To Main Page

To The Book List

International Folktales Collection

To Next Book

To Previous Book

Book No. 40

To first story in the book press: 1996

To last story in the book press: 2021

Chinook Texts

Boas Franz

Chinook Texts, Franz Boas, 1894


Told by

Charles Cultee

Recorded and Translated by

Franz Boas

U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin no. 20

US Government Printing Office,


The Chinook tribes inhabited the salmon-rich lower Columbia river area in the Northwest culture region, in what is now upper Oregon and lower Washington state. As is evident from these texts, fishing was at the center of their culture, and they were also avid traders and gamblers. A creole based on their language and several European languages, the 'Chinook Jargon', was widely used as a trade language in the Northwest. The Chinook practised the 'Potlatch' – the charateristic Northwestern ceremony in which wealth was ritually redistributed.

These unfiltered stories, translated with great care by Franz Boas, one of the founders of modern Anthropology, reflect a rich storytelling tradition which shows a deep understanding of the range of human emotions. The central character in many of these is 'Blue-Jay', a rather dim but heroic figure who, in one memorable tale visits the land of the dead, in a story worthy of the Twilight Zone.

– J. B. Hare



The following texts were collected in the Summers of 1890 and 1891. While studying the Salishan languages of Washington and Oregon I learned that the dialects of the lower Chinook were on the verge of disappearing, and that only a few individuals survived who remembered the languages of the once powerful tribes of the Clatsop and Chinook. This fact determined me to make an effort to collect what little remained of these languages.

I first went to Clatsop, where a small band of Indians are located near Seaside, Clatsop county, Oregon. Although a number of them belonged to the Clatsop tribe, they had all adopted the Nehelim language, a dialect of the Salishan Tillamook. This change of language was brought about by frequent intermarriages with the Nehelim. I found one middle-aged man and two old women who still remembered the Clatsop language, bat it was impossible to obtain more than a vocabulary and a few sentences. The man had forgotten a great part of the language, while the women were not able to grasp what I wanted; they claimed to have forgotten their myths and traditions, and could not or would not give me any connected texts. One old Clatsop woman, who had been married to a Mr. Smith, was too sick to be seen, and died soon after my visit. The few remaining Clatsop had totally forgotten the history of their tribe, and even maintained that no allied dialect was spoken north. of Columbia river and on Shoalwater bay. They assured me, that the whole country was occupied by the Chehalis, another Salishan tribe. They told me, however, that a few of their relatives, who still continued to speak Clatsop, lived on Shoalwater bay among the Chehalis.

I went to search for this remnant of the Clatsop and Chinook peoples, and found them located at Bay Center, Pacific county, Washington. They proved to be the last survivors of the Chinook, who at one time occupied the greater part of Shoalwater bay and the northern bank of Columbia river as far as Greys Harbor. The tribe has adopted the Chehalis language in the same way in which the Clatsop have adopted the Nehelim. The only individuals who spoke Chinook were Charles Cultee and Catherine. While I was unable to obtain anything from the latter, Cultee (or more properly Q!Eltê') proved to be a veritable storehouse of information. His mother's mother was a Katlamat, and his mother's father a Quilâ'pax; his father's mother was a Clatsop, and his father's father a Tinneh of the interior. His wife is a Chehalis, and at present he speaks Chehalis almost exclusively, this being also the language of his children. He has lived for a long time in Katlamat, on the southern bank of Columbia river, his mother's town, and for this reason speaks the Katlamat dialect as well as the Chinook dialect. He uses the former dialect in conversing with Samson, a Katlamat Indian, who is also located at Bay Center. Until a few years ago he spoke Chinook with one of his relatives, while he uses it now only rarely when conversing with Catherine, who lives a few miles from Bay Center. Possibly this Chinook is to a certain extent mixed with Katlamat expressions, but from a close study of the material I conclude that it is on the whole pure and trustworthy.

I have obtained from Cultee a series of Katlamat texts also, which appear to me not quite so good as the Chinook texts, but nevertheless give a good insight into the differences of the two dialects. It may be possible to obtain material in this dialect from other sources.

My work of translating and explaining the texts was greatly facilitated by Cultee's remarkable intelligence. After he had once grasped what I wanted, he explained to me the grammatical structure of the sentences by means of examples, and elucidated the sense of difficult periods. This work was the more difficult as we conversed only by means of the Chinook jargon.

The following pages contain nothing but the texts and translations. The grammar and dictionary of the language will contain a comparison of all the dialects of the Chinookan stock. I have translated the first text almost verbatim, while in the later texts I endeavored only to render the sense accurately, for which reason short sentences have been inserted, others omitted. Still, the form of the Chinook sentences has been preserved as nearly as possible.


a, e, i, o, u have their continental sounds (short).

â, ê, î, ô, û long vowels.

A, E, I, O, U obscure vowels.

a, e, i, o, u vowels not articulated but indicated by position of the month.

ä in German Bär.

â aw in law.

ô in German voll.

ê in bell.

- separates vowels which do not form diphthongs.

ai i in island.

au ow in how.

l as in English.

ll very long, slightly palatized by allowing a greater portion of the back of the tongue to touch the palate.

L posterior palatal 1; the tip of the tongue touches the alveoli of the lower jaw, the back of the tongue is pressed against the hard palate, sonans.

L the same,, short and exploded (surd; Lepsius's t).

L! the same with very great stress of explosion.

q velar k.

k English k.

k* palatized k (Lepsius's k'), almost ky.

kX might be better defined as a posterior palatal ky between k and k*.

x ch in German Bach.

X x pronounced at posterior border of hard palate.

x* palatal x as in German ich.

s, c are evidently the same sound and might be written s* or c*, both being palatized; c (English sh) is pronounced with open teeth, the tongue almost touching the palate immediately behind the alveoli; s is modified in the same manner.

d, t, b, p, g, k as in English, but surd and sonant are difficult to distinguish.

h as in English.

y as in year.

w as in English.

m is pronounced with semiclausure of the nose and with very slight compression of the lips; it partakes, therefore, of the character of b and w.

n is pronounced with semiclausure of the nose; it partakes, therefore, of the character of d.

! designates increased stress of articulation.

! designates increased stress of articulation due to the elision of q.

? is a very deep laryngeal intonation, due to the elision of q.

2, 4 designate excessive length of vowels, representing approximately the double and fourfold mora.

Words ending with a short vowel must be contracted with the first vowel of the next word. When a word ends with a long vowel and the next begins with a vowel, a euphonic -y- is inserted. The last consonant of a, word is united with the first vowel of the next word to one syllable.

To Next Book

To Privious Book