Early Life Among the Indians
Copyright 1891 B.G. Armstrong & T.P. Wentworth, Ashland, WI.
1892 Press of A.W. Bowron, Ashland, Wis.

Chapter XIX.

The Chippewa Language

I will now endeavor to give the reader some words and definitions of things unknown to the Indians before the advent of the white people among them and also of things always familiar to them. This tribe, as far back as I have ever been able to delve, never had a horse or pony, and when white men brought them they named them ba-ba-zhe-go-ga-zhe, meaning an animal with a solid or round hoof. When the cow became known among them it was named be-zhe-ga; ba-zhe-ga-wug is cattle. A moose is called moze, and the white people preserved nearly the Indian name. Ah-dik is elk; wa-was-kish is deer; ma-nish-to-nish is sheep; ah-nim-moze, a dog; ma-ying-gun, a wolf; wa-gooch, a fox; pesh-shu, a lynx; o-geak, a fisher; wa-ba-shush, a martin or sable; shong-qua-zhe, a mink; wa-shush, a rat; ah-mik, a beaver; ne-jik, an otter; ah-chit-a-moo, a squirrel and muk-wa, a bear. An Indian never uses profane language, but when he wishes to use all the venom he can he calls the object of his wrath "mar-che-an-im," which means "the devil's dog." Sco-ta-wa-boo is whiskey, sco-ta meaning fire and wa-boo a drink or tea. Surprise a Chippewa and his first act will be to place his hand over his mouth. His expression on seeing a handsome woman is ka-gat-qua-nage-e-qua. Let him be surprised by his own thoughtfulness or want of skill he will put his hand over his mouth and shout "te-wa." Ke-sha-man-a-tou is the name of God. The good spirit is man-a-tou and mar-che-man-a-tou is the bad spirit or devil. I will now give you some words and phrases used by them in designating different articles and other things, the accent always on the last syllable. Different woods and timbers: The white birch or its bark is called we-quas; sugar maple, nin-a-tick; sap is sis-e-ba-qut-ah-boo; sap boiled down to molasses they say is che-wah-ge-mis-e-gon and sugar is sis-e-gah-qut. White cedar is ge-zhik. A canoe made of birch-bark is we-quass-che-mon, but the word is no applicable to a boat of any other description. Paddle, ah-bo-eh. A pole used in pushing a canoe is con-da-ge-gon-auk. A pine tree, chin-quak; oak, me-tick-o-mich; tamarack, mus-ke-qua-tick. A combination word used to designate all evergreens except the two species of pine, is shin-go-beeg. One log, stick or tree is me-tick; me-tick-ohg, a collection of logs or trees. A forest is me-tick-o-goge. A prairie is mush-go-day, and means a country formerly a forest which has been cleared by fire; a marsh or a swamp, mush-ke-gonk; natural meadows, mush-ko-se-wan-ing, mush-ko-se-wan is hay or standing grass. Ah-sin is a rock, while ah-sin-ege-cog means a rocky bottom or reef. A rock in a cliff is ah-she-bik. Names they give to metals: Pe-wa-bik is iron; man-a-tou-wa-bik is steel; mes-qua-bik is copper; o-sa-wa-bik, brass; o-sa-wa-shu-ne-ah is gold either in coin or in its rough state; wa-be-ska-shu-ne-ah, is silver, either coin or metal; shu-ne-ah-ma-sin-ah-a-gon, paper money; o-sa-wah-bik-onse is their name for penny. An iron stove they call ke-sa-be-kis-e-gon; a saw, gis-ke-bi-je-gon; and axe, wa-g-qut: ah-kik, iron kettle; ah-skik-o-mon-ah-kik, tin pail; a knife mo-quo-mon; pas-kis-e-gon is gun; a-skek-o-mon is lead: ah-new-eh, bullet; she-she-bun-win, shot; muk-ah-day is powder, the same word being applicable to black as a color; be-wah-nuk, a flint as used in a gun-lock. A needle was a wonderful thing with the Indians. It was so frail a thing and had such a delicate eye that it caused much amusement and they named it sha-bo-ne-gon, meaning that it had an eye to carry a thread. Pins were introduced about the same time and being so much the shape of the needle they named them o-ste-guan-sha-bo-ne-gon, meaning a