1913 [circa 1859]: Oh, Dewdney, car mika chaco?

This article specifies that the following took place “over fifty years ago”, so it was perhaps around 1859, early in Settler era of BC.


xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Indian Band members (Image credit: Wikipedia)

This is a reminiscence by Edgar Dewdney (1835-1916), a British-born immigrant of 1859 to British Columbia who went on to be a surveyor, road builder, and major politician.

Here he tells of having been more or less deputized to nab a Musqueam tribal suspect called Silpaynim. There are good quotations of Chinook here, and some needing back-translation into their original Jargon. Governor Sir James Douglas makes an appearance at the end, as well!

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“…I took with me a man named Wood, who could speak the Indian language [Musqueam Salish? Dewdney already spoke Chinuk Wawa], and we started in a canoe after nightfall. My intention was, if possible, to surprise Silpaynim, who knew me, in his camp, get my hand on him and hold him until the constables, who would be near at hand in their boat, could land and arrest him. I knew unless I could get hold of him by some sort of a ruse he would take to the woods again and when there he was quite safe. It was Winter and the ice was running very freely in the river.


“Wood and I crept along the Fraser in our

canoe close to the bank, expecting to be able to find the camp by its fire. In this we failed and we ultimately reached the sawmill where the constables were waiting. There I got some information as to the location of the camp, which was said to be indicated by a fallen tree projecting over the bank. We returned in our canoe, the constables following in their boat some distance behind about about [sic] twenty minutes later. We reached the tree and I went ashore, walking along the fallen tree. Then I saw a canoe pulled up alongside. I at once commenced talking Chinook to Wood, as I knew the Indians would understand what I was saying if they were near. I said, ‘Here’s a canoe,’ then, walking on a little farther, and seeing the remains of a fire which I felt sure must be the Indians’ fire, I said to Wood, ‘Why, here’s a fire.’ Then, in the half light, I saw that Silpaynim’s squaw was seated near the ashes. I said, ‘Clayhower’ (‘How do you do’?) [ɬax̣áwya] She looked up and said, ‘Oh, Dewdney, car mika chaco’ (‘Dewdney, where do you come from?) [qʰá mayka cháku?] I told her I was taking a run round. I added that it was cold and a fire would be an advantage. The squaw stirred away at the embers. I took from my pocket a phial bottle of whiskey I had with me and said, speaking loudly, for I felt pretty sure Silpaynim was near enough to hear, ‘Mika tike tenas’? (‘Will you take a little’?) [mayka tíki tə́nəs*?] ‘Halo’ (‘No’) [hílu] she replied. Then I said suddenly, ‘Where is Silpaynim’? She did not reply. ‘Tell him to come out,’ I said, still, of course, speaking in Chinook, ‘and have some drink.’ She looked back at the bush and said a few words quietly and Silpaynim came out of the bush and up to the fire where we were talking. I saluted him in Chinook and he replied in the same language. ‘What do you want’? he said. ‘I want you,’ I said. He then realized that this was no friendly visit and started to bolt.


“I seized him by the collar and we struggled. At the same time I called to Wood. My pistol dropped to the ground and Silpaynim made a grab for his musket, which was leaning against a tree near. He got hold of it and called to his wife to hit me over the head with an axe. Wood, however, arrived in time to prevent this, and just as he arrived, I heard the sound of rowlocks and knew that the boat with the constables was near. I called to them to hurry. ‘Wake closhe, Dewdney’ ([‘]Very bad Dewdney’) [wík-ɬúsh] said Silpaynim, realizing as we struggled that all was up. The constables scrambled ashore and secured both the man and his squaw and conveyed them to the camp of the Royal Engineers at New Westminster.”

— from “The Story of My Life” by Hon. Edgar Dewdney, in the Vancouver (BC) Daily News Advertiser of August 10, 1913, page 21, columns 1-2

These are quite small quotations, but all excellent Chinook Jargon.

Especially ‘Wake closhe, Dewdney’ ([‘]Very bad Dewdney’) [wík-ɬúsh], because it shows the narrator understood that this phrase (literally ‘not-good’) functioned as a single conceptual unit meaning ‘bad’.

This point perfectly matches what I’ve found throughout the northern dialect of CJ — a dialect which, it stands to reason, really only took a distinct shape from the southern speech some time later than the 1858+ BC gold rushes that brought Chinuk Wawa to new areas of BC.

The negator wik is rare in the north, mainly showing up in petrified phrases like this one. (Also in wík-sáyá ‘almost’, wík-qʰáta ‘can’t’, wík-qʰə́nchi ‘never’, etc.)

If you intended to say literally ‘not good’, you’d say hílu ɬúsh in the northern dialect.

I mentioned the material here that needs back-translating into CW. One such bit is Dewdney’s expression “I was taking a run round”. This is clearly the common northern CW expression, kʰə́ltəs-kúli (literally ‘for.no.purpose – run/travel’) for ‘have a stroll; gallivant; get up to no good’!

Any of my readers care to post your back-translations into the Comments below?

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?