1873: Earliest “skookum paper”?

A Chinook Jargon phrase that I learned on a research trip in southeast Alaska makes its first known appearance in southwest Oregon…


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Thus demonstrating the enormous geographical range of CJ usage.

Today’s Oregon example comes from the same time period when “skookum papers” were a hot commodity 2,000 miles away in Alaska.

The following report from the scene of the “Modoc War(s)” installment of 1873 is entirely from a Settler perspective. It makes no effort at respecting Native people.

skookum pppp

FAIRCHILD’S RANCH, March 11. — The Indians had not come in when the courier left. General [Alvan C.] Gillem has ordered an attack, and the soldiers are now in the lava bed following [Kintpuash] Captain Jack. Hooka Jim sent word to Ivan Applegate, by Modoc Sally, that he wanted him to make a “Skookum” paper to lay before the Peace Commission, to allow him to return to the Yainox Reservation. Applegate says he will make a strong paper for this murderer of settlers to be allowed the privilege of going to the “hunting-ground” reservation, as he don’t want any of his kind mixed with decent Indians at Yainox.

— from the San Francisco (CA) Examiner of March 13, 1873, page 3, column 5

“Skookum paper” / skúkum pípa is literally a ‘strong paper’, thus the preamble to Ivan Applegate’s comment.

The remainder thereof references the already entrenched colonizer stereotype that dead Natives will go to the “happy hunting ground” — an expression often terminated with “in the sky”, in a reflection of Settler ideas of heaven rather than of Indigenous beliefs.

“Skookum paper” is just one of several expressions we find in documents of the era in reference to the common practice of a Euro-American writing what we now call a letter of reference for a Native person. (Another and more curious term for these in Chinuk Wawa was “teapot”!)

Often enough, because virtually no one but Whites was literate in English, the writer got away with composing a vicious, even treacherous, description of the recipient, who then sometimes wound up imprisoned or even dead.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?