1875: “Legend of Chemeketa”, an epic doggerel poem

Among the most famed “pioneers” was Captain Oliver Cromwell Applegate Sr. (1845-1938).


O.C. Applegate in “Indian war” garb (image credit: Klamath Falls Herald and News)

Renowned by his Settler peers for his energy in getting the Territory colonized, Oregon-born O.C. Applegate also had at least modest literary aspirations, as did so darn many of the “self-reliance”-worshiping White folks who crowded into this place in the mid-1800s.

Today, he gives his pen its head (if I can use a horse metaphor that a lot of those newcomers would’ve liked), to ramble through a masterpiece of regionally colored poetry that’s infused with both Chinuk Wawa and Settler slang.

O.C.’s C.W. can be assumed to have been highly fluent, early-creolized lower Columbia River-area stuff, as he was born in the Yamhill District of Polk County, then lived in the Yoncalla Valley (about 1850-1860) before moving to the Siskiyou Mountains-Ashland area, then as a young man among the Klamath tribe. Thus, for his whole life, this author spoke the same Jargon that became Grand Ronde’s Chinuk Wawa.

Look how he displays skill at weaving CW into the European-style rhythm of his verses. Sometimes he’s willing to bend the grammar of the Jargon (as well as of English) to accomplish this effect.

I’ve copied out the whole poem below, and added [English translations] as needed…

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Where now in all its grandeur, is
The Capital, so full of bis,                                      [“biz” = business]
Si-wash village stood one day,                         [Native]
Its Indian name Chemeketa.
No white man’s art was yet at hand 
To build a city rich and grand; 
Nor did the simple Indians dream 
That palaces would ride this stream. 
No Commercial Hotel was under way, 
To oblige the guests of a future day; 
No Opera House, immense and grand, 
Rose o’er Chemeketa’s soil and sand. 
In grandeur then no Church House rose, 
Nor Capitol in grand repose; 
Nor Mansion House, nor Bennett Hall,
Nor Chemeketa with fretted wall. 
No genius then besought the muse, 
No daily press dispensed the news; 
No Institute then spread the light, 
No preacher made the future bright; 
No Music Union flourished then, 
The writer drew no poet’s pen; 
No chieftain cheered the spangled banner, 
No clootch-man played on the pi-an-ner.                     [woman]
No clocks then struck, no bell o’er rung;

No bummers round the corners hung;
But in the smoky lodges sprawled 
Dogs and gentlemen (so-called). 
No Templars’ lodge, no store, no shop, 
No deamons [sic] drunk — no, not a drop; 
Wake hy-iu icta ca-qua Boston man                              [not many things like White people(‘s)]
Pe hy-u si-wash cuitan.                                                   [but plenty of Native(‘s) horses]

Among the huts of grass and skins 
Hi-u til-li-cums baked [barked?] their shins,                    [many people] 
And round the fires, on the il-la-hee,                              [village/territory]
Lay many a cur of low degree. 

They were indeed a simple race, 
Who lived on fish and by the chase. 
The swamps did also ka-mass give,                                 [camas]
Their life it was quite primitive. 

They fondly loved their ancestral home, 
Hence seldom ventured far to roam; 
And nothing knew of a whiter race 
That would the blood of apes disgrace, 
By coming in a future day 
To tear them from their homes away — 
To mass them on some little spot 
To briefly eke out life, and rot. 
Nor dreamed they then of the awful scream ?
Of the white man’s mighty agent, steam; 
Nor that to earn the pale-face bread 
He’d plow the ashes of their dead. 
From Calapooia’s peaks of snow 
To where Columbia’s waters flow, 
They looked upon this verdant land 
As given to them, from the hand 
Of the mighty Choo-chem-i-hoo [sic?],
Who for their god would ever do, 
And when came their lot to die 
Would take them to himself on high. 

Tule mats, or skins, or bark, 
Smeared with pitch, like Noah’s ark, 
They stretched between them and the sky, 
To keep these primal settlers dry. 
For even then, it was their luck 
To have a copious fall of chuck,                                              [water i.e. rain]
That for many days would not desist — 
Which was, in fact, a “Webfoot mist.” 
These people were, like us, quite vain, 
The same which I would fain explain. 
‘Tis true a book both quaint and old, 
The Bible called (so I am told), 
Asserts we came from a common head, 
A human pair in Eden fed; 
Though Darwin doth quite loud declare 
That apes our first forefathers were. 
Some good reason, it seems to me, 
For Darwin’s system all may see, 
For many persons, right to this day, 
Quite plain their ancestry display. 
Yet common kindred all must claim, 
Since like desires do all inflame — 
The pride of dress, the love of rest, 
The varied longings of the breast — 
The gentle passion, deep and strong, 
Drives cupids darts for right or wrong; 
With all the children of Adam’s race, 
Wedlock ‘s an ill we eagerly embrace.

