1886 [circa 1867], SE Alaska: The Yiddish Merchants’ Union?
A decade pre-Klondike gold rush, a Montana newspaper article about Alaska has little else to do than reminisce about how the Jews, supposedly, were taking over that Territory at the time of the Russian handover.
(Image credit: “The Army Takes the Sitka Census” by the great AK historian Robert N. De Armond, who I was lucky enough to visit in Sitka in 2003)
The Great Falls paper had its own special correspondent writing about Alaskan conditions.
Here’s an excerpt from one of his reports, telling us how Chinuk Wawa really was a “trade language” for some folks, such as the Lingít (Tlingit) people and Samuel Goldstein in Sitka…
There was also “Cultus [‘no-good’] Sam,” a Victoria Jew, he came to Alaska without a cent, worked his way up on the boat and commenced business on a box of apples and a box of cigars and those he got on credit from Rudolph, a wealthy Jew from Portland, Oregon. Sam’s store was on the sidewalk, it had neither roof or [sic] wall; the counter was a small table large enough to show up his wares. Apples at 25 cents each, and cigars the same. In a week Sam had a stake [i.e. capital] — fitted up a small store and commenced trading with the Indians. He spoke Chinook like an Indian, and in consequence monopolized much of the Indian trade. Sam’s little store was in front of the Military Hospital and separated from the Indian settlement by a narrow portion of the Bay. Canoes glided rapidly back and forwards at night and early morn, evading the guards. All of them bought “ile.” [Oil.] Sam’s stock was principally in coal oil [kerosene] cans, a few bars of soap, a few cotton handkerchiefs and tobacco. Now, at a sale of property that took place in ’69 Cultus Sam bought in two large stores at about $2,000, and in ’70 had one of those stores packed with dry goods, boots and shoes, flour, groceries and canned goods.
— from “Alaska”, Great Falls (MT) Tribune of January 30, 1886, page 1, column 4
One quick but important note — the above reminiscence speaks of Sam’s use of Chinook giving him a competitive advantage in securing Native traffic in his stores. In other words, few non-Natives knew Jargon in southeast Alaska around 1867.
Lots of other data we’ve turned up, like this piece, indicate that Chinook Jargon was hardly known in Alaska till after the Russians sold the territory to the USA.
So here we have one brick in the solid structure of data that we’ve been building, to prove that the Jargon didn’t exist before contact with the Drifters (Euro-Americans)…
…and that it took a long time to propagate any considerable distance from its lower Columbia River birthplace