Chinook Jargon: Sourdoughs and Cheechakos

'Sourdough' gold rush miner

‘Sourdough’ gold rush miner Bill Hayden

Chinook Jargon was extensively used during both the Fraser River gold rush and the Cariboo gold rush by both gold seekers and First Nations.

Victoria, or Biktoli as it was known in Chinook Jargon, was an important hub of business and native people from as far way as Alaska came to do business there.

“Lulu Island” (Richmond) as it was called in the early maps, could be a reference to the Chinook term for carry or load, pronounced as ‘lolo’. Mamook lolo kopa canim (to load into a canoe). First Nation tribes from Vancouver Island were known to settle on Lulu Island for the annual salmon run and to load their canoes with berries and other food supplies that they gathered or traded.

The Chinook Jargon word for New Westminster, Kunspaeli, is derived from the orginal European name of the area, Queenborough.

Cheechako was a common a word in the Chinook jargon meaning
‘newly arrived’ or ‘newcomer’. Chee means ‘lately’, or ‘just now’ while Chah’ko means ‘to come’.

What about the term ‘sourdough’? Sourdough is not a Chinook word but a popular term brought north by American gold seekers, especially during the time of the Klondike gold rush in the 1890s. Sourdough bread was a favourite food of American gold miners, some of whom carried sourdough starter wherever they travelled, so as to be assured of good bread later on. Sourdough bread had been very popular amongst gold seekers during the California gold rush and as a result, it became associated with the miners themselves.

Numerous Chinook jargon dictionaries were published at the time. For further reading, try “A dictionary of the Chinook jargon or Trade language of Oregon” by George Gibbs published in 1863.