Ohio History Journal

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.




River.' But this in no way implies that the Indian name Ohio has

that meaning.

David Zeisberger, Moravian missioner among eighteenth-century

Woodland Indians, mainly the Iroquoian Onondagas and the

Algonkian Delawares, states in one of his writings that the river

name Ohio is Iroquoian in origin.2 Zeisberger had a thorough knowl-

edge of Onondaga and related Iroquoian tongues as well as of all

three dialects of Delaware, which is Algonkian. Hence his opinion

appears to be founded on fact. Unfortunately however he presents

no etymology of the name. All we know is that he found in the name

Ohio some Iroquoian connection. But with what dialect? The one

most likely is Wyandot, the Wyandots, or Hurons, next to the

Seneca Indians, being in Zeisberger's day the most influential Iro-

quoians in the Ohio Valley.

John Johnston, Indian agent for the United States government

at Piqua, Ohio, in his autobiographical Recollections recorded the

Wyandot name for the Ohio River as *O/hii/zuu (transcribed

from his own spelling, "O,he,zuh"), with the definition 'some-

thing great.'3 This is in agreement with a remark of John

Heckewelder that the name Ohio is not a complete Indian name but

rather the initial part of one, the second half of which must have

denoted 'river' or something along that line.4 Heckewelder further

states that he frequently heard the name Ohio used, not however

accented Ohio, but Ohio, and never used by Indians among them-

selves, but exclusively in conversations between Indians and whites

by both parties. This indicates that the name Ohio, evidently pro-

nounced O/hii/o at that time, and regardless of its probable origin

among the Wyandots, had become a term of interracial travel-and-

trade lingo on the all-important waterway during that era of mutual

acculturation between Indians and whites, and that it simply meant

'the Big River' to everyone concerned.


2 Archer B. Hulbert and William N. Schwarze, eds., "David Zeisberger's History of

the Northern American Indians," Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly,

XIX (1910), 33.

3 John Johnston, "Account of the Present State of the Indian Tribes Inhabiting Ohio,"

Archaeologia Americana: Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian

Society, I (1820), 297.

4 Heckewelder, "Indian Names," 367.




Heckewelder moreover attempts an explanation of the name

O/hii/o on the basis of Delaware: he sees Ohiio as the initial com-

ponent of a polysynthetic Delaware term *Ohii/'oop/peek/'ane, as

transcribed analytically from his own spelling. He defines it as

'indeed, a white, deep river'; 'white,' so he explains, because of the

many white-capped waves during a high wind.5

For various reasons Heckewelder's theory is not acceptable. In the

first place, he totally ignores Zeisberger's positive statement about

the name's Iroquoian provenience. In the second place, Heckewelder's

Delaware term, according to his own admission, rested on memories

of long ago and possibly was never heard by him in this form from

Indian lips. Further, Heckewelder expressly states that the Delaware

among themselves called the Ohio River Kit/'ane, in the Unami

dialect, or Kicht/'ane, in Munsee, meaning 'main stream' in both

dialects.6 This appellation, by the way, applied as far upstream as

the Allegheny River in its full length.

According to John Johnston, the Shawnees among themselves called

the Ohio River in their own tongue "Kiskepila Sepe, from Kiskepila

an eagle, and Sepe a river."7 To be Shawnee, Johnston's explanation

needs some adjustment. First of all, "Kiskepila" ought to be written

*kish'chk'/aap/ela, 'moving fast,'8 a basic meaning which obviously

could likewise apply to 'an eagle.' Secondly, "Sepe" should be

written thiipii, which means both 'running water' and 'river.'9

Hence *Kish