Ohio History Journal

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Indian River and Place Names in Ohio

Indian River and Place Names in Ohio





It can be safely claimed that as a rule North American Woodland

Indians when penetrating into a given region first traveled by canoe

on that region's main river and, then proceeded upstream on the

major tributaries as far as they were navigable and promised a

sufficient food supply. Again and again they would branch off from

the respective tributary, ascending side streams which offered pros-

pects either of good hunting and fishing, or of fertile bottom land

for the planting of maize, or of deposits of that special clay they

used in making their face paint, or of other essential commodities.

A great many instances of the role of the main watercourses and

their tributaries in this pattern of inland penetration can be cited

from all parts of the Eastern Woodland domain. Even today count-

less Indian names of streams and places, either in their more or

less corrupted original word-forms or in English translation, bear

witness to this aboriginal method of immigration, consistently

followed since pre-Columbian days until far into modern times.

Ohio, the name of the river and the state, may well serve as a

typical example. It has been a widely accepted fallacy that Ohio is

an Indian name meaning 'Beautiful River.'1 True, it is an Indian

name, or rather part of one; and it is also true that a French traveler

about 1750 had called it "la Belle Riviere," that is, 'the Beautiful

* August C. Mahr is professor emeritus of German at Ohio State University. He is

the author of a number of studies dealing with the Indian tribes once resident in Ohio,

particularly the Delawares.

Like the preceding article, "The Removal of the Wyandots from Ohio," by Carl

G. Klopfenstein, this was originally a paper read at a meeting of the American Indian

Ethnohistoric Conference at Columbus, November 2-3, 1956, under joint sponsorship

of Ohio State University and the Ohio Historical Society.

The asterisk which is used frequently before Indian words throughout the text is

meant to indicate a hypothetical form of a word.

1 See even John Heckewelder, "[On Indian Names]," Transactions of the American

Philosophical Society, New Series, IV [1834], 367.