Ohio History Journal




although the Scioto Valley was the proper domain of the Shawnee

nation. However, there is some reason to assume that the Shawnee

name for this stream conveyed the same meaning as did the

Delaware appellation, Me'nkwi Siipunk, 'Big River.' Evidence for it,

though indirect, comes from the Rev. David Jones's journal of his

travels "on the West Side of the River Ohio," in 1772 and 1773.

"The name," so writes the Rev. Mr. Jones, "which the Shawannees

give Siota [sic], has slipt my memory, but it signifies Hairy River.

The Indians tell us that when they came first to live here, deers

were so plenty, that in the vernal season, when they came to drink,

the stream would be thick of hairs, hence they gave it the name."12

This, to be sure, smacks of a folk tale; and here is what may have

happened: Probably the Rev. Mr. Jones heard Shawnee Indians

call the Scioto M'chshi/thiipi, 'Big River.'13 At the time, he evidently

had failed to make a note of either that Shawnee name or its meaning.

The meaning, "Hairy River," which he remembered, may have been

supplied by Delaware Indians who had a smattering of Shawnee,

possibly converts in the mission of Schonbrunn, on the Tuscarawas,

where he visited shortly after. Even one or another of the Moravian

missioners, Zeisberger not excluded, may have imparted some of the


Especially when not quite correctly pronounced by a white man

or a Delaware, Shawn. m'chshi, 'big,' may have sounded not a little

like Del. *miichi/yi (interchangeable with *wiichi/yi), 'hairy.'14

The needed explanation of a name such as this is always to be

counted on from one of the ever-present spinners of yarns. Of course

it is also possible, nor any less likely, that the Rev. Mr. Jones had

been slipped this deer-hair story custom-made by a pranking

Shawnee, who decided to have some fun with the palefaced snooper.

Olentangy, the Indian name for the north branch of the Scioto,

again is Delaware. It really is a misnomer, traceable to an act of

12 David Jones, A Journal . . . of Two Visits Made to Some Nations of Indians on

the West Side of the River Ohio, in the Years 1772 and 1773 (reprinted, New York,

1865), 46.

13 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 361.

14 E. N. Horsford, ed., Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary (Cambridge, Mass., 1887), 88.

Zeisberger spells it "wiechege-" and "miechege-." Compare Shawn. wichthlaya, 'body

hair.' Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 419.




the Ohio state legislature in 1833. Up to that time, the commonly

used name of this river had been Whetstone River or Whetstone

Creek. Its Delaware name is documented with astonishing accuracy

as Keenhongsheconsepung,15 properly *Kiin/ansh'/'ikan Siipu/nk.

Literally, this means 'sharp/more-and-more/tool river,' which

exactly corresponds to Eng. 'Whetstone River.' It indicates that the

Delawares knew the valley of this river as a source of shale (Olen-

tangy shale, geologically speaking) useful for the sharpening of

their imported cutlery, axes, and other ironware.

The river originally and rightfully called Olentangy is known today

as Big Darby.16 This modern name, Big Darby, had been in use

among the white settlers for some time when it was officially con-

firmed by the same legislative act which misnamed the Whetstone

River "Olentangy." According to its etymology, the Indian name

Olentangy may be either Delaware or Shawnee, being of nearly

identical form and basic meaning in both languages. The Delaware

form would be *Olam/taanshi Siipu/nk, the conjectural Shawnee

parallel being *Holom'/tenshi Thiipii/'chki. In both languages this

means '(red) face-paint/from there/river.' The name clearly in-

dicates that the Indians knew the headwaters region of Big Darby

to contain deposits of that much-sought iron-oxide clay which, when

fired, turns that particular shade of red preferred by them for

painting their faces and the depilated crowns of their heads. Not

quite correctly the whites called it "vermilion," a term also occurring

as an Ohio place name in Erie County, near the mouth of the

Vermilion River. In his travel diary, under date of November 18,

1760, George Croghan, the well-known trader and deputy Indian

commissioner under Sir William Johnson, entered the Indian name

of the Vermilion River as "Oulame Thepy," giving its English name

as "Vermilion Creek."17 The language of the Indian name clearly is

Ottawa, as are a few more of Croghan's river names along the lake

shore west of present Cleveland, which in those days was still

populated by many Ottawa Indians. Ott. ulam-, 'face paint,' is an

15 Alfred E. Lee, History of the City of Columbus (New York and Chicago, 1892),

I, 17.

