1864: Siwash Affair de Fisticuffs in Seattle Illahee, with discoveries!

Pretty early in the frontier settlement period for Washington state, “our native reporter” contributes an awesome article about a Seattle fistfight.

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“The Largest House of Prostitution in the World, Constructed in a Public Street” in Seattle (image credit: Seattle Met)

Naturally for a “Siwash” [(here a pretend) Native person], it’s in “the classic Chinook”…with a recognizably Settler accent.

Turns out, this is very fluent stuff.

We often find in western Washington’s frontier era that Settlers spoke excellent southern-dialect, early-creolized Chinook Jargon, such as we find here. The south was the original homeland of CJ, and it was the first area to receive much non-Native settlement. Washington Territory received Settlers only later. 

So don’t let my next tossed-aside comment escape you:

Ever wonder how Chinuk Wawa came to diverge into 2 distinct dialects, southern vs. northern? The main factor was the 1858+ gold rushes in what’s now British Columbia, which also solidified Victoria’s role as a major commercial hub. Washington folks from Puget Sound came to be more oriented towards BC’s capital than to the lower Columbia-Willamette drainage — and their CW style then shifted towards Victoria/BC norms!

A couple of subtle Jargon tie-ins here:

  1. For this Seattle newspaper, “single copies, 12½¢”, i.e. one bit coin!
  2. And “the sawdust” is likely to refer to the young town’s notorious “Seattle Illahee” red-light district, famed in regional Chinook song and memory…

I’m pretty sure today’s article is going to be one of my favorites of all time.

Okay, here’s the article, and of course no translation was provided by the editor because “everyone” talked Chinook. The spellings, because this piece pre-dates popular published dictionaries, are a style unique to the reporter, in turn indicative of real-world Jargon knowledge. Below, I’ll analyze this luscious tidbit for you 🙂

siwash affair de fisticuffs

SIWASH AFFAIR DE FISTICUFFS. — The two Siwashes whose case we noticed a few weeks since, came together for a final adjustment of their difficulties, Sunday night, on the sawdust. Our navtive [sic] reporter furnishes the following classic account of the proceedings: Claska tum tum claska hias selix ikct copa ickt — ickt copa ickt. Ickt man sacle hias cumtux mamoke haul tepsoe pe marsh letate copa sawdust. Yaka wawa pe carta mica capswalla nica lacoseet tenas ancuty, halo mica shame! halo klaxta hias closh man mamoke capswalla copet hias kultus man cumtux caqua, carqua mica, pe yaka skullum mamoke okoak keeqwulla man, pe alke keequalla man waww, halo yaka quass copa okoak musatchy man, yaka tikke mamoke fight copa yaka halo yaka selex, halo pelton yaka kultus tikke fight copa holoyma man. Saly claska hiyou wawa, pe alke Boston mamoke haul yaka pe yaka copet. Klonas halo yaka copet. Klonas alke spose yaka chaco musatchy tum tum copa hiyou lum mitlight claska hiyou mamoke fight copa knife pe tikke memaluse.

— from the Seattle (WA) Gazette of April 5, 1864, page 2, column 3

The deep dive into that Chinuk Wawa:
(Asterisks indicate tentative analyses) 

Claska tum tum claska hias selix ikct copa ickt — ickt copa ickt. Ickt man sacle
ɬaska tə́mtəm ɬaska hayas-sáliks íxt kʰupa íxt — íxt kʰupa íxt. íxt mán yaka*
their heart they very-angry one to one — one to one. one man he
‘Their hearts were very angry with each other — one with the other. The one man’

hias cumtux mamoke haul tepsoe pe marsh letate copa sawdust. Yaka wawa
hayas-kəmtəks-mamuk-hál [1] típsu pi másh latét [2] kʰupa sá-dəst*. yaka wáwa
very-know make-drag grass and/but leave head at sawdust. he say
‘is an expert hay hauler but he lost his head at the Sawdust. He said,’

pe carta mica capswalla nica lacoseet tenas ancuty, halo mica shame! halo klaxta
[“]pi qʰáta [3] mayka kápshwála nayka lákʰasét tənəs-ánqati, hílu mayka shím! hílu-ɬaksta
“and how you steal my box little-previously, none your shame! none-who
‘ “Now why did you steal my [wagon?*] box the other day, shame on you! There’s no…’

