1914 poem: “Reminiscences of an Old-Timer — Mica Kumtux”

Charming Kootenays doggerel!


(Image credit: Camp Illahee, North Carolina, which claims “In the Cherokee language, Illahee means “heavenly world.” ” Ugh! 😃)

My gratitude to Alex Code for this surprisingly modern-feeling local poem from the post-frontier era.

It blends Chinook Jargon with English to show you how people interacted long ago in the southeastern corner of BC.



Klahowa tillicum, 
How do you do, friend, 
This was the way we met on the trail 
Years ago. 

No introduction was wanted 
Kah mica chahco — 
Where do you come from 
Was all. 

Nica chahco Shushway illahee — 
I come from the land of the Shushwap; 
Nika Golden illahee 
we camped. 

Our bannocks baked, our bacon fried, 
We shared our blankets; 
We wah-wahed (spoke together), 
And slept. 

The sun arose, kah mica tom-tom — 
How do you feel, my friend. 
Nica hiyu skookum tom-tom — 
I feel fine. 

I answered nika sick tom-tom — 
I don’t feel very well. 
Spose nesica clattawa Golden 
We went.

At Canyon Creek I spose 
Konsig mica chickamin — 
How much money have you. 
He answered plenty. 

Two skookum men arrive in town 
And potlatch hiyu chickamin
But in tenas sun (a few days), 
Two sick men. 

Twenty miles from town two men 
Awoke and said klahowa
Nika hiyu sick tom-tom, 
Years ago.


— from the Nelson (BC) Daily News of July 16, 1914, page 4, column 6

A number of features of this poem’s Chinook really typify Settlers’ Jargon, and the Jargon of those who haven’t much spoken it in a while. I’ll walk you through everything:

  • Klahowa tillicum ‘How do you do, friend’
    That’s ɬax̣áwya(m), tílixam in modern Grand Ronde spelling, a useful reference point because that’s the major dictionary on the market now. The poem consistently uses the spelling klahowa, so that’s probably not a typesetting error but an oldtimer’s recollection of how to say the word.
  • Kah mica chahco — ‘Where do you come from’
    Good straight Jargon: qʰá mayka cháku?
  • Nica chahco Shushway illahee — I come from the land of the Shushwap
    = nayka cháku shúshwap-ílihi, literally ‘I come Shuswap land’, with the fluent Chinooker’s “silent preposition”.
  • Nika Golden illahee — not translated, seemingly meant as ‘my (home)place is Golden, BC’ in the Kootenays, but by the rules of usual Jargon I’d have to take this phrase as ‘I’m Golden-place’ or ‘my Golden place’. 
  • We wah-wahed (‘spoke together’)
    wáwa ‘talk’.
  • kah mica tom-tom — ‘How do you feel, my friend’
    = a somewhat misremembered qʰáta mayka tə́mtəm? ‘what do you think? / How is your heart?’
  • Nica hiyu skookum tom-tom — ‘I feel fine’
    = typical Settler and post-frontier Jargon, nayka hayu-skúkum-tə́mtəm, which in standard CW would connote ‘I’m in the act of being strong-hearted’ (yes, a weird thing to say). What the speaker is aiming for in these cases is something like nayka hayas-skúkum-tə́mtəm ‘I’m very healthy-hearted’, but confusing the similar-sounding prefixes hayu- and hayas-.
    We need to point out also that this writer is idiosyncratically using -tə́mtəm expressions to say how he’s physically feeling, whereas they’re limited to emotional / mental states in standard Jargon. 
  • nika sick tom-tom — ‘I don’t feel very well.’
    Here’s a second example of what I just said; the speaker seems to mean he feels physically ill, under the weather, but he’s using a mental-state expression for it. This was never normal Chinook Jargon, so I take it as an indicator of his being out of practice at talking the lingo. 
  • Spose nesica clattawa Golden — untranslated.
    Seems to be meant as ‘How about we go to Golden’, spus nsayka ɬátwa góldən* (with the fluent “silent preposition”). But it’s weird Jargon because it’s using spus (‘if; when’) not to introduce a subordinate clause, but instead like informal English suppose (to make a suggestion or mild command). 
  • Konsig mica chickamin — ‘How much money have you.’
    = qʰə́nchi mayka chíkʰəmin, literally meaning ‘how much is your money?’ The absolutely normal way to ask this question in excellent Chinuk Wawa, just as you ask qʰə́nchi mayka snú? (‘how many are your snows?’) for ‘how old are you?’
  • skookum menpotlatch hiyu chickamin — untranslated, partly because several of these words were still current as loans into local English.
    skúkum mán … pá(t)lach háyú chíkʰəmin ‘strong men … gave/spent lots of money’. “Skookum men” is being used here in the Settler English sense of ‘excellent; high-class; big-shot’.
  • in tenas sun (a few days)
    This is English-influenced too, I feel. There’s an extremely common Jargon expression tənəs-sán (‘little-day’) for ‘morning’, so tenas sun is bound to sound like that. ‘A few days’ is unconfusingly put as tənəs-háyú sán (‘little-many day’). Rusty Jargon again, I reckon. 
  • klahowa as noted above. 
  • Nika hiyu sick tom-tom — untranslated. See my notes about nika hiyu skookum tom-tom and nika sick tom-tom.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?