16 Ibid.

17 Reuben G. Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 1748-1864 (Cleveland, 1904),

I, 109.




exact parallel to Del. olam-, and Shawn. holom-, the same being

true for Ott. *thepi, 'river, creek,' Del. siipu, and Shawn. thiipii.

Indian names, moreover, existed for each of the numerous streams

all through Ohio which today are called Paint Creek. The Paint

Creek, for instance, which empties into the Scioto at Chillicothe

once bore the Delaware name Olomoni Siipu/nk,18 and the almost

identical Shawnee name *Holomoonii Thiipii/'chki,19 both of them

literally meaning 'face-paint creek.'

In the headwaters regions of other streams, the Indians knew of

"salt licks" and "salt springs," and named such streams accordingly.

They were concerned with those salt places primarily because in-

variably there was good hunting nearby, deer and other game being

attracted by the salt. Salt as such meant next to nothing to Wood-

land Indians, since they subsisted on a practically salt-free diet.

Eventually, they acquired from the whites the skill to obtain salt by

evaporating the brine of salt springs by boiling. Rather than for

their own use though, they boiled salt as an article of barter with the

whites, who needed it desperately for their survival.

The Delaware term *m'hoani for 'a salt lick' (more frequently with

a locative affix, *m'hoani/nk), was in use throughout the entire

Delaware domain. Even today, for instance, both a county and a

river in northeastern Ohio are named Mahoning; and there also is a

sizable Mahoning Creek, an eastern tributary of the Allegheny, in

western Pennsylvania.

In the early 1800's, when Indians were still living among the

white settlers in the Scioto basin, a Delaware name for one or

another salt lick was still in use. Thus the Big Lick Creek near

Columbus, today called Big Walnut Creek, had its Indian name

documented as *Me'nkwi M'hoani Siipunk (transliterated),20 an

exact equivalent of 'Big Lick Creek.'

Another stream in the Scioto basin leading to a salt spring bore

a documented Delaware name containing as an integral component

*Seek/'l'w, the accepted term for 'salt spring.'21 It consists of seek-


18 Lee, History of Columbus, I, 145. It is spelled in Lee "Olomon Sepung."

19 Randall and Ryan, History of Ohio, II, 26. Spelled "Alamoneetheepeece."

20 Lee, History of Columbus, I, 145. Spelled "Whingwy Mahoni Sepung."

21 Ibid. Spelled "Seckle Sepung."




(or siik-), a verb stem meaning 'spilling over,' which was the current

Delaware word for 'brine' or 'salt,' followed by a verb affix, -'I'w,

meaning 'it exists in motion.' This combination of two verb forms,

each descriptive of dynamic action, nevertheless signified 'a salt

spring' to a Delaware Indian. When preceding Siipu/nk, 'a stream,'

the combination indicated one of those Salt Creeks at the head-

waters of which a salt spring was to be found.

The Muskingum River was the channel by which eastern Ohio

was penetrated, mainly by the Delawares during the first half of

the eighteenth century, and to a much lesser extent by bands of

Shawnees preceding the Delawares by a few decades. In its present

form  Muskingum, this river name has been in use among both

Indians and whites for more than two centuries as another one of

those terms of Indian-white travel-and-trade lingo, such as Ohio,

Scioto, and others.

Whatever its aboriginal form may have been, Muskingum as a

river name was fragmentary, requiring in any Indian language the

addition of a term signifying 'river.' Zeisberger and other Moravian

missioners spelled it Muskingum, as we do today, as well as

Mushkingum   (transliterated from  German-based Muschkingum).

Most likely, both of these spellings represented two different pro-

nunciations current among the Delawares. Zeisberger's definition

of the name, based on a combination of moos, 'an elk,' and

wuschking, 'eye' (in his own spelling), meaning 'elk's eye,'22 looks

like a folk etymology resting on the similarity in sound between

Muschkingum and wuschgingunk (Zeisberger's spelling), defined as

'on or in the eye.'23

John Johnston states that "Muskingum is a Delaware word, and

means a town on the river side."24 This is partly correct and partly

wrong. Muskingum (or Mushkingum, for that matter) indeed is a

Delaware word, but by no stretch of the imagination does it mean

'a town on the river side.' It is certain though that it named a town

on the river side. Possibly this town was an old Shawnee settlement

whose name the nearby Delawares adapted to their own tongue in

22 Zeisberger, "History," 44.

23 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 65, 70.

24 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 298.