1901: Moose Hall invitation + unique Valdez, AK Jargon

Mockery of the northwesternmost Natives to speak Chinuk Wawa is still evidence of how they spoke it!


(Image credit: NPR’s CodeSwitch)

The racialized tone of what’s reproduced below is none too savory, and it extends beyond “playing Indian” to blackface musical performances — but it accurately describes frontier-era White Settler Alaska in its own words.

That’s the great strength of the 1901 article we’re about to read: it documents in loving detail some interpersonal relations among individuals in the Valdez community.

I’ve told you before (inspired by linguists like Peter Mühlhäusler, with his “ecological linguistics” methodology) that pidgins such as northern Chinook Jargon are the languages of small communities — so it matters to learn folks’ personal quirks, their status among their peers, and so on.

Lucky for us, the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive has put online a collection of sketch biographies of most of the early Settlers of the area, in its Gold Rush Names Database. From it, we have access to details such as known places of residence, gender (there were an awful lot of Settler females in this later-frontier community), and date of arrival (almost everyone had only been in the Valdez area for 3 years or less).

Now back to the Ahtna-speaking Athabaskan tribes of the Copper River area in south-central Alaska. Like their coastal Eyak neighbors, Ahtnas are some of the most recent Chinook Jargon speakers in that state. Their traditional lands occupy the extreme northwest of the historic CJ-speaking zone.

Directly tied with this fact is the observation that their CJ, like that of most northern-dialect users, has more English words in it than the classic older southern dialect has. Some of that English is distinctly pidginized, and in fact reflects some of the same pidgin English words used in British Columbia CJ.

In today’s reading selection, I’m also seeing what may be one Ahtna or German (?!) loan into Jargon. There’s extremely little of either in Chinuk Wawa, so this is quite a treat.

The two selections of Jargon below probably do imitate what Settlers had already experienced of Native people during their short time in the Valdez area, both in speech and, perhaps, in writing. This last comment of mine refers to writing numbers as a group of “hash mark” lines, and to the seEmingLy raNDom       capitalization and spacing, which we’ve seen some of in the writing of newly literate Indigenous (and other!) people in the same era.

An interesting discovery: Many of the unusual features here are also found in my article on a 1921 Chinook Jargon invitation from the Eagles Lodge in nearby Cordova, Alaska CJ. Not coincidentally, Mr. Dooley (mentioned below) also makes an appearance in that piece!

As usual, my commentary on today’s Chinuk Wawa material comes after I present you the original news clipping.


Was Dedicated on Last Thursday Evening.

From a Small Beginning the Moose Now Have Their Own House And 160 Members — Short History of the Order.

The Order of Alaska Moose, formally opened their new home, last Thursday evening by inviting their families and friends to listen to one of the best, if not the best, entertainments ever given in Valdez. The whole scheme of entertainment could have originated only in the mind of a pioneer who had rubbed up against the peculiar life and circumstances surrounding a few years “roughing it” in the interior of Alaska, and that the affair was so entirely a success is very largely due to the untireing [sic] efforts of Messrs. Joseph Bourke and Fred J. Date. The invitations read:

moose 01

moose 02

You KeTchin Kluch

KaMe IIIII sleePs hiTe maN moos-stick howBiscH     teNas siT doWn Moose hiyU mammOOk heHe     HIYU teHe*, mucK mucK* Ketshin* ____* hiTe man eTna tenas sit doWn hiyu sIng (HALO Hooch NOOOo GOOOod hiyu watchuCallum allsAme Hite maN? Dance MayBesO GoOD You Halo chiCKamun potlATch (Klutch teNas wawa)

You look See Sun HalO heHe you Ketchan Klutch claTawa you howBisch*

You PotlAtch papEr talk Moose Look see You halo poTLatch papER talk you HiYu ClatAwa Kumtux?

The people began to file in almost as soon as the door were thrown open and by 8:30 the hall was packed from stage to door. The program was printed on bed ticking to the jargon of the Copper River Indians. They were quite unique and are in great demand as souvenirs. They read as follows:

moose 03

moose 04


Moose Howbisch Last Moon IIII Sleeps allsamewhiteman 1901

Boldez Hite Man Wa Wa, Alaska.

Hite Man. Klutchman. Hiyu Mamook.

He He Wa Wa.

