1905: “Siwash” camp on Copper River, Alaska

When I posted this on the old CHINOOK listserv in 2008, we had no way to show pictures…

…My, how tech improves!

I’m repeating this tidbit for that reason.

siwash camp

(Image credit: Alaska’s Digital Archives)

“1905 Indian (Siwash) camp.
Title taken from donor’s caption. “At Tonsina 90 miles from Valdez. The spot we selected for our camp was in a small grove of spruce trees at the head of a deep valley where two glaciers came down out of the towering mountains. We built a large camp of logs with hand-sawed boards for a roof and floor, after which we built a combined cookhouse and dinning room. We stored our supplies on platforms built high in the trees, Indian style, with sheets of tin nailed around the trunks for protection from wild animals. Additional information was obtained from Potter, Ocha. “Ocha Potter Papers 1878-1950: Sixty Years,” ”

On one hand, you could take the above use of Siwash as just Alaskan English, which like BC coastal English borrowed this Chinuk Wawa noun for ‘Native person’ to be a verb for ‘roughing it, camping out in the wilderness’. 

But on the other hand, the location tells us a lot. Tonsina, Alaska, is in the Copper River area, where the Ahtna Athabaskans were the farthest northwest group to have historically used CW. They were still speaking it well past the turn of the century.

From plenty of other evidence (which I’ll be gradually sharing on this site), Siwash is what these tribes were known as, and it’s how they likely represented themselves as to Settlers —

— to the extent that some tribal families took the surname Siwashamong other Jargon names.

Plus, in the same archival collection that holds today’s image, there’s a photo from a day earlier, showing a “summer camp of Indians on Copper River”.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?