hias closh man mamoke capswalla copet hias kultus man cumtux caqua, carqua mica,
hayas-ɬúsh mán mamuk-kápshwála [4] Ø(,) [5] kʰəpít hayas-kʰə́ltəs mán kəmtəks-kákwa, [6] kákwa mayka,[“]
very-good man make-steal it(,) only very-worthless man know like.that, like you,[“]
‘ “…decent man who would steal it, only a less-than-worthless fella has a habit like that, like you,” ‘

pe yaka skullum mamoke okoak keeqwulla man, pe alke keequalla man waww,
pi yaka skúkum mámuk úkuk kíkwəli [7] mán, pi áɬqi kíkwəli mán wáwa,
and he powerfully do that low man, and eventually low man say,
‘and he handled that lowdown fella rough, and after a while the lowdown chap said,’

halo yaka quass copa okoak musatchy man, yaka tikke mamoke fight copa yaka
hílu yaka k’wás kʰupa [8] úkuk másáchi mán, yaka tíki mamuk-pʰáyt [9] kʰupa [10] yaka(,)
not he afraid from that tough man, he want make-fight with him(,)
‘he wasn’t afraid of that tough guy, he wanted to have a fight with him,’

halo yaka selex, halo pelton yaka kultus tikke fight copa holoyma man. Saly claska
hílu yaka sáliks, hílu píltən yaka(,) kʰə́ltəs tíki pʰáyt kʰupa [11] x̣lúyma mán. líli ɬaska
not he afraid, not crazy he(,) only* want fight with other man. long.time they
‘he wasn’t afraid, he wasn’t crazy, he just wanted to fight with the other guy. For a long time they’

hiyou wawa, pe alke Boston mamoke haul yaka pe yaka copet. Klonas halo yaka
hayu-wáwa, pi áɬqi bástən mamuk-hál [12] yaka [13] pi yaka kʰəpít. t’ɬúnas hílu yaka
much-talk, and eventually American make-drag him and he finished. maybe not he
‘kept moving their mouths, and eventually the White folks dragged them away and they were.’

copet. Klonas alke spose yaka chaco musatchy tum tum copa hiyou lum mitlight
kʰəpít. t’ɬúnas áɬqi spus yaka chaku-másáchi-tə́mtəm kʰupa háyú lám míɬayt(,)
finished. maybe eventually if he become-mean-heart from much alcohol being.there(,)
‘done. Maybe some day if they get feeling mean from having a lot of booze in them,’

claska hiyou mamoke fight copa knife pe tikke memaluse.
ɬaska hayu-mamuk-pʰáyt kʰupa náyf pi tíki míməlus. [14]
they much-make-fight with knife and want die.
‘they’ll get fighting with knives and try to kill (each other).’

The footnotes:

The 4 “words” hayas-kəmtəks-mamuk-hál [1] (see also footnote 12) have at least 4 very fluent early-creolized things going on that I want to give acknowledgement to.

  • As George Gibbs’s 1863 dictionary tells us, “hyas kumtuks” is ‘well to understand’, i.e. be well acquainted or be highly knowledgeable; it’s quite notable whenever we find the Intensifying prefix hayas- on a verb, but yes, it really does happen.
  • Gibbs implies by showing a substantial number of examples that his Fort Vancouver-era Jargon uses “kumtuks” (literally ‘know’) to show habituality. We’re seeing that here. 
  • He also tells us that the verb “haul” ‘to haul or pull’ is normally used with the causative prefix, thus “mamook haul” as we see here. I’m guessing you didn’t expect that, but I’ve learned to believe virtually everything Gibbs reports about Chinook.  
  • Early-creolized CW was more tolerant of multiple prefixes on a single verb; here we have 3 in a row! Thus, different combinations of prefixes were permissible back then, another example being the now vanished mamuk-chaku-.

másh latét [2] for me means ‘lost (his) head’. A clue that it’s an idiom (a new one to us!) is the lack of a possessive pronoun yaka, which we’d normally always expect, before ‘head’. Contrast this phrase with másh-tə́mtəm (literally ‘leave-mind’) for ‘forget’. 

pi qʰáta [3] mayka kápshwála nayka lákʰasét: In the early-creolized Chinook Jargon of frontier days, it was very common to express a sense of ‘why?’ by exclaiming (pi) qʰáta? (‘(and) how?’). Another evidently new discovery for us today is the use of lákʰasét ‘box’ for a ‘wagon box’, you know, the equivalent of our present-day pickup truck beds 🙂 That would’ve been a very often spoken-of item, back in the day, and it’s kind of amazing to realize that we hadn’t known a word for it until now! 

mamuk-kápshwála [4] seems like an unusual and unneeded Causative use of kápshwála ‘steal’. Sometimes Settlers did add mamuk- to verbs (e.g. mamuk-wáwa ‘make-talk’ for ‘talk’) in violation of fluent CW grammar, as if to make mamuk- signal “here comes a verb”. An alternative view: mámuk kápshwála might be ‘act secretly’. (See the next footnote.) What do you think?

