Alaska/BC Canadians/”French half-breeds” talking Chinook Jargon

Missionary S. Hall Young remembered plenty about his conversations with Canadian French speakers from originally fur-trade families in the area of Fort Stikine (Wrangell), Alaska, in the 1880s.

choquetteWeb

Alexandre “Buck” Choquette, 1829-1898, a Jargon speaker familiar with Victoria, BC (image credit: Alaska Mining Hall of Fame)

Their way of talking is recalled as a marvelous blend, typical for the time on the farthest edges of Chinuk Wawa country, of CW, French, Tlingit, and both pidgin and more standard English.

The typical “finer points” disclaimer applies here — not every one of these Canadian men was necessarily of Métis heritage, but they all married local Indigenous women and founded local Métis clans.

Today’s article is your reminder that parts of Alaska have historically been part of the Métis universe.

I originally shared this on the old CHINOOK listserv; it deserves more attention!

“Adventures in Alaska” by S[amuel]. Hall Young [1847-1927] (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1919),

Chapter 5: Louie Paul and the Hootz

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“Oh, ‘e’s bad feller, dat hootz,” [Tlingit word] ex-
claimed Louie Paul, our half-
breed Stickeen young man, the blood of his French father sparkling in his
eyes and gesturing in his hands and shoulders. “‘E’s devil, ‘im. Dat’s no
swear — dat’s truf. Bad spirit got him, sure. Quonsum sallix (Always mad). ‘E
no savvy scare, no savvy love, no savvy die. ‘E’s devil, dat’s all.”
Louie’s handsome face and coal-black eyes were alive with excitement, as he
danced about his big bundle of tseek (black bear) [Tlingit word] skins, which he had just
brought into Stevens’ store at Fort Wrangell, and was unwrapping,
preparatory to bartering. His outburst of language was called out by a
question of mine. I had been noticing with surprise that among the great
numbers of black bear skins that were being brought into the Wrangell
stores daily by the In-

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dians, were none of the big brown bear the hootz. I knew these brown bears
to be very plentiful up the Stickeen and Iskoot Rivers where Louie had been
hunting. At this season (it was in early May) both species of bears, having
wakened from their long winter’s sleep, were roaming the banks of the
streams restlessly day and night, making up in their fierce activity for
their six months of torpor. Their coats were at their best long, silky,
glistening, thick and soft. The skins of the black bear Louie had brought
were prime. They were more than black. Their ebony surfaces shone and
sparkled, beneath our handling, like black diamonds.

I knew that the skins of the hootz would be equally beautiful and twice as
large as those of the tseek. They would not be tawny at this season, but a
rich, velvety brown, the color of the Irish setter’s coat. In my canoe
trips and steamboat voyages up the Stickeen I had seen more brown bears
than black, standing boldly out on the bank to watch the sputtering
steamboat, or grubbing for roots and worms in the green patches up the
mountain slopes.

” Why don’t you shoot the big bears? ” I

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asked-Louie. ” I saw four in a bunch the other day. Don’t you see any in
your hunting trips? ”

” Oh, yes,” he confessed, ” me plenty see hootz. All time me see heem.
Yestaday me see tree big fellers; stand up, all same man.”

” What’s the matter, then? ” I pressed him. “Are you afraid of them?”

” Yes, you bet you boots, I scare of heem. I no shame scare about hootz.
S’pose I big fool, I no scare; I shoot heem. You never see me again no
mo’.”

Louie Paul had two claims to special distinction. First, he was a very
expert and successful bear hunter; and, second, he was the husband of the
star pupil of Mrs. Mc-Farland’s Home for Girls, Tilly, the handsomest and
brightest of the girls whom we had rescued from the vileness, squalor and
sin of heathen life, and were training to be examples and teachers of
Christian civilization to their tribe.

I had taken Louie and Tilly the preceding fall and established them at
Tongas[s], one hundred miles south of Wrangell, outfitting Tilly with school
books, Bibles, Sunday-school supplies, etc., and paying her a salary

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as teacher to that wild tribe. Louie’s task was to keep up the fires for
the school, and to cook for his wife and supply her needs. He had stayed at
home faithfully during the winter, procuring the venison, ducks, geese,
fish, clams, crabs, and other articles of food they needed, and making
himself useful around the branch mission, even occasionally leading in
prayer, and exhorting the people. But the trapper’s “call of the wild ”
sounded in the early spring a call he could not resist. So here he was,
having left Tilly to cook her own meals and make her own fires, while he
explored the streams, bayous and lakes in his small canoe, pursuing the
elusive plantigrades.

