLENSBURG, Feb. 11. — Bearing with them a number of blankets and shawls, which they won as first prize at the annual potlatch of Central Washington Indians last week near Beverly, Mr. and Mrs. John Kitsap rode into town yesterday from the Columbia river. These aged Indians, according to their own story, did not sleep for four days and were awarded the endurance prize for their dance.

With Mr. and Mrs. John Kitsap was Mrs. John Baptist, who ran away from her husband last week, and for whom the sheriff has been searching. This Yakima Indian woman journeyed over to the Columbia river with “Big John” and his wife, and left this morning for the reservation to return to her husband.

“Big John” Kitsap, who is over six feet tall and of powerful physique, strode into the T.W. Farrell harness shop yesterday to exhibit his prizes to his white friends. John’s squaw munched gum drops and aided him when he told Farrell of the big potlatch and dance.

Dances Like Whites.

“Nika halo mamook dance all same siwash copa head yawa. Nika mamook dance all same bostonman, all same nika manitch copa New Years copa hall copa yawa,” said John to Farrell.

“I didn’t dance like the rest of the Indians, with my head down. I danced like the white people do, just as I saw them there at the hall on New years night.”

Then John told the pioneer harness maker how he had outdanced all the Indians, including a Nez Perce, the son of old Smohollah, “The Dreamer,” who was Chief Moses’ right hand man, and the son of Chief We-an-i-kish, former ruler of the Columbia tribe.

The potlatch has been an annual event on the Columbia river for 35 years. Every tribe in the central part of the state is represented. The first potlatch in the valley was held in the late 70’s, shortly before old Snow-T-Jacks brought the Chinook wind by biting a piece out of his forearm.

Ac[c]ording to “Big John” the potlatch held on the Columbia last week was the biggest in recent years. The ground in that section is covered with snow and the weather is cold, but the Indians held their celebration in a tent 300 feet long. The frame of the tent was built in the summer, and was covered with many smaller tents during the potlatch. Music was furnished by an Indian drummer, and the audience kept time to the dancing by stamping feet.

Dances in Spite of Age.

News that the potlatch was to be held was brought to the Kitsaps by a runner from Chief So-Hap-pay’s tribe, who informed John that old So-Hap-pay would himself take part in the celebration. Old So-Hap-pay is more than 100 years old and is blind, but danced for over an hour, shouting an old-time battle cry and striking at imaginary foes with his cane. The Nasons, a well known family of Kittitas Indians, refused to attend the potlatch, saying that the weather was to[o] cold. Cecelia Sam, Old Peter and many other local Indians took part.

It is possible that the big potlatch will be held near Ellensburg next winter. Big John’s wife, who owns a ranch a few miles southwest of the city, has invited the Indians to meet next at her home. Big John said the Indians would come to the Kittitas valley if they are guaranteed enough to eat for the four days feast. Farrell will take up the matter with other pioneers of the valley.

Big John and his wife told Farrell they hadn’t slept for four days and that they were now going to their ranch and would not return to Ellensburg until they had a “skookum moosum” (big sleep). 

— The Tacoma Daily Ledger, Feb 12, 1913, Page 12, courtesy of reader Alex Code

Focusing on the Chinuk Wawa there:
(DDR = my translation;
* = inferred pronunciation)

“Nika halo mamook dance all same siwash copa head yawa.
nayka hílu mamuk-táns álseym* [1] sáwásh kʰupa héd* [2] yáwá. [3]
I not make-dance like Native with head there.
DDR: ‘I didn’t dance like the Natives, with the head there.’
“I didn’t dance like the rest of the Indians, with my head down.”

Nika mamook dance all same bostonman,
nayka mamuk-táns álseym* bástən-mán, [4]
I make-dance like American-person,
DDR: ‘I danced like the Americans,’
“I danced like the white people do,”

all same nika manitch copa New Years copa hall copa yawa”
álseym* nayka nánich kʰupa nú*-yə́rs* [5] kʰupa hál* [6] kʰupa yáwá. [7]
like I see at New Years at hall at there. 
DDR: ‘as I saw at New Years at the hall over there.’
“just as I saw them there at the hall on New years night.”

…   …   …

a “skookum moosum”
skúkum [8] músum
powerful sleep
DDR: ‘a strong sleep’
“(big sleep)”


álseym* [1] is a pretty frequently found word in northern-dialect Chinuk Wawa. It seems as if it came from (West Coast) Chinese Pidgin English. It’s a synonym for the standard CW word kákwa in the senses ‘like, as’. In its sense ‘like that; in this way; etc.’, kákwa seems to have mostly remained in use. 

héd* [2] ‘head’ is a newer word, synonymous with standard CW latét. Like some of the words in the following footnotes, it likely got into CW from conversations with local Settlers. 

yáwá [3] ‘there’ was practically certain to have been accompanied by a bodily gesture indicating the style of dancing. 

bástən-mán, [4] ‘American people’, was by 1913 a somewhat antiquated term for ‘Whites’ in that it no longer carried its original literal meaning. 

nú*-yə́rs* [5] ‘New Year’s’ is a newer English loan that we’ve found many times in northern Chinook Jargon. 

hál* [6] ‘(meeting/dance) hall’ is another recent English loan into northern Jargon, a homophone with the long-established verb for ‘pull’. 

kʰupa yáwá [7], literally ‘at there’, is a pretty common Northern CJ expression for ‘over there’. 

skúkum [8] músum is worth a comment because it may have connoted something different for the speaker than it did to the hearer. The modifier skúkum means fundamentally ‘strong, powerful’, and the speaker might have meant a ‘restorative’ sleep. By 1913, Settlers were using this same word in their English to mean ‘excellent’. The provided translation as ‘big sleep’ is somewhat ambiguous, as well as reeking of stereotypes about Native ways of talking (and thinking). 

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?