1872: Some Sitka people talk Chinook already

Just 5 years into the US colonization of Alaska Territory, Chinook Jargon was already an important presence among Lingít (Tlingits) in the southeastern “pandhandle”.

I’ve previously found that some Lingit were talking this language by the 1867 handover from Russian control — but hardly earlier.

Nobody thinks lots of Alaska Native people were talking Jargon at that time. But it goes to show you that Victoria, BC (founded 1843), was already the coastal commercial magnet that drew tribal visitors and workers from far to the north. There certainly weren’t American/Canadian/British missionaries, for instance, in “Southeast” yet, which would’ve been an impetus for introducing Chinuk Wawa. 

Jakob Svorkdal wrote to send me some newspaper clippings documenting PNW Coast Chinuk Wawa use: 

“The first is from “The Cruise of the Rose”, September 19, 1872, which among painting an interesting picture of the small “Greek” Orthodox communities along the Alaskan coast, also establishes that the indigenous people living around Sitka in this period had amongst them those who could “Talk Chinook.” “

This is an excerpt from a longer article in the British Colonist newspaper of Victoria, BC: 

cruise of the rose

There are about one thousand Indians making their home adjoining the town of Sitka, and I do not think there are more than 250 adult males among the number. Sitka, however, Is visited by all the tribes for 200 or 300 miles around; and at times there may be 500 fighting men present. So far as I have seen they have conducted themselves very well. All the Indians north of Stickcen [Stickeen River] speak one language [Tlingit] == a few can talk Chinook, a few the Russian. We are anchored immediately opposite the Indian rancherie. We can count 62 large houses, some of which are very substantial and well built. One of the physicians of the Fort, who is an Irish gentleman, and who, with myself, had the curiosity to go through the rancherie, told me they were much better providedfor, and more comfortable, and appeared happier than the poor of his native country.