O maidens, clad in silk and satin! 
O maidens, jabbering French and Latin! 
Long e’er [sic] your charms were here displayed, 
There flourished many a si-wash maid.                              [Native]
Engine then no lesson gave, 
No Iron songs their hair did weave, 
No mantua-maker their measure took, 
No chance had they at the Lady’s Book, 
No Grecian head rose bleak and high, 
No water-fall rose in the sky. 
No comb e’er touched their raiven [sic] hair, 
No maid complained of “Nothing to wear.” 
With Chinook accents on their tongue, 
And mow-itch skins around them swung,                                 [deer hides]
Each maiden, with whale-bone in her nose, 
Could boast of hi-u skookum beaux.                                        [many strong]
Wake cum-tux yack-a hy-u icta.                                                [not knew she many things]
Not even how to paint a pic-ter; 

Yet these maids, like you, could feel 
The fiery smarts of Cupid’s steel. 
But they could iscum roots and fish —                                     [gather]
Grind acorns in a sandstone dish — 
Berries in the weeds could pick, 
And salmon roast on a forked stick — 
Could cdar bark in dresses weave, 
And baskets make, you may believe; 
And beside the useful arts, a few 
Smiles and primps they practiced too. 
And many a heart they snatched away 
From warriors grim and even gray. 
Tum-tums broke with Cupid’s stroke                                      [hearts]
And placed their necks in Hymen’s yoke. 

The boys were gay and festive, too, 
But never learned to smoke or chew; 
Nor seemed to think it made them men 
To fall to swearing now and then. 

They never sported a bran [sic] new tile 
Nor pants of late Parisian style; 
But always looked “as neat as a fiddle,” 
With hair divided in the middle. 
Like some of our boys who muck-a-muck lum,                       [drink alcohol]
These youths were noisy and them “some;” 
You bet they were skookum in a mowich chase,                      [strong…deer]
And hard to beat in a cuitan race.                                            [horse]
O’er the Cascades — our Oregon Alps — 
They often went for Sho-shone scalps; 
And in feathers and paint made quite a display 
Among the dark maids of Chemeketa. 

Long, long ago an Indian maiden, 
Clad in grand an[d] wild array, 
Walked in all her bark and feathers 
Through the streets of Chemeketa. 
Her flowing tipso of raven darkness,                                  [grass (sometimes used for ‘hair’)]
Fell o’er her nicely rounded form,
And ornaments, like brazen maul-rings, 
Were circled round her well-turned arms. 
Cedar bark, fantastic fashioned, 
Fringed with beaded border grand, 
Suspended from her fox-skin girdle, 
Gaily swept the soil and sand. 
Her eye was, in truth, of ebon darkness, 
And bright and twinkling like a star, 
And on her cheeks she often spread there 
A splendid paste of pitch and tar. 
All Chemeketa knew how sweet she sung 
In the charming Calapooia tongue; 
And her ways were graceful — very, 
When she mam-ooked ka-mass on the prairie.                    [gathered camas]

Of all the maids this was the one 
That hy-as tick-eyed kon-away sun,                                      [loved every day]
The brave young chieftain E-e-gan, 

hy-as skoo-kum ten-as man.                                             [very strong young man]
When sy-ah on the mountains high,                                      [far away]
Ever thought this youth of Le-le-tie; 
And po-lak-lie in dreams he saw                                           [at night]
The handsome face of the ten-as squaw.                             [young]
Oft when fishing in Willamette’s flood 
In pensive thought E-e-gan stood. 
Young Le-le-tie would clat-a-wa there                                  [go]
With all her “wealth of raven hair.” 

