1897: Owen Wister Xmas story w/doggerel

“It is Christmas Day on the cattle ranch at the Malheur agency…” So starts Part IV of a serially published piece of post-frontier cowboy fiction by the renowned Owen Wister.

Wister (July 14, 1860 – July 21, 1938), author of “The Virginian”, was the father of “Western” fiction, friend of Chinook Jargon-speaking President Teddy Roosevelt, and biographer of Chinook Jargon-speaking president Ulysses S. Grant.

Here we have the fourth installment of “The Jimmy John Boss”, with some CJ slang and doggerel poetry too!

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Here’s the slang:

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A riot of banter took all of them, and they began to laugh and destroy.

“How much did this cost?” said one, prying askew his three-tined fork.

“How much did you cost yourself?” said another to Drake.

“What, our kid boss? Two bits, I guess.”

Hyas markook. Too dear!”

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And the doggerel cowboy song:

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From these they went to ballads of the cattle trail and the Yuba river, and so inevitably worked to the old coast song, made of three languages, and verses rhymed on each year since the beginning. Tradition laid it heavy upon each singer in his turn to keep the pot a-boiling by memory or new invention, and the chant went forward with hypnotic cadence to a tune of larkish, ripping gaiety. He who had read over his old stained letters in the sorrowful corner had waked from such dreaming and now sang:

“Once, jes’ onced in the year o’ ’49 
I met a fancy thing by the name o’ Jassamine; 
I never could persuade her for to leave me be — 
She went and she took and she married me.” 

His neighbor took it up:

“Once, once again in the year o’ ’64, 
By the city of Whatcom, down along the shore — 
I never could persuade them for to leave me be — 
Siwash squaw went and took and married me.”

“What was you doin’ between all them years?” called Half-past-Full.

“Shut yer mouth,” said the next singer.

“Once, once again in the year o’ ’71 
It was the suddenest deed that I ever done — 
I never could persuade them for to leave me be — 
A rich banker’s daughter she took and married me.”

“This is looking better,” said Bolles to Drake. 

“I’m not so sure,” said the boy.

Ten or a dozen years were sung.

“I never could persuade them for to leave me be,” brought down the chorus and the fists, until the drunkards could sit no more, but stood up to sing, tramping the tune heavily together.

— published in the Providence (RI) News of April 23, 1897, page 6, columns 1-3

Owen Wister used Chinuk Wawa elsewhere, too.

Bonus fact:

Later in the same episode of this serial story, another pidgin language makes an appearance, and of course it’s Chinese Pidgin English!

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