How nice to 😁 hear 😁 the “silent it” pronoun Ø [5] here. But only if my mamuk-kápshwála idea is right! Know what I mean? 

kəmtəks-kákwa [6] is another, equally wonderful, illustration of the early-creolized Chinuk Wawa “Habitual” prefix. It’s a joy to find it on a stative verb, kákwa ‘to be like that’, in a parallel with a 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes Dictionary elder example that literally translates as ‘know-coyote’ but means ‘is habitually like Coyote’. 

I admit that I’m not technically sure of the intended meaning of kíkwəli [7] mán here. In the context I feel confidence that it’s a “calque”, a literal translation from slang 1800s Settler English ‘low(down)’ as a condemnation of someone’s bad character. Because that’s not standard usage of kíkwəli in Jargon, I acknowledge that this word could mean a dude who’s ‘short’ in height…but nothing in the anecdote relates to these guys’ physical stature! 

It’s very Settler to say k’wás kʰupa [8], with a preposition that’s not really necessary when you’re saying you’re afraid “of” something. By the way, úkuk másáchi mán here carries more of a sense of ‘that tough guy’, not the other senses of másáchi such as ‘evil; mean(-spirited); violent’. 

The use of the Causative prefix in mamuk-pʰáyt [9] strikes me as another needless instance of that structure, not uncommon among Settlers. (See a previous footnote.) However, Gibbs says ‘fight’ was expressed as mamuk-sáliks in his experience, so maybe when pʰáyt entered the language, fluent speakers also really used mamuk- with it! (George Coombs Shaw’s post-frontier 1909 dictionary from western Washington claims this was so.)

Fighting “kʰupa [10] yaka” is an equivalent expression to kʰánumákwst yaka (‘together.with him’), or just kʰánumákwst (‘together; each other’). All are fluent Jargon.  

mamuk-hál [12] reappears here to prove that this was really the way people talked! (See footnote 1.)

Starting with yaka [13] pi yaka kʰəpít, we have several of what appear to be that wonderful fluent Chinuk Wawa feature that I discovered in my 2012 PhD dissertation, the “plural yaka“. What do you think? And, have you downloaded your free copy of my “Kamloops Chinuk Wawa” study?

Any way you slice it, tíki míməlus [14] is a Settler-ism. The two most probable ways to analyze this expression (literally ‘want die’) are: 

  1. tíki means ‘try to’ and we’re seeing here the typically Settler English-influenced failure to add the Causative mamuk- to míməlus ‘die’ to correctly express ‘kill’ (thus we’d read ‘try to kill each other’ here), or else, 
  2. tíki míməlus is a calque of informal US English ‘like to die’ (~feel like you’re going to die).

I lean towards the ‘try to kill (each other)’ view, as the ‘like to die’ one doesn’t really make sense in the context. 

Summary:

Repeating my summary view of today’s Jargon sample, it’s extremely fluent, and it’s a specimen of early-creolized Chinuk Wawa, from the time before Grand Ronde speech and the northern dialect had diverged. I believe it’s clearly from a Settler speaker, not a Native person — but if the latter is indeed the case, the Settler who heard it and wrote it down got it remarkably straight.

Many Settlers’ Chinook Jargon from later decades, when they were the numerically and socially dominant group, was far more influenced by English than what we’ve seen today.

Part of the great importance of today’s text is that it disproves the outlandish and racist-y claims made on Wikipedia that “White people had their own Chinook Jargon” which we should resurrect as an expression of White pride 💩🤠😡, and by the late linguist Michael Silverstein that “CJ had no grammar of its own” so English speakers would’ve just used Jargon words with English grammar. (Maybe you’ve heard other stupid claims made about Chinuk Wawa.)

Nope. Folks acknowledged a clear, shared perception of good Chinuk Wawa grammar, which was distinct from all of the other languages spoken by its users. 

Bonus fact:

“Mad houses / madhouses / mad-houses” was the common polite term for brothels in the Puget Sound country, it turns out. Here’s a newspaper article from Yakima, Washington in 1896 telling of three specific ones, and claiming that in 1875 more of them, typically employing Native “habitués”, “flourished on the Sound like green bay trees(,) Olympia being about the only town on the Sound that did not possess one of these institutions.”

squaw mad houses

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?

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