pre-1889: Reminiscences of an old timer including Shoalwater Bay

This fella had experience of just about all of Washington Territory, including the early-creolized Chinuk Wawa-speaking Shoalwater Bay (page ix); he was sheriff of Pacific County around the same time CW expert James G. Swan was living on the bay near him (page 160).


Illustration between pages 120 & 121

Here’s a book with a lively point of view. Sometimes too lively for some folks’ taste, I imagine. Hunter repeatedly uses the phrase “good Indian(s)” [as in “the only good Indian is a dead one”] in reporting the death of Indigenous people. But a merciful change from the Victorian norm is his slangy delivery throughout.

The book is:

Hunter, [Colonel] George. 1889.Reminiscences of an old timer. (Fourth Edition.) Battle Creek, MI: Review and Herald.

Read it for free at that link!

This man, born in Ohio in 1835 and immigrated to Oregon Territory in 1852, seems to have worked, lived, and battled in every part of then-Jargon-speaking country incuding the Kootenays of BC, from the 1850s onward. He’s such an oldtimer that he spells the language’s name Chenook. (Page 120.)

On page 60 he’s talking some Chinook Jargon with an apparently Klamath man, in that tribe’s territory, in the early to mid-1850s. Southwest Oregon at that time was firmly in the lower Columbia River CJ orbit, thus modeling its usage on the early-creolized variety.

Page 64 mentions a Native chief who, while being taken to San Francisco to be jailed, managed to take control of the ship single-handed — this was I’m sure the renowned Tyee John of southwest Oregon.

The author recalls Chinuk Wawa in use by the volunteer soldiers in the 1855 war with Native people in eastern Washington. One person spoken with in this fashion was “Pu-pu-mox-mox” / Little Yellow Serpent / Yellow Bird, pictured above. (Pages 120-121.)

Page 142 passingly notes that “Nez Perce” was normally pronounced “na-persy” by oldtimers, matching the Grand Ronde dictionary’s 2012 pronunciation in Chinuk Wawa.

Page 159 tells of a lighthearted gathering with Shoalwater Bay Native people, with lots of joking between them and Hunter’s Settler friends in “the Indian dialect” — Chinuk Wawa — which the latter all understood “sufficiently”. One old chief is said to have been named “Toman-a-mus”, CW t’əmánəwas, a word that I’ve long suggested comes from the local Lower Chehalis language.

On page 345 we hear the claim that a “friendly” (that is, sympathetic to Settlers) Nez Perce woman “…from her infatuation with gambling, was called To-lo (Chinook for ‘wager’)”. This etymology for the name of this well-known personage in the Nez Perce War of 1877 has never quite sat 100% right for me. CW túlu is gambling-associated, but it always means ‘win, beat, defeat someone’. If this name she carried was Chinuk Wawa, she was actually known as ‘she wins’!

Hunter’s reminiscences of Jargon are in idiosyncratic spellings, suggesting they’re firsthand, not cribbed from some popular book for local color. An example is his phrase “Nika cupet wa-wa” for “I have finished speaking.” (Page 360.) He says this is in the language of “my tribe”; the Palouses, he claims, made him a White chief of their people.

On page 376 the Palouse chief “Cus-cus” (Cash Cash?) is quoted in CW: “Nika potlum” (‘I am drunk’, per the author). His tribal members are said to have described him as having become “hias cultus (very bad) through drink”.

Page 378 refers to Palouse tribal people visiting the author whenever they want to know “the laws of the country (Boston Momock)“. (CW for ‘Boston doings’, ‘White ways of doing stuff’.)

Page 417 tells of a Settler’s dying wish to be buried on “Mim-a-loose Island” a little downstream from The Dalles of the Columbia River. This is independent confirmation of a known ‘dead people’s island’.

There are other scattered words of Chinook in these pages, and plenty of wit, often generously quoted from other people. You’ll find some entertaining old slang as well, like “jasack rabbits”, “what the Sam Patch?” & “si-faxed”, and some miner’s song lyrics and folk poetry. It’s no mystery that Hunter has a letter of appreciation from the great Western historian Hubert Howe Bancroft at the end of this book.

This book is particularly valuable for its evidence of the currency of Jargon in the Palouse region of eastern Washington circa 1880. A couple years earlier than that, to be accurate. It didn’t really hang on here much longer, and it was never much documented here.

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