Early 1860s: Chinuk Wawa’s distribution in Idaho

A book that collects early pioneer memories tells us something noteworthy about the development of Chinuk Wawa.

john hailey

Hailey, John. 1910. History of Idaho.” Boise, ID: Press of Syms-York company, Inc. (That’s a live link; you can go read the book for free.)

Two passages in this volume refer to Jargon being used by Whites in dealing with Idaho Native people.

The page 41 bit has Moses Splawn (1835-1925) talking about how George Grimes, on behalf of a group of White gold seekers, spoke good Jargon with Bannock (?) tribal people in 1862. Moses was the brother of an excellent Jargon speaker, A.J. Splawn, but himself lacked that skill. 

The page 320 anecdote tells of Frank Coffin (1838-1920) talking CJ with a Native man who didn’t know it as well as he in 1863. The Native guy used “very expressive sign-language”, which I often feel a need to remind you, doesn’t mean he knew any systematic signed language — he may just have been good gesticulating in an evocative way. 

Both occurrences seem to have been in southern Idaho, a distribution typical of the time, seemingly a pretty direct by-product of the Oregon Trail.

Moses Splawn overtly connects the Trail to the Native people they spoke with.

Chinuk Wawa didn’t expand much beyond Fort Vancouver’s little world for some time after its circa-1825 creolization, but when it did, a major factor was the Settler immigration from the then-distant USA over the wagon trail. 

Some who had already reached Oregon went back east to guide new arrivals, bringing to bear all of their own tried & tested frontier skills, including the use of CW with Native people.

It would appear that the use of the Jargon spread eastward among tribes along the Oregon Trail. By the mid-1850s, it was widely known in southeast Washington, northeast Oregon — and southern Idaho.

In Idaho the Jargon reappeared a generation later, in the far north of the Panhandle adjacent to BC, with mining and then settlement by non-Natives. 

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