The natives of Alaska at that time were handicapped in their hunting by an
order of the Government which forbade the Indians to own or use breech-
loading guns. This order was enforced among our peaceful Alaska natives,
who had never had a serious trouble with the whites, while the Sioux,
Apaches and Nez Perces, who were often on the war-path, had all the
Winchester, Henry and Enfield rifles they wanted.

The natives of Alaska at that time the early eighties had only breech-
loading,

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smooth-bore Hudson Bay muskets; and their round bullets had not much
penetrating power. They were all right for deer, but you might fill a hootz
full of those big, round balls and he would still have strength to tear you
to pieces.

” The more you pester them big bear with them old-fashioned smooth-bores,”
said one of the old white hunters at Fort Wrangell, ” the madder he gits.”
Louie Paul looked so much more like a white man than like an Indian, and
talked English so fluently, that I had persuaded the collector of customs
the only civil officer we had in that region to permit me to lend Louie my
new 45 75 Winchester repeating rifle. The repeater was a hard-shooting,
accurate gun, chambering twelve cartridges in the magazine the most
efficient rifle made at that time. Louie was a fine shot, and the
possession of this rifle gave him a great superiority over all the other
Indian bear-hunters. He made more money in his three or four weeks of
hunting in the spring than Tilly earned by her winter’s teaching.

” I should think you would not be afraid of a brown bear when you have my
Winchester,” I urged. ” You could put half a

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dozen balls clean through him before he could get to you.”
Louie shook his curly head doubtfully. “Mebby so; mebby not.”
Then his face lit up with a broad grin. ” Mebby so I be lak Buck. You hear about Buck an’ Kokaekish? ”

” No,” I replied, scenting a story. ” What about them? “

I knew both these men. Kokaekish was a fine old Indian, the father of one
of our best boys, whose Christian name was Louis Kellogg, but whose Indian
name was Kokaek. The name, Kokaekish, means ” Kokaek’s Father,”
illustrating the curious custom of the Thlingets of naming parents after
their children.

“Buck ” was a French Canadian, Alex Choquette a white man who had married a
Stickeen woman and had been adopted into the tribe. He had seemingly become
in heart and life an Indian, talking the language of his tribe, thinking
their thoughts and pursuing their customs. How thoroughly he had become
Indianized was evidenced by the language of Shustaak the old heathen chief
who had adopted Buck. “Wuck,” he said, delate siwash. Yacka

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tolo konaway nesika kopa klemenhoot.” (Buck is a genuine Indian. He can
beat all the rest of us lying.)

True to this definition of him, Buck had built his log house a combined
dwelling-house, hotel and store thirty miles up the Stickeen River,
opposite the Great Glacier, right on the boundary line between Alaska and
British Columbia. Here he sold blankets, guns, groceries and whiskey to the
white miners and to the Indians. When the Canadian authorities attempted to
arrest him for his illicit traffic he claimed to be on the American side.
When the Alaska custom officers went after him, he was a Canadian. Thus for
years he had carried on his crooked business and escaped punishment.

” You know Buck,” Louie began, ” he worse siwash dan anybody; but he ailtam
make fun odder Injun. One day Kokaekish come Buck store, buy powder.

” ` Where you come? ‘ Buck say.
Iskoot,’ say Kokaekish, ` make dry dog salmon. Now too many hootz, me come
back.’

“Buck laugh. `Eehya-a-ah ! You shawattoo (woman-heart) ; you coward ! What
for

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you ‘fraid hootz? S’pose me, I shootem all.’ Buck much laugh.
“Kokaekish, he shame. He head hang down, so. Buck more laugh. Bimeby
Kokaekish say, ` Buck, you strong heart. You want killem hootz?’

” Buck big bluff. ` Sure,’ he say. ` You show me hootz, me shootem quick.’

” `All light, come along. Me showem you hootz now.’ Kokaekish go he canoe.

” Buck shame for back out. He get Winchester, all same you rifle. ` Where
you go?’

” ` No far. Ict tintin, nesika clap.‘ (One hour, we find.)