Tenas See, Hiyu Charlie … Moosik

Hiyu Big Man … Wa Wa

Two Pil Pil Klutch … Moosik Wa Wa

Two Tonsina Klutchmen, alltime sit downBoldez [sic] … Sing

Tenas Losy … Wa Wa

Glock Klutchman, Pil Pil Klutch … Sing

Two Tenas Klutch … Mamook He He

Kotsina Big Man, Pil Pil Klutch … Moosik

Glock Klutchman … Sing

Kokade Muck Muck … Wa Wa He He

Hias Tyee (allsame Teddy) … Sing

Skookum Hite Men … Hiyu Sonik
He He Mamook.

Much muck, allsame Hite Man Copper Leeber.

He He Mamook.

Klatawa. Hiyu Sleep. Letsthink.

The program was most admirably carried out, not a break or pause occurring, thanks to the good management of F.J. Date.

M.V. Edwards with the violin and Miss Clara Leedy at the piano, assisted by Messrs. Gillis and Bullard with the guitars furnished the music for the various numbers.

The first number, a guitar duet, by Messrs. Gillis and Bullard, was certainly beautiful. The opening address of welcome by Judge John Goodell sparkled with wit, humor and pathos. He welcomed the guests on behalf of the order and spoke in glowing terms of the pioneer and prospector of whom the lodge is mostly composed. Every one certainly felt welcome after his earnest and eloquent address. The ladies’ quartet, Mesdames Date, and Loomis and Misses Leedy and Swanson, sang most beautifully, “The S[u]wannee River,” [another racist minstrel song] and carried us back in our memory to the old home scenes. Mrs. Loomis and Miss Swanson, in their duet charmed their hearers, as did also Mrs. Date and Miss Alice Leedy. Mrs. F.J. Date’s solos were greatly enjoyed as they always are, and Valdez is proud of having such a sweet singer as she certainly is.

F.W. Rosenthal (Tenas Rosey) is always received with applause by a Valdez audience, as they known that something witty is coming, and it was the case in this instance.

Those two sweet little girls, Helen Brown and Bertha Gregory, in their part as p’cannies [pickaninnies, i.e. Black children, stereotypical “Negro minstrel” blackface characters] could not be excelled. The jokes, dancing, cake walk, and singing was done to perfection and brought down the house.

Mr. Edwards’ violin solo was beautiful. Messrs. Dowling and Dooley in their dancing, club swinging and jokes were, as the boys say, “out of sight.” Joe Bourke as the drunken father, taking care of his crying child, brought down the house with peals of laughter and applause.

The entire program was a complete success and was greatly enjoyed. A bounteous luncheon was served to all present on shingles, after which dancing was enjoyed until the wee sma [sic, Scots dialect for ‘small’] hours. The excellent music for the same being furnished by Messrs. Magneson, Edwards, Gillis and Bullard.

The opening ceremonies of the new Moose hall was a great success and will be long remembered. The Order of Alaska Moose was organized in the winter of ’99. That year was a hard one for the prospectors who came in the big rush to this country. Nearly all who came in spent the winter of that year and the spring and summer of the following in the interior. Not until the winter of ’99 did it become a custom for the miners to spend the cold months upon the coast. Valdez became the home for the Copper river prospectors.

It was natural that after relaxation from hardships in the interior, the returning miners yearned for amusement.

The condition of affairs was very primitive in Valdez. The cabins were small and cold, while many lived in tents, and the men had not been accustomed to such living and the home life was sadly missing. The results were that the boys congregated around the warm stores and saloons.

Joseph Bourke and F.W. Rosenthal called a metting in Nov. 1899 to organize a social club which was attended by 15 prospectors.

An organization was affected [sic] and after some discussion it was decided to organize a lodge typical of Alaska. A committee consisting of F.W. Rosenthal, G.W. Brandenbury and A.W. Vansant and [sic] they later reported in favor of a lodge to be known as the Order of Alaska Moose and gave a general outline of the secret work, ritual and general work of the order. The report was accepted and the lodge formerly [sic] organized.

Dr. H.B. Pearson soon became a member and having had a great deal of experience in lodge work was added to the committee and has ever since been one of the leading and most enthusiastic members of this order.

From this small beginning the lodge has grown until it has 160 members and now owns its own hall and will make it a home for its members, most of whom are pioneers and prospectors.

The charter members were: Joseph Bourke, F.W. Rosenthal, G.W. Brandenbury, Jake Stead, H.E. King, J.W. Arnold, C.A. Spongberg, S.W. Taylor, C.N. Crary, Dr. Von Gunther, W.H. Crary, J.B. Ward, Alex Ohlhousen, R.T. Heron, S.B. Means, R.H. Coles and Louis Rothkrantz.

