Early 1880s, Alaska: Skookum papers, skookum boards

In my understanding, “skookum papers“, a Chinuk Wawa expression, were 19th-century letters…

totem poles at fort wrangell

From page 53

…attesting to the friendliness to Whites of a given Native person.

This was usually a male coastal Lingít (Tlingit, “Thlinket”) of high social status, who in many cases had a collection of quite a lot of these documents.

The following book seems to suggest that this genre extended to house plaques:

Alaska: Its Southern Coast and the Sitkan Archipelago” by Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore (D. Lothrop and Company, 1885).

Pages 58-59 tell us:

In the summer season Fort Wrangell is a peaceful, quiet place … The Indians begin to scatter on their annual fishing trips in June, and come back with their winter supplies of salmon in the early fall. Many of the houses were locked or boarded up … One absentee left this notice on his front door : —


Over another locked door was this name and legend, which combines a well-witnessed and legal testament, together with the conventional door-plate of the white man : —

Let all that read know that I
Am a friend to the whites. Let no
One molest this house. In case of my
Death it belongs to my wife.

Thus wrote Anatlash, a man of tall totems and many blankets; and stanzas in blank verse after the same manner decorated the doorway of many Thlinket abodes.

So, as I’ve previously observed, evidence suggests we can add “skookum board” / skúkum laplásh to our Chinook Jargon dictionaries.

Both “skookum papers” and “skookum boards” were written by non-Natives in these early days of American influence in SE AK, and I infer that they were requested by a Native person making use of Chinuk Wawa.

Bonus fact:

On various pages, Scidmore makes overt mention of Chinuk Wawa being in use among southeast Alaska Natives in the early 1880s.

On page 72, “we will read of…maidens who lisp in soft accents the deep, gurgling Chinook, or the older dialects of their races.”

Page 90: conversation between female Lingít vendors and visiting White ship passengers took place in “Chinook”, which Scidmore describes with the old myth that it was invented by the Hudsons Bay Company. The Jargon is specified to be “a most necessary accomplishment” in Oregon and Washington Territory.

Following on pages 91-92 is the recollection of Native women tapping on Scidmore’s cabin window, offering Lingít-crafted “klickwilly” (‘bracelets’; compare Grand Ronde ík’wali). Prices quoted in Jargon are “mox tolla” ‘two dollars’, “ict tolla sitcum” ‘one dollar and fifty cents’, and “sitcum tolla” ‘fifty cents’.

Mention is made on page 128 of Hoonah people’s past hostilities with “King George men” — an innovative use of the term for ‘British’ to denote unwelcome Native people from the Canadian side of the border! A local man is quoted in pidgin-style English: “Seal! Seal all same as hog.” Scidmore adds that seals are known in Chinook as “cocho Siwash, or literally, ‘Indian hog’ “, seemingly mangling a known Jargon dictionary expression, sáltsəqw-kùshu.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?