” Dey go up Iskoot, mebby tree mile. Fin’ leetle stream. Plenty humpback
an’ dog salmon dere. Flap, flap, splash in shallow place. All roun’ de
grass all flat plenty tail, fin, bone. Buck look. He scare, but shame go
back. Leetle hill dere by de creek. Plenty bush. Kokaekish an’ Buck go up;
sit down ; wait. Pitty soon sitkum polakly (half night twilight), Kokaekish
ketch Buck arm. Whisper, ` Hootz come.’

“Buck look. Bear all same house delate hya-a-as! (very big), come down
creek. Swing slow an’ lazy. Go in water;

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slap out big salmon on bank pitty near two man; go an’ eatem.

“Kokaekish whisper, ` Why you no shootem, Buck? You brave man! You much
want killem hootz. Shootem quick ! ‘

” Buck scare stiff. ` Sh-sh-sh ! you of fool!’ he say. He toof clap all
same medicine-man rattle; water come out on he face; he shake like
cottonwood leaf.

” Kokaekish laugh. ` More hootz come,’ he say. Nodder big bear come; growl,
gr-r-r! go fishin’. Den she-bear an’ two leetle feller come. Mamma ketch
salmon; leetle bear play; run up-hill mos’ on top man. Nodder bear come.
Six Hootz; ketch salmon; scrap; one chase nodder; play.

“Buck not quite die. He lie flat down. He’s finger count he’s bead; he play
Maly; he shake.

” Kokaekish much laugh. He rub it in. ` You brave man, Buck. You white man
no scare nuttin’. You want see hootz. Me fin’ heem. Why you no shootem?’

Bimeby delate polakly (quite dark). All hootz go leetle way up creek.
Kokaekish shake Buck. ` Mebby so, you no want more hootz, we go now.’ Dey
walk han’ an’ foot all same dog. Buck fo’get he’s

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rifle. Dey fin’ canoe ; paddle quick Buck house.

” Now all Injun put shame on Buck face. ` Hey, Buck, you want shootem
hootz? You white man; you brave; no scare nuttin’. How many hootz you
kill?’ Buck delate shame. Mos’ keel hese’f. Mebby so, I lak dat.”

” No, Louie,” I replied when we had done laughing, “you are not like Buck.
You would keep your nerve, and at least account for some of the brown
bears.”

” Well,” he ventured doubtfully, ” dis Winshesser mighty fine gun. I t’ink
I try hootz nex’ tam.”

A week afterwards Louie came to my house in great excitement. He knocked
repeatedly before I could get to the door.

” Mista Yuy,” he almost shouted, ” you come see my hootz skin. My firs’; my
las’ too.”

I went with him to the store where several fine black bear skins were
displayed to an admiring group of whites and natives. With them was an
enormous brown bear skin, the largest I had ever seen. The fur was
beautiful rich in color, thick and glossy; but it was bloody and badly
mussed.

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Turning it over I saw that the skin was full of holes fairly riddled. I
counted seventeen perforations. The larger and more ragged of the holes
marked the exit of the balls that had ranged clear through the bear.

” Why, Louie,” I exclaimed, “what did you mean by spoiling this fine skin?
It is like a sieve. You have taken away more than half its value by
shooting it up like that.”

Louie danced about like a monkey head, hands, feet, his whole body
gesturing, his voice rising higher and louder as he went on with his story.

“You lissen me! I see dis big feller Stan’ up all same man. Open place; no
big tree. Maybe hunner ya’d. I say me, ` Louie, you betta draw good bead
dis tam. You shoot heem straight troo de heart, keel heem dead fust shot.’

” I shoot; he fall down. Klosh tumtum (good heart), me. I put de gun on
shoul’er. Den I look. I ‘stonish. De hootz, he git up queek; he come
straight fo’ me. I shoot queek; he fall down; he git up; he come for me. I
shoot; I shoot; I shoot; he fall down; he fall down; he git up; he came for

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me. You betcha boots I hit heem ev’y tam. I scare to miss. I forgit how
many catridge. I shoot; I shoot; I say, ` Dat’s de las’; now he git me;
dat’s de las’; now he git me.’

” I git awful scare. I t’ink, ` Tilly widow now fo’ sure. Nobody git wood
fo’ her no mo’.’ Dat bear git close right here! He jus’ goin’ grab me. I
mos’ fall down; I so scare. I try once mo’. I put my gun agains’ he’s head.
I shoot; he fall down; he don’ git up no mo’. My las’ catridge. I put ten
ball t’rough heem. No-mo’-hootz-
f o’-me! “

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