— from The Valdez News (Valdez, Alaska), [Saturday] Dec 7, 1901, pages 1 & 4, courtesy of reader Alex Code

Examining that Chinuk Wawa,
which is typical for the time in lacking reliable punctuation:

You KeTchin Kluch [1]
yu* kéchin* klúch*
you bring(?) woman
‘Bring the Ladies’*

KaMe IIIII sleePs hiTe maN moos-stick howBiscH     teNas siT doWn [2] Moose hiyU mammOOk heHe[,]
kə́m* fáyv* slíp-s háyt*-mán mús*-stík háwbish*       ténəs-sít-dáwn mús* háyú mámuk híhi
come(?) five sleep-s white-man moose-forest(?) HÁWBISH     little-sit-down moose much make fun
‘Come 5 sleeps, the White people’s Moose Antler* tribe* is having a little meeting[.] The Moose will be making merry[,]’

HIYU teHe*, mucK mucK* Ketshin* __* hiTe man eTna tenas sit doWn hiyu sIng (HALO Hooch NOOOo [3]
háyú tíhi*, mə́kʰmək(,) kéchin* _____* háyt-mán étna* ténəs-sít-dáwn háyú síng (héylo húchnu* / nó
much laughter(?), food, bring __?__ white-man Ahtna(?) little-sit-down much sing (no “hoochinoo” / “no”)
‘lots of laughter, food, bring __?__[.] The Whiteman Ahtnas* will sit a bit, sing a lot, (no hoochiNOo’

GOOOod hiyu watchuCallum allsAme Hite maN? Dance MayBesO GoOD You Halo chiCKamun potlATch [4]
gύd* háyú wə́chəkáləm álséym háyt* mán? dáns méybiso gύd* yu* héylo chíkʰəmin pá(t)lach
good much whatchacallem allsame white man? dance maybeso good you no money give
‘good[)], lots of whatdoyoucallit like White people do? Dancing. Might be good. You don’t pay anything.’ 

(Klutch teNas wawa)
(klúch* ténəs-wáwa)
(woman little-talk)
‘(Ladies can chat.)’

You look See Sun HalO heHe you Ketchan Klutch claTawa you howBisch* [5]
yu* lύk*-sí sán héylo híhi yu* kéchin klúch (k)ɬátwa yu háwbish*
you looksee sun not fun you bring woman go you HÁWBISH
‘(When) you see the sun (come up)[,] no (more) fun[,] you take the ladies (and) go (to) your tribe*.’

You PotlAtch papEr talk Moose Look see You halo poTLatch papER talk you HiYu ClatAwa Kumtux? [6]
yu pá(t)lach péypa ták* mús* lύk*-sí yu héylo pá(t)lach péypa ták* yu háyú (k)ɬátwa(,) kə́mtəks?
you give paper talk moose looksee you not give paper talk you much go, understand?
‘You present an invitation, talk to the Moose[,] (if he) sees you don’t give the paper[,] (he’ll) say you get the heck out of here, understand?’

Footnotes to this first section:

You KeTchin Kluch [1]: Pronouns in this Valdez Chinook Jargon are, innovatively, from English. “Ketchin” is surely the same pidgin English word common in BC CJ, “catch’em” (‘get’). “Kluch” = “Klootch”, a well-known Settler English borrowing & clipping of CJ ɬúchmən ‘woman’. 

KaMe IIIII sleePs hiTe maN moos-stick howBiscH     teNas siT doWn [2]: I can only guess that “Kame” = ‘come’, from English. “Sleeps” reflects a stereotype of Native American speech, based on actual Indigenous ways of talking (English) at the time, and it may have been how Ahtna people in the area spoke. “Hite man” is an interesting representation of Native pronunciation. “Moos-stick” (literally ‘moose-stick/tree/forest’) would seem to be intended as ‘Moose Totem-Pole’. “Howbisch” might be German haubisch ‘goofy’ or haubig ‘hooded’, but it’s used in a way that seems to denote a ‘tribe; a group of people’ throughout today’s reading. I’ve found no similar word in Ahtna Athabaskan (nor the distantly related Eyak or Tlingit) for this general concept. “Sit down” is a pidgin English expression that’s also common in BC CJ. 

