Editor’s note: This column was printed in 1938 and written by former Vidette editor Chapin Collins, wondering about the proper spelling of Wynooche, an issue that still persists more than 75 years later.
We have received a most reasonable suggestion from the Corps of Engineers, United States Army, wondering whether we could get together on how to spell Wynooche.
The situation is this:
We have been spelling Wynooche for, lo, some six or seven decades, the way everybody around here spells it—Wynooche.
There were times in the past when you could find it spelled “Wynoochie” or “Wynoochee.”
The problem arises because an official board of the United States government has decreed that it be spelled “Wynoochee,” with a double EE.
All of these spellings are a poor approximation, in the English tongue, of the name the Indians gave the river. Years ago, I had a long talk with Simon Charlie, a highly intelligent Indian who personally remembered his grandparents, tribesmen in these parts who knew white men only because of Captain Gray’s Columbia, which anchored in this harbor in 1792.
There is no possibility of rendering, in our letters, a name like Wynooche (and or ee). It started with a grunt, ended with a cough and had a sneeze in the middle. Simon Charlie tried to coach me. Waannooszchet. There was a K in it somewhere and a sort of spitting process.
I am not making fun of the Indians. It was their language. They named the streams. I am no lonquist, but I have gathered the impression that the Indians were no great shakes for nicely clipped syllables. They liked to get words out in one big rush, but their words served the purpose of being understood. If you would try to pronounce Duwamish without any vowels, deep in the back of your throat, you’d approximate the idea.
I admire the Army engineers, and understand their problem, which is imposed by law. They HAVE to do what the geographic board says.
But we, here in Montesano, are governed by a higher law, the law of public usage. We have been spelling it Wynooche longer than the geographic board has spelled it Wynoochee.
Both of us have been trying to spell an unspellable Indian word, and so a hex on us both.
I agree that it is a bit absurd for us to refer to the Wynooche Project, while the army engineers call it the Wynoochee project. To a stranger, it seems that one of us doesn’t know how to spell. But, frankly, I haven’t made up my mind what to do. We wouldn’t like to be the only one in Montesano who refers to Wynoochee Avenue.
Dell Graham of the Pacific Title company dug up some photostats of the original government surveys of this area which reveal some of the early attempts to spell Indian names.
Thus, you find both “Wynooche” and “Wynootche”, the latter dated 1860. There are “Hokium” and “Whihkah” and “Humpolup”, as well as “Humtulup.”
Of course, these variations are a major reason for setting up a board to make some one spelling official.
Even federal agencies get off the reservation now and then. Years ago, Matt Mathias testified before a congressional committee about the wonders of the Olympic mountains.
In the official printed report he kept referring to the “Lode of Ide”, a place I had never heard of. So, one day I asked Matt, but had my answer the instant I spoke. “Lode of Ide” came out as Low Divide.