Pre-1870: Eyewitness? account of Chief Seattle’s funeral

The magazine article is titled “Old Seattle, and His Tribe” (Overland Monthly IV(4):297-302, April 1870).


The logo of the Overland Monthly.

It was written by a really knowledgeable old Northwest Coast seafarer, Captain C[harles].M[elville]. Scammon (1825-1911).

I’ve previously found great use in Scammon’s superb writings, so I devote serious attention when I find more of them.

A couple of passages in this article sound to me like they were delivered in the presence of the author and other Settlers in Chinook Jargon, and they concern the life and death of Chief Siʔaɬ (Seattle). Anyone care to take on the challenge of back-translating them from English?

For now, though, I’ll focus narrowly on a couple of excellent Jargon details in this article by an old PNW hand.

One of the earliest occurrences known to me of the Chinuk Wawa place name “Old-Man-House” (úl-màn-hàws) comes on page 297 of today’s article. I’ll write a separate piece on that subject.

Page 298 mentions a Puget Sound place, “Near the head of Port Madison Bay, an estuary, called Tchoakum Chuck” which “meanders into Bainbridge Island”. I’m not sure whether “Tchoakum” is something from Dxʷləšucid (Lushootseed Salish), or maybe a misreading of a manuscript Chinook Jargon “skookum”. In the latter case, we’d be looking at the known CJ phrase skookum chuck (skúkum tsə́qw) denoting ‘a tidal rapids’; does that match the lay of the land in 1870? (The area’s been very much reshaped by modern human intervention.) Either way, that Chuck is with near total certainty our CJ word for ‘(body of) water’, as the Jargon was extensively in use in the greater Seattle, WA area at the time, and Scammon understood it well.

Pages 299-300 describe Suquamish/Duwamish funeral ceremonies, overtly connecting them with the influence of Catholic ritual. I believe this is 100% accurate. By 1870, it was only Catholic missionaries that had had much of a significant presence among the Lushootseed Salish speakers around Puget Sound. The impact of their teachings is also visible in how the later-founded — and Chinuk Wawa-using — Indian Shaker Church conducts its rites.

A phrase that we certainly need to add to our dictionaries of well-documented, established CW is page 300’s Ti-ee-man (táyí-màn) for a Native headman, a ‘chief man’. Upon “Old Seattle’s” 1866 passing, “Jim Seattle is ti-ee-man now,” Scammon is told by an Old-Man-House community member. I’ve easily found more instances in a Google Books search and a newspaper search, just on the one spelling variant, tyee man.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?