“HeHe[,] HIYU teHe* [3] shows a typically Settler distinction between (A) “hehe” for ‘fun’ (which was only a noun in English at the time, not an adjective like it often is now) and (B) “tehe” for ‘laugh(ing)’. “Etna” would seem to be a pronuncation of Ahtna Athabaskan (Central & Lower dialects) ‘Atna’ ‘Lower Copper River Ahtnas’. “Halo hooch noooo gooood” would seem to be a joke, punning between ‘no hoochinoo’ (i.e. moonshine booze) and ‘no good’. “Hoochinoo” is one of the few strictly Alaskan Chinook Jargon words, coming from the name of a coastal Tlingit village; it’s the source of modern English slang “hooch”, which I’ve heard used for ‘marijuana’. 

“Watchucallum” [4] is clearly informal American English, so it’s just the kind of expression that winds up in a pidgin such as CJ; it may be genuine local Jargon. “Allsame” is another pidgin English word that’s also common in BC CJ. “Maybeso” is known in West Coast Chinese Pidgin English (CPE), as I recall, and more relevantly it’s found in nearby Cordova, Alaska CJ. “Good” fits the pattern of increased borrowing from locally spoken English that we see in later Alaskan Chinook Jargon. 

“Look see” [5] is known in West Coast CPE. “Clatawa you howbisch” (literally ‘go your tribe*’) is standard Chinook Jargon syntax, as prepositions can optionally be left out when one’s meaning is clear. 

“Hiyu clatawa” [6] — I want to make sure to point out that the use of “hiyu” in today’s reading is typical of Settler speech, especially from the later frontier era. Settlers tended to lose touch with the Chinuk Wawa prefixal hayu- ‘ongoing action’, and to overuse háyú instead, as well as using that latter word for its original meaning ‘many, much’ and extending it to ‘big’, as we’ll see today. 


híhi wáwa.
fun talk.
‘Fun Words.’

Moose Howbisch Last [1] Moon IIII [sic, for 5] Sleeps allsamewhiteman 1901
mús* háwbish* lást* mún fáyv* slíp-s álséym hwáyt*-mán náyntin-ænd-wə́n*
moose HÁWBISH last month five sleep-s allsame white-man nineteen-and-one
‘The Moose Tribe*, the Last Month, [5] Sleeps, Same as the White People’s “1901”.’

Boldez [2] Hite Man Wa Wa, Alaska.
báldεz* háyt*-mán wáwa, alǽska.
Valdez white-man say, Alaska.
‘Valdez, the White People Say, Alaska.’

Hite Man. Klutchman. Hiyu Mamook.
háyt*-mán, (k)ɬúchmən, háyú mámuk.
white-man, woman. much doing.
‘White Men, Ladies, Lots of Activities.’

He He Wa Wa.
híhi wáwa.
fun talk.
‘Fun Words.’

Tenas See, Hiyu Charlie … Moosik [3]
ténəs sí*, háyú cháli* … músik* [sic?!]
little C*, big?? Charlie … music / “Moose-ic” [1 person? 2? Charles N. Crary?]
‘Little C*, Big Charlie — Moose-ic’

Hiyu Big Man … Wa Wa
háyú bíg* mán … wáwa
many big man … talk
‘Many Big Men — Talking’

Two Pil Pil [4] Klutch … Moosik Wa Wa
tú* pílpil
[sic] klúch* … músik* wáwa
two blood [sic] woman … music talk
‘Two Red-Red* Women — Moose-ical Talk’

Two Tonsina Klutchmen, alltime sit downBoldez [sic] [5] … Sing
tú tansína* klúchmən, áltáym sít-dáwn báldεz … síng
two Tonsina woman, always stay Valdez … sing
‘Two Tonsina Women Who Always Live in Valdez — Singing’

Tenas Losy … Wa Wa
ténəs lósi* … wáwa
little Rosey … talk
Tenas (Little) Rosey — Talking’

Glock [6] Klutchman, Pil Pil Klutch … Sing
glák* klúchmən, pílpil klúch* … síng
white(?) woman, blood woman … sing
‘White* Women, Red-red* Women — Singing’

Two Tenas Klutch … Mamook He He
tú ténəs-klúch … mámuk híhi
two little woman … make fun
‘Two Girls — Acting Funny’

Kotsina Big Man, [7] Pil Pil Klutch … Moosik
katsína* bíg mán, pílpil klúch … músik*
Kotsina big man, blood woman … music
‘A Kotsina Big Man, Red-Red Women — Moose-ic’

