‘Pioneers’ humor: Upper Chehalis Salish and English puns on CW ‘cultus Boston’
Touchingly, the Upper Chehalis Salish people have a word for the ‘pioneers’, the early non-Native Settlers:
Mount Tacoma, as the s-máq̓-pástn folks called it (image credit: Century Illustrated Monthly)
Do you recognize the borrowing of Chinuk Wawa’s bástən ‘White/American person’?
The s- part is the regular old Salish prefix that says “this is a noun”.
Now the fun part. The Upper Chehalis root máq̓ means ‘old, used’, having reference to physical objects. As in the Jargon, separate words are used for ‘old, worn-out’ things and ‘old’ people.
Yes, Upper Chehalis is calling pioneers ‘worn-out White people’.
Which is an exact calque (a straight translation) of Chinook Jargon’s well-known phrase, kʰə́ltəs bástən ‘no-good Whites’.
And prove me wrong, I think it’s another Salish pun!
I think someone was having fun.
I’ve found another bit of Chinuk Wawa humor at the expense of the cultus Bostons in the frontier era. Here’s the joke:
I heard an amusing story on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountains of a Boston gentleman who undertook to translate Chinook by its sound. He was visiting the Yakima Reservation, and for some reason the Indians did not like him, and were in the habit of calling him “hyas cultus Boston man.” The visitor remarked to his friends that even the savage recognized the superiority of Boston culture, for they always spoke of him as a highly cultured Boston man. It was not until the joke had been a long time enjoyed that he was told that “hyas” meant very, and “cultus” bad or worthless, and that “Boston man” was the Chinook term for all Americans, — Englishmen and Canadians being called “King George men.”
— from page 834 of “From Puget Sound to the Upper Columbia” by Eugene V. Smalley, in The Century Illustrated Monthly XXIX(6):832-842 (April 1885)
This story is backed up, if not corroborated, by the existence of another telling of it at a later date, farther to the northwest in Washington Territory:
In 1889 there was a man from Boston who clerked in Clothier and English’s store in Mount Vernon. He thought he was better than us Weste[r]ners and he hated to wait on Indians. One day I was in the store and an Indian said to me: “Ok ok, hi-as Cultus Boston Man.” [Not having any idea what the Indian said,] the fellow said: “Even those lowly savages know I am a highly cultured Boston man.” I have since met a few people just like him and I haven’t liked them any bett[e]r than I did him.
— from the reminiscences of Archie Boyd, pioneer of 1882 in the Skagit country; the Jargon means ‘This is a very worthless White man.’
Apparently this joke was making the rounds of the Northwest, as was the “sitkum dollar” joke!