needle with a head. Che-mo-quo-mon is used in speaking of a white man and is also a name used to designate a large knife or sword. It was brought into use by seeing white officers with swords. As "che" meant a large and mo-quo-mon meant knife, so che-mo-quo-mon meant large knife, and thereby designated officers and soldiers from other pale-faced people, such as traders and missionaries, who were called ah-nin-e-wog, simply meaning men. Among articles of clothing they designated a blanket, wa-be-wi-on; wa-be-e-gon, a flannel or clothing; man-a-tou-wa-gon - is a fine broad-cloth; wa-ba-ske-gon, muslin or white cotton goods; man-a-tou-me-nase, beads; moc-ah-cin-on, buckskin or moose hide moccasins; wa-was-kish-wi-on, a deer hide untanned, while an untanned moose hide was moze-wi-on, and either one after being tanned or dressed would be called bu-squa-gun; me-tick-qua-ke-cin, a boot or shoe; kit-da-ge-gon is calico. In naming lakes and rivers the whites, in some cases preserved the Indian pronunciation. The following are the name of some of the most prominent lakes and rivers: The Indians call a lake soc-ka-a-gon, and a river ce-be. There name for Lake Superior is Cha-jik-o-ming, meaning the largest body of fresh water they knew of. The name of the Mississippi River, it will be noticed, has not been changed in any respect, there name being Mis-e-ce-be, he meaning of which is a grand and extensive water-course, the tributaries of which are almost numberless. They call the St. Croix River Ah-gich-che-ce-be meaning pipe-stem, as this river has a lake at its source and another at its mouth, one representing the smoker and the other the bowl of the pipe. Nim-ma-kah-gon means, in their tongue a lake where sturgeon are caught. O-da-bin-ich, means wild potatoes and the stream that empties into the St. Croix River above Stillwater, and called the Apple River by the whites, the Indian's name O-da-bin-ich-con-ce-be. Kin-ne-ke-nik-ce-be, a river which empties into the St. Croix Lake at Hudson, Wisconsin, the white people call the Willow River. Ka-ka-be-kong means he falls of a river. The Snake River they named Ka-na-be-go-ce-be, and the Kettle River Ah-kik-ah-ce-be. The river leading from the source of the St. Croix to Lake Superior the Indians named Wa-sah-gue-de-ce-be, meaning burnt river, and is now called by the whites, Brule, the French term for burnt. Ah-ga-wa-ce-be-one, is the name given by the Indians to the Montreal River, which divides Michigan and Wisconsin and the meaning of it is, "we hardly get started before the falls stop our navigation." Mus-ke-ce-be means Swamp River a, but it is now called by the whites Bad River. Sha-ga-wa-me-gunk is a peninsula dividing the bay at Ashland, Wisconsin, form the main lake, and a government lighthouse is now located there. Non-do-na-gon is the name of the river the whites call Ontonagon, and the Indians name means searching for a lost dish; the non-do meaning search and na-gon-meaning dish. In the Chippewa language the earth is ah-ke-kong; a small territory is ah-kee; clay is wa-be-gun; sand, bing-que-ca; flying dust, bing-que; flying ashes, sco-ta-bing-que. Soil colors - white clay, wa-be-sa-be-gun; red clay, mus-squa-be-gun; yellow clay, o-sa-wa-be-gun. The word by which a color is designated is prefix to the one describing the material proper. White, wa-be-ska; red, ma-squa; blue, o-sou-wa-squa; yellow, o-sah-wa; black muck, muk-a-da-wa; mus-shuk-gunk-es-sha-ni-gua-sit, a sky color; ge-zhe-gunk, is the heavens; ge-she-que, is day; noon-gum, the present time; tip-pe-cut is night; noon-gum-tip-pe-cut, tonight; noon-gum-ge-zhe-gut, the present day. Before white people came among them they knew no Sunday, nor the beginning or ending of weeks or months, but reckoned time by moons, winter and summer seasons; but now they have a name for Sunday - ah-num-e-a-ge-zhe-gut - which means "the day we go to church." They call the service at church, ah-num-e-a. New Years Day is Nom-mik-wa-ta-tin ort he meeting of two years. They call a priest, muk-wa-da-ah-coo-ne-a. Ah-num-ah-a-wa-co-me-cunk, means a church; ah-nin-e is a man; ah-nin-e-wug, a number of men; e-qua is woman; e-qua-wug, women; ah-be-no-gee, child; ah-be-no-gee-ng, children; ah-cue-wan-zee, an old man; che-mene-de-mo-ya, an old woman; o-skin-ah-way, a young man; o-ske-nage-e-qua, a young woman; ah-qua-nage-e-ua, a handsome young woman or girl; ah-qua-nage-ah-min-e, a handsome man; song-qua-da; brave; song-qua-da-a-nin-e, a brave man. A human being is ah-nich-ah-na-be that is as a whole. Descriptive it is this: beginning at the feet, the Indian would say, a foot is o-sit, the leg is o-cot; the thigh is ob-wam, the hips o-chi-gun, the back o-bic-wan, the abdomen or stomach o-mis-cut, the arm o-nick, the hand o-minge, the neck o-qua-gun; the head is o-ste-quan, the ear o-do-uck, the nose o-josh, the mouth is o-doone, the eye is o-ske-zhic, the teeth is we-bit-dun, the tongue o-da-un-eau, the chin is o-da-mik-cun, the chest o-cah-ke-gun, the heart o-day, the blood mis-qua. The brain, which all Indians believe to be the source from which all Indians believe to be the source from which all knowledge emanates, they call we-nin-dip. One Indian, in speaking to another whom he considers above mediocrity in brainpower would say of him: Kat-get che-me-cha-ni-o-we-nin-dip. This mean he has got a very large brain. Nee-oss, my own flesh; ke-oss, your flesh; Nin, myself; kin, yourself; and win a third person; ah-nish-e-nah-big, two or three persons; che-ne-pe-wa-ah-nish-e-nah-big, means a great many people. I never knew an Indian to grow a beard. The first chore in the morning, when a beard is showing itself, is to pluck every vestige of it out. I have often inquired why they did it, but could never get a satisfactory answer. The only reason seemed to be that it was not pretty. They have a name for it however, and call it me-soc-wat-one, the meaning of which word is the mouth hidden. Now try to read this sentence: O-da-bin, ah-be-no-gee ma-we go-sha - go take the child, it cries. The Indian count was thus: One, ba-zhic; 2, neich; 3, nis-swy; 4, ne-win; 5, nah-nun; 6, go-twas-swe; 7, neich-was-swe; 8, swa-swy; 9, shong-qus-swy; 10, me-da-swy; 11, me-da-swy-ah-she-ba-zhic; me-da-swy-ah-she-neich; and so on to twenty. You will observe that me-dah-swy means 10, ah-she means "and," the numeral being added to this until you reach twenty. Example: Nis-swy is 3; then me-da-swy-ah-she-nis-swy is 13; 20 is neich-tan-a; 21 is neich-tan-a-ah-she-ba-zhic, and so on to 30, which is nis-ce-me-tan-ah; 31, nis-ce-me-tan-ah-she-ba-zhic; 40 is ne-me-tan-ah; 50, na-ne-me-tan-ah; 60, go-twas-e-me-tan-ah; 70, neich-was-me-tan-ah; 80, swas-e-me-tan-ah; 90, shong-gus-e-me-tan-ah; 100, na-ning-go-twauk; 101, nane-go-twauk-ah-she-ba-zhic; 102, nane-go-twauk-ah-she-neich, and so on; 200, neich-wauk; 201, neich-wauk-ah-she-ba-zhic, and so on; 300, nis-wauk; 400, ne-wauk; 500, non-wauk; 600, go-twas-wauk; 700, neich-was-wauk; 800, swas-wauk; 900, shong-us-wauk; 1,000, me-dos-wauk, and so on. Write the following in Chippewa: "An Indian killed one bear, two deer and one moose today," and it will read, "Noon-gum-ge-ne-sa ba-zhic muk-wa, neich wa-was-ka-zhe-gi-ah ba-zhic moze." To continue with the names the Indians gave to the different species of the feathery flock, the American Eagle is called Che-me-ke-se, while me-ke-se is an ordinary eagle. Ah-zhe-jok; a sand-hill crane; ne-kuk, a goose or brant; zhe-zheep, a duck; zhe-zhe-buck, many ducks; ka-kik, hawk; co-co-co, owl; wa-be-na, grouse or prairie chicken; pe-na, partridge; o-me-me, pigeon, mumg-ua-ua, yellow hammer. Madeline Island, in Lake Superior, derived its name