Glock Klutchman … Sing
glák* klúchmən … síng
glock(?) woman … sing
‘White* Woman — Singing’

Kokade [8] Muck Muck … Wa Wa He He
kokéyd* mə́kʰmək … wáwa híhi
cockade(?)*/cocktail* eat/drink … talk fun(ny)
‘Cocktail* Drinking — Talking Funny’

Hias Tyee (allsame Teddy) [9] … Sing
háyás táyí (álséym* tédi*) … síng
big chief (equals(?) Teddy) … sing
‘Big Chief (Just Like Teddy [Roosevelt?]) — Singing’

Skookum Hite Men … Hiyu Sonik [10]
skúkum háyt*-mán … háyú sánik*
strong white man … much sonic(?)

[…not clear whether the above is supposed to continue in the next line…]
He He Mamook.
híhi mámuk.
fun(ny) doing.
‘Strong White Men — Lots of Sonic* Funny Acting’

Much muck, allsame Hite Man Copper Leeber. [11]
mə́kʰmək, álséym háyt*-mán kápər líbər*.
food, equals(?) white-man Copper River.
‘Food, That is*, the White People’s Copper River [Salmon?]’

He He Mamook.
híhi mámuk.
fun(ny) doing.
‘Fun Doings.’

Klatawa. Hiyu Sleep. [12] Letsthink.
(k)ɬátwa.     háyú slíp*.     léts* thínk*.
go.     much sleep.     let’s think.
‘Leave.    Sleep a Lot.     Let’s Think.’


Footnotes to this second section:

“Last” [1] is a common recent English loan in BC Chinook Jargon as well. 

“Boldez” [2] is of some interest. It apparently reflects Ahtna Athabaskan pronunciation of the town’s name, as well as showing us that the local Settlers didn’t yet call the town “Valdeez” as they do nowadays.

Tenas See [3] seems like someone’s nickname, ‘Little C’. Hiyu Charlie is an example of a Settler-ism, (mis-)using hiyu ‘much’ to mean ‘big’. Moosik may be a pun between ‘music’ and ‘Moose’!

Two Pil Pil [4] Klutch is weird. Literally ‘two blood women’, it may have been meant as ‘two red-red women’, but I don’t quite understand it either way. Maybe it’s more “playing Indian”, putting these women in fictional Native (“Red”) roles. Also notice the use of English numeral words, replacing the long-established Chinook ones. 

Tonsina [5] is a nearby Ahtna Athabaskan village location, and some Settlers may have resided there. Alltime is yet another pidgin English word known in e.g. Chinese Pidgin English. Sit downBoldez [sic], with no overt preposition (a “null”), is good Chinook Jargon (also good CPE, I believe).

Glock [6] Klutchman is mysterious, too. Maybe “glock” is an attempt at the Ahtna Athabaskan adjective lggay ‘white’, but I’m not confident in that hypothesis. Could this be another Ahtna village name?

Kotsina [7] is another nearby Native village. Big man uses English for what we’ve also seen in straight Chinook Jargon on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state and elsewhere, háyás(h)-mán ‘important man in the community’. 

Kokade [8] muck muck is another puzzle to work on. Does the first word mean ‘cocktails’ (so muck muck = ‘drinking’ and not ‘eating’)? Or is it the obscure English-language word cockadeThat would be weird. 

Hias Tyee (allsame Teddy) [9] is, I’m sure, a reference to US President Theodore Roosevelt, who had just been elected.

Help me out with Sonik [10] He He Mamook, please! 

It’s not completely clear what’s being referred to by Copper Leeber [11] — the now-famous salmon runs? Of interest in connection with the pronunciation we find here, the “Ahtna Noun Dictionary” has a place name Descene on page 86, given in English in various spellings: “Liebigstag”, “Liverstag”, and “River Stag”.

Sleep [12] is also the common word for ‘sleep’ in BC Chinuk Wawa. Letsthink is just a joke. 

Summarizing —

Today’s Chinuk Wawa selection isn’t the finest example of fluency in the language. But I believe it’s a pretty accurate snapshot of how people in south-central Alaska were speaking it at “the turn of the century”.

English speakers were more common in the Valdez area than they had been in many earlier locales of Jargon use, so the local Jargon had more English expressions in it. These included pidginisms already well-known among Settlers, many or most of whom had already spent a good deal of time in the Pacific Northwest.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?