1903: Annual clambake

Our old buddy, pioneer Judge Joseph A. Kuhn, strikes again…


This character’s annual party was the peak of the social year in Port Townsend, Washington, and he was known for sending out pioneer-friendly invitations in Chinuk Wawa.

Friendly, that is, as long as you were a non-boozer…

annual clam bake


Invitations Issued For the Big Potlatch of Old Settlers at Port Townsend.

The twenty-fourth annual clam bake of the “old timers” of the northwest will occur this year on August 15 at Chimacum creek, near Port Townsend. Several Tacomans who have been in the habit of attending these big affairs at which the pioneers of the state assemble to talk over early experiences have received invitations from J.A. Kuhn, the chief, and J.C. Pringle, the scribe.

Everybody, however, is welcome, as there are clams aplenty at Port Townsend. Several hundred persons usually attend these gatherings and their promoter, J.A. Kuhn is well known in western Washington, having been a member of the state legislature for 14 years past. The first of these clam bakes was held in 1867.

The invitations are unique, being printed in the Indian tongue as follows:

“Nika Tillicums, klosh nanitch:

“Al-ki nika tickey mamook ict hyas Potlatch, caqua nesika mamook ahn kottie.

“Mesika klosh charco copa Port Townsend, kah Clallam Siwash mitlite ahn kottie, wake syah Chimacum creek, kah nesika mamook hyu he-he; pe mamook tin-tin, pe muck-a-muck — hyu Clams, pe clap klosh chuck. Spose nika nanitch pirechuck, nika iskum delate sullox — klosh wake lo-lo.

“Klosh charco pe lo-lo konaway tenas man pe tenas klootchman, pe tenas sap-o-lil ictas. Spose mesika wake charco, nika iskum sick tum-tum.

“Kwanesum mika tillicum.”

The translation of this is as follows:

“My Friends, please take notice:

“Soon I wish to make a big Clam Bake, such as we made long ago.

“You please come to Port Townsend, where the Clallam Indians lived long ago, not far from Chimacum creek, where we will have lots of amusements and music, and eat plenty of Clams, and find good water. If I see any liquor, I will be angry — don’t bring any.

“Please come and bring the little boys and girls, and things made of flour. If you fail to come, I will be sorry.

“Always your friend.”

— The Tacoma Daily News, August 4, 1903, page 7

I feel the provided translation does a good job of reflecting that Chinook Jargon.

Kuhn is phrasing himself in a style that, even if we didn’t know who had written it, would be provably the work of a non-Native Settler. I’ve been over that subject countless times, so I’ll skip most of the details. 

Just one point sticks in my mind as needing comment today — the use of iskum for entering into a certain mental state. I had been meaning to write about this, and now I’ve found a useful example to show what I want to say.

This iskum, as ‘get/become (mad, etc.)’, is a usage that we only seem to see from some English-speaking Settlers. It’s as if they were mentally translating English expressions such as ‘get mad’, etc., into Jargon.

The main stream of fluent CJ speakers reserve this verb, ískam in the Grand Ronde spelling, for several inter-related meanings, all of them being somewhat different from this ‘become’. These are:

  • ‘to pick up a thing’
  • ‘to grab a thing on purpose’
  • ‘to choose a thing’ / ‘pick it out’
  • ‘to accept’ (including accepting what someone says). 

Contrastingly, normal Jargon expresses ‘get, become’, in connection with mental states, in two ways:

  • chaku-_X_ is generically ‘to become _X_’. The fundamental meaning of cháku is ‘to come (here)’.
  • t’ɬáp-_X_ is more specifically ‘to wind up becoming _X_’, ‘to find yourself becoming _X_’. It’s far less common in the southern dialect, but really common in the north. Can you see how this makes sense, because the fundamental meaning of the verb t’ɬáp is ‘(manage to) find or catch’?

So J.A. Kuhn’s iskum delate sullox ‘be angry’ and iskum sick tum-tum ‘be sorry’ would be, for the great majority of fluent Chinuk Wawa speakers, chaku-drét-sáliks & chaku-sík-tə́mtəm.

And especially in British Columbia, northern-dialect speakers would be likely to say t’ɬáp-drét-sáliks & t’ɬáp-sík-tə́mtəm.

Another example of what we’re talking about is the post-frontier phrase iskum kumtux ‘to learn about, to find out’. The verb kumtux (kə́mtəks) is a bit of a contrast to the emotional states we’ve just discussed. But it’s still a mental state. Again, my belief is that this expression reflects Settler English ‘get _X_’, in this case ‘get to know(ing)’.

One element of proof that English is the underlying motivator for speakers who used iskum this way —

They pretty much never used this word with other kinds of predicates, like expressions of physical conditions or of identity. So they weren’t just wholesale replacing standard Chinook Jargon chaku- everywhere. Thus, it would be vanishingly rare to find White folks (or anyone) saying *iskum till* for ‘get tired’ (standard chaku-tʰíl), or *iskum Boston*, *iskum mowich* for ‘become a White person’, ‘turn into a deer’ (standard chaku-bástən, chaku-máwich). This pattern of use is identical with the one in English, where we’d never express these ideas by saying *’I got a White person’* or *’I got a deer’*.

So, between the limited set of speakers using it (Whites), and the bad timing (post-frontier only, after Chinuk Wawa was in active, important daily use), I see iskum kumtux as an expression that was never part of mainstream CW. I suspect it would have confused frontier-era fluent speakers.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?