1858: Jargon humor in California

One byproduct of the Fraser River gold rush of 1858 was that Oregon gained even greater prominence in the minds of Californians, who found its inhabitants oddballs.

Cutler was fortunate to get out of the “Insane Asylum of California at Stockton” alive (image credit: USGenNet)

Does that sound familiar nowadays?

Another effect of these historical events was that the Chinook Jargon started to become more of a known quantity outside of the Oregon Territory…

Oregon was a stopoff (or several) for many who left California’s goldfields and headed north to British Columbia’s Fraser and points inland.

Here, a northern California Settler who has recently been jailed for insanity [thus he’s a “graduate of Stockton University!] writes a humorous letter to the editor of his local paper.

He protests that he’s not crazy, but that he’s seen some stuff in Oregon wacky enough to make admitting that territory as a US State a questionable notion. 

Exhibit A for him is the backwoods food served at a “cotillion party” in Long Tom. 

Exhibit B is … the Oregon pioneers’ (“Tartars”) embrace of Chinuk Wawa!

o ball 1
o ball 2
o ball 3
o ball 4
o ball 5


The following graphic description of an Oregon ball was written by N.T. Cutler, Esq., formerly a packer [a transporter of goods via horse/muleback] in California and Oregon, a man of means and influence, who was taken up in Yreka last year on a charge of lunacy, and sent to Stockton insane asylum. After a sojourn of a few weeks at that institution, he was pronounced to be of sound mind, and set at liberty. Since his return to Yreka he has again been suspected of mental aberration, which he most emphatically denies, and says he never was half so crazy as those who sent him to Stockton. We publish his product at his request, and the people may judge of his sanity. … —

Mr. Editor — During a temporary sojourn among that peculiar people called Tartars, and having travelled among them from Yreka to the Dalles, permit me to give my ideas of them.

First, let me call your attention to the following programme, or eating-gramme, of a ball which came off while I was there, and to which I had a strong scent of camus [camas] card of invitation, which I give your readers as copied word for word, and letter for letter.

The original hand-bill and card of invitation can be seen at the Luna House, and for proof of its genuineness, I refer to the printers of the Occidental Messenger, printed a[t] Corvallis, Benton Co., Oregon:

… As proof of their degeneracy it is a fact that the English language is fast becoming obsolete, (from mis-use), and in its place we hear the chaste and classic Chenook. So much so is it spoken that it is with difficulty that a Californian traveling among them, and unacquainted with the terms — wake-cumtux, si-yah, noa-witka, copit, ten-as, &c., can pursue his travels without the aid of an interpreter.

The above was written excepting hand-bill, for the Yreka Weekly Union, but notwithstanding its editor believes in a free press, free speech, but not in Fremont, he refused to publish it, giving as reasons, that on account of their proximity to Yreka they might become enraged, and come over and take the place by storm, but you, from your distance, need apprehend nothing of that kind. I, therefore, if convenient, request that you would print the above entire.

Yours, &c.,

Late Graduate of Stockton

— from the Red Bluff (CA) Beacon of July 7, 1858, page 4, column 1

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