Pre-1860 anecdote for back-translation

A humorous, if somewhat inaccurate, story for you today.

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This is early Seattle historian Charles Prosch quoting George Gibbs, who we know as a great Chinuk Wawa expert:



Some time prior to 1860, Mr. George Gibbs, a scientific gentleman attached to the United States Boundary commission, then locating the boundary of the British territory on our northern side, sought to possess himself of some Indian traditions, if any existed among the aborigines of that period. He finally met an Indian whom he thought likely to afford the desired information, and interrogated him somewhat after the following manner in Chinook, which is rendered in English for the comprehension of the general reader:

“Did you ever hear your father or any of the old Indians speak of any great event that happened long before their time?

“Oh, yes,” replied the Indian.

“What was it?” asked Mr. Gibbs.

“Many moons ago, I have heard them say,” replied the Indian, “this whole land was covered by water by a big rain, and all the people except one tyee (or chief) and his family were drowned.”

“What was the name of the tyee?” asked Gibbs, now quite hopeful of getting a veritable tradition.

“Him named Noah,” was the answer.

“Another missionary story!” exclaimed Gibbs, thoroughly disgusted with the result of his inquiry, and now convinced that the only traditions of the Indians hereabouts were Bible stories obtained from the missionaries.

— from pages 44-45 of “Reminiscences of Washington Territory” by Charles Prosch (Seattle, WA, 1904)

I doubt Gibbs drew any such conclusion as this! He had close contact with large numbers of Native people during the frontier era, and not only understood Jargon and parts of their tribal languages, but also their cultural patterns.

The idea that Indigenous folks have no culture is purely Prosch’s, judging by other racist remarks that he makes. But I believe Prosch (immigrant of 1857) really heard today’s anecdote, directly or indirectly, from Gibbs. And he may have heard it, as he strongly implies, in Chinuk Wawa; his son TW Prosch created & published a good dictionary of the language, and both men probably knew the language as well as the average PNW pioneer — which is to say, quite well.

And it’s a conversation that’s worth “back-translating” to Chinook Jargon.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?