1849-1855: California letters of Lucius Fairchild

Do you enjoy rough and ready frontier prose? I have just the book for you.

Try “California Letters of Lucius Fairchild“, ed. by Joseph Schafer. 1931. Madison: State Historical Society of
Wisconsin. (Click that link to read it for free.)

fairchild miner

Photographic portrait between pages 192 and 193

Interesting and entertaining material from a “Forty-Niner”. Lovely 1849 illustrations of the trail west in the book are thought to have been done by Andrew Jackson Lindsay. Lucius Fairchild (1831-1896) went on to become a governor of Wisconsin.

My interest in this book is mainly the CJ, although there’s also good evidence of Californian lingua franca Spanish (mangled, and kinda pidgin-like) plus American English and immigrant German idioms.

Fairchild cussed and used slang a lot; on page 161 the editor over-charitably infers that “up to my A– in clover” included the word “ankles”! Another splendid word of his is “don’t-care-a-d-[amne]d-itiveness” on page 168.

He was also a “radical Republican”, forcefully favoring full franchise for all races and nationalities. He’d fit into the modern Pacific Northwest fairly well.

He traveled around California mining and working odd jobs before winding up in the northern part. As we’ve seen several times previously on my website, there remained traces of Chinuk Wawa use from fur-trade days up there.

It’s only after several years’ residence in northern California, by his estimate 75 miles from the Rogue River Indian War in southwest Oregon, that Fairchild starts using Chinook Jargon expressions. How much of the following do you understand?

  • Page 158 has a letter datelined “Ollilie Rancho Scotts Valley”
  • 162 “I have every confidence in making ‘hiu Chickamun‘ this year”
  • 163 “I remain Your Tillicum
  • 168 “the ‘Chuck’ would run down my cheeks in spite of me”
  • 169 “There is only one female in this town, besides any number of ‘cluchomen’ who ‘Hyas Ticky Quantuc’ potlatch muck-a-muc
  • 181 “I fancy my self I am ‘some’ at cutting up muck-a-muck” (he was a butcher)
  • 184 “G.W. Price of New York City son-in-law of the famous Sands of Sassaparilla notority [sic] — had a high old time and punished ‘high U.’ good things.”

Fairchild uses an idiosyncratic spelling for his Chinuk Wawa, thus apparently writing from his personal experience of the language.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?