1910: Poker Jim Promises to Help Pendleton Round-Up

Pioneer-era boyhood friends communicated in Chinuk Wawa across ethnic lines…

Some of it emerges in a note quoted today between these two old friends who helped organize the first Pendleton Round-up, which is still a major annual rodeo event.


“Chief Poker Jim(?), or Sap-at-klo-ni (White Swan)” (image credit: Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal)

An important member of the Umatilla tribal community who said he remembered the 1855 treaty negotiations with Governor Isaac Stevens, “Poker Jim” (circa 1843-1936) was also known for writing (dictating?) letters to the local press from time to time.

Those that I’ve seen published were in quaint, sometimes hard-to-understand English; one is mentioned below.

What we get to see today is a letter to Poker Jim, partly in Chinook Jargon. I’m reproducing it with the newspaper’s own typographical errors intact.


poker jim



One of Most Influential of Walla Wallas’ — Hus Support Will do Much Towards Enlisting Indians — Major Moorhouse Writes Letter to Him.

Major [Thomas Leander] Lee Moorhouse [1850-1926, Indian Agent and photographer] has received a letter from Poker Jim, the prominent Walla Walla Indian, in which that brave promises his support for the “Round-up.” Poker Jim is considered one of the most influential Indians on the reservation and his promise of support means a great deal. 

Among other things he said that if suitable prizes are hung up that he and Red Elk will bring their race horses down. Not only that[,] they will bring as many friends as possible and will induce other race horse Indians to bring their animals. They will also bring their families and will camp at the “celebration grounds” during the “Round-up,” thus inspiritng an additional attraction of considerable importance.

Poker Jim was at the council held earlier in the week, but for some reason of his own he had nothing to say. His silence was noted by Major Moorhouse and the latter was greatly relieved yesterday to receive his letter of promised support. The Major feels that the big red man will do as he says and he has therefore sent him the following letter: 

Pendleton, Ore., Aug. 17, 1910.

Poker Jim, 

Cayuse, Oregon. 

Nika Hias Klose Tilacum:– 

I just go your letter this morning and you made my heart glad when I read that your people were willing to help us out with out Wild West Round Up, which will be held at the base ball grounds September 29, 30 and October 1st, in connection with oud District Fair. As the Indians and whites here have always been good friends, I think that it is right that we should celebrate together and help each other; we all have the same religion, the earth is our mother and sustains us all, but we all have to help do all we can to advertise our country, so that the Great Father in Washington will know that the Umatilla Reservation and Pendleton are still on the map. 

We should all join hands as brothers 

poker jim 2


(Continued from page 1.)

and help each other whenever we can, and now is the time that you head men on the reservation can do something for us here in Pendleton, that will always make us feel proud of our Indian brothers. Now Poker Jim: You and I have been the best of friends ever since we were boys and you know that I have never lied to the Indians in my life and anything that I promise them I will do. Mr. Roy Bishop and I want you to see the Indians for us in behalf of the “Round-up” and do the very best you can for us. Bring down your Kola Cuitans (race horses) your families and your tepees and we will promise that you will be well taken care of. There will be furnished you all hiu muck-a-muck, including hiu salmon, plenty of feed for your horses and free tickets to all of the shows for all the Indians that will camp inside the grounds. Now we want you and all of the other Indians to do all you can for us.

When you come to town come into my office and we will have a hias klose wa-wa.

Kopit wa-wa. (I have spoken.)

Your friend,

— from the Pendleton (OR) East Oregonian of August 18, 1910, pages 1 (column 4) & 8 (column 3)

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