Once when thus the lovers stood,                                         
With nets and fish[h]ooks in the flood — 
“Spose mi-ka kwa-ne-sum mit-lite ni-ka,                            [if you always stay (with) me]
Ni-ka kwa-ne-sum closh nan-itch mi-ka.”                         
[I’ll always take care of you]

Cock-wa wa-wa E-e-gan                                                       [thus spoke]
Co-pa ten-as clootch-man.                                                  [to the young woman]
Pe ten-as la-la Le-le-tie,                                                       [and in a while]
Hy-as closh wa-wa, kil-la-pie.                                             [very nicely spoke in reply]

“Na-wit-ka six,” the maiden said,                                         [yes friend]
And blushing, hid her raven head; 
“La-la ni-ka tic-key, closh ty-ee,                                           [long have I wanted, good chief]
Mi-ka clootch-man to be.”                                                  [your wife]   
Then letting go his salmon net, 
With alacrity, you better bet, 
His arms went round the maiden small 
And clasped her, mow-itch robes and all.                            [deer]

skoo-kum ty-ee was Pow-it-kan,                                      [powerful chief]
The ancient sire of the clutch-i-man.                                   [woman]
And having no love for E-e-gan, 

Called him a pilton ten-as man                                          [foolish boy]
Ict sun yah-ka mam-ook closh tum-tum                           
[one day he conferred]
Co-pa yah-ka til-i-cum;                                                     
[with his people]
And at his wig-wam gave a party, 

And of his friends invited forty. 

E-e-gan got no invitation, 
And of course was sollux as the nation;                             [angry]
And said, as round his robe he drew, 
I’ll make his tum-tum sick hy-u.                                        [heart upset plenty]
So lacing tight his legging straps,
And decking him with various “traps,” 
He concealed beneath his wampum zone 
skookum piece of salmon bone,                                   [strong]
And for the hut of Pow-it-kan 
On the rampage went the ten-as man;                            [young man]
And as he neared the feast of ka-mass                            [camas]
The old warrior told him to vamos. [sic]

E-e-gan many a time had stood 
In battle’s front and shed the blood 
Of furious warriors of Sho-shone race — 
Had fought the grizzly face-to-face — 
Had crossed the Umpqua’s pleasant glades, 
And e’en on Rogue River’s rock-bound flood 
Had his arrows dipped in foeman’s blood; 
And to the grim old chief he said: 
“Ni-ka tik-ey Le-le-tie to wed.[“]                                       [I want]
And then a great deal louder spoke him, 
“Ul-ta ni-ka is-kum skoo-kum.”                                       [now I’ll take by.force]
Then rose the grizzly old ty-ee                                          [chief]
And, raging, made this dire decree: 

Spose mi-ka wake hi-ac clat-i-war, git,                            [if you don’t hurry and go]
Ni-ka kok-shut mi-ka la-tet.                                            [I’ll break your head]
raising his lema high,                                        [high … hand]

With murder in her [sic] eagle eye, 
E-e-gan has the old chief thrown 
And stabbed him with the salmon bone. 

Pow-it-kan but once did groan, 
As E-e-gan drew the murderous bone; 
And one of the greatest of Chemeketa 
Stiff and cold on the il-la-he lay. 
And as the cry of consternation 
Rose from the Callapooia nation, 
And the death-wail pealed away 
From many a wrinkled lem-a-yai,                                      [old woman]
Lest they might him mim-a-luse,                                       [die (but I think it’s a pun on ‘lose’)]
E-e-gan bestrode a swift cay-use,                                      [Native pony]

And hi-ac to the mountains ran                                         [quickly]
With maid behind on the cu-i-tan.                                     [horse]
O’er Mill-creek’s chuck, o’er Santiam’s flood,                     [waters]
O’er weary miles of Long Thomas [sic] mud — 
Skoo-kum koo-la kon-away sun,                                     [hard ran all day]
E-e-gan’s tireless cu-i-tan.                                                 [horse]

They may be running yet for aught I know 
Among the Cascade’s peaks of snow; 
For no one has nan-itched at a later day 
Either of them in Chemeketa. 
But lately we have heard it said 
That the East E-e-gan fled, 
And become [sic] in that il-la-he                                    [country]
A hy-as skookum Snake ty-ee.                                      [very powerful … chief]
And that to-day, a vanquished chief, 

He feasts at Harney on Government beef, 
And still retains some vital power, 
By banqueting on Sam Parrish’s flour. 
Old Le-le-tie still lives, ’tis said, 
And has a taste for Boston bread;                                [White folks’]
While her war-like sons, so late our foes, 
Sport around old sold[i]ers’ clothes. 

— from the Salem (OR) Weekly Oregon Statesman of January 23, 1875, page 1, columns 4-5

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