Monday, August 15, 2022

Indian Names

America has treated the indigenous people poorly, but retained many of their names for places and things.

We were staying in Blackhawk Park Campground (Army Corps of Engineers - $11 a night!)  and went kayaking on the Mississippi - or at least in a couple of side-channels of it.  We also rode our bikes around and found a marker for the Black Hawk trail - a series of historical markers put up in the 1930's by a doctor Charles Porter who wrote a history of the ill-fated Sac tribe, who were basically massacred in 1832 as they tried to cross the Mississippi River.

Dr. Porter's account was the first written which was sympathetic to the Indian point of view.  The tribe had signed a treaty agreeing to stay on the Western side of the Mississippi, but apparently didn't understand that aspect of the treaty.  When they returned from hunting season to the East side of the Mississippi, they found settlers had taken over their farmland.  They tried to escape back across the Mississippi, but were mowed down by a  blunderbuss loaded with shrapnel, mounted to a riverboat warship, after they tried to surrender.

Of course, the folks who killed off the Sacs justified their actions on the grounds they were defending themselves from wild Indians who were attacking them.   And no one really bothered to correct the record until Dr. Porter did in the 1880's.

It is an interesting story but it got me to thinking about how many places and things in our country have Indian names.  Much ado was made by the far-right when Mount McKinley was reverted back to its native "Denali" name - but the same right-wingers would refuse to give up their GMC Denali SUVs, of course.  It was a tempest in a teapot.

Other than a few Eastern States, most of the States in our Country have Indian-derived names. There are a few named after European Royalty - Georgia, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Virginia - and still others after British lands (New York, New Jersey, etc.). And of course there are Spanish names such as Colorado and California. But the rest are mostly Indian names.  I got started on this wondering how Iowa got its name. Yes, Indian. So much for the "Denali" controversy.

And it seems the further West you go, the more native American names are used.  In Central New York, the New Holland Land Company (New Holland being the name of New York before the British took over, but that's another story) ran through all the names of Roman and Greek history (Greece, Syracuse, Pompey, Rome, Utica, etc.) before the surveyors started using names of the ex-girlfriends and family members.  But out West, it seems the settlers were less imaginative and content to use the designations of the people they displaced, albeit with the pronunciation mangled and the spelling anglicized.

Of course, we have named a few things after American "royalty" - the State and District of Columbia, named for Washington - and many cities,towns, counties and so forth named for Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Mason and others.  Of course, this was a problem when many States decided to "honor" confederate generals and leaders, many of whom were little more than war criminals.  Those names seem to be fading to obscurity, though. The Indian names remain.

Streets, roads, towns, cities, rivers, streams, lakes - many have Indian names.  In fact, the only thing not having an Indian name are Indians themselves, who Columbus mis-identified even as he slaughtered and enslaved them.

I am not sure what the point of this is, other than I never knew how Iowa got its name.