from this bird, as it used to congregate there is great numbers. They named the island Mun-qua-na-ca-ning, but the Missionaries muddled it into Madeline. Pe-na-she, a bird; pe-na-she-ug, many birds; ga-ga-ge, a crow; ma-ma, the large woodcock, by many historians called the Indian hen; twe-twish-ke-wah, a plover; che-zhe-zhe-buck, canvas back duck; nin-ah-zhe-buck, mallard; wa-week-ing-gronge-ge, the blue winged teal, meaning "their wings whistle in the air." Most other species they simply call zhe-zhe-buck; ba-ka-qua, domestic chicken; mis-e-say, a turkey. Among the finny tribe they named the fish, which affords the followers of Isaac Walton so much pleasure, the brook trout, marsh-ah-may-guass, while a lake trout the named as nay-may-guass; a whitefish, ah-dik-gum-egg; catfish, ma-num-meg; sturgeon, na-mae; walleyed pike, o-gah; pickerel, ke-no-zhe; muskellunge, mash-ka-no-zhe, and the perch o-ga-weg. The Indian child now calls it father ne-bah-bah, and mother ne-mah-mah. Formerly it was noce for father, and ning-ga for mother. Brother, ne-cieh; sister, ne-mis-eh, but it only applies to the brothers and sisters older than the speaker. Ne-she-way would apply to either brother or sister younger than the speaker. Ne-she-ma-que-we-zence means a boy; ne-she-ma-e-qua-zence, a girl; sah-sa-gah-e-nin-e means handsomely dressed or nice manners. Their names for berries and fruits: Raspberries they call mis-que-me-nuk, meaning blood berries; blackberries, tuk-og-o-me-nuk; strawberries, o-da-me-nuk, shaped like a heart; cranberries, mus-ke-ge-me-nug; me-num, blueberries; a common apple, me-she-min; thorn apple, me-she-me-nace-suc. The following is a miscellaneous collection of names and words which were in use almost daily, among which will be found the substantials of life introduced by the white race: Wheat-flour, or bread made from flour, bo-qua-zhe-qua; corn, min-dah-min; cornbread is min-da-min-ah-ba-qua-zhe-gun; o-be-nick, potatoes; che-a-ne-bish, cabbage; an-ne-bish, tea and after it is steeped it is called ah-ne-be-sha-boo; coffee is muk-a-da-ma-ske-ke-wa-boo; do-do-sha-boo is milk; mus-ke-ke-wa-boo is medicine; the mus-ke-ke the medicine and wa-boo the drink; do-do-sha-bo-ba-me-day is butter, meaning, properly, grease from milk; we-oss is fresh meat; be-she-ke-we-oss is beef; co-kush-we-oss is pork; wa-wash-kesh-we-oss, venison; moze-we-oss, fresh moose meat; muk-wa-we-oss, bear meat; ah-dik-we-oss elk meat; mac-in-ton-ish-we-oss, mutton; o-da-bon, sleigh or wagon; de-be-sa-o-dak-bon, wagon or car with wheels; ne-cun-ah, a road or trail; sko-da-o-da-bon-me-cun-ah, a railroad; ah-sho-gun, a bridge; ah-sho-ga, across a bridge or water; be-mich-ca, he crosses in a boat; this shore, o-das-o-gon; the other shore, ah-gon-mink; to row a boat is ah-sha-boo-ya, while ba-ma-sha is sailing a boat; ba-mo-za, walking; be-me-bat-to, running; ke-she-ca, run fast; ba-pin, to laugh; ma-we, to cry; ge-git-o, speak; ke-nooch, speak to those people. Both the later words are commands. Was-wa means a fire hunt; wa-swa-gun is torchlight; was-squaw-nane-ge-gun is lamp or candlelight; the sun is called ge-ses; the moon, tip-e-ge-ses; a star, ah-nung; ah-nung-goog, many stars; me-shuk-qut, clear sky; ah-nuk-qut, cloudy sky; num-me-keeg is thunder; num-me-keeg-wa-sa-tage is lightening.


Contributed and used with permission on this site by Timm Severud. The Lac Courte Oreilles Historical Preservation Office created this reproduction.Timm Severud manually typed it in and some minor changes to text have been made from the original, to correct spelling mistakes, and slight grammar mistakes. There is no copyright on this book or this reproduction. Feel free to use and share with others. Enjoy what I consider the best historical biography I have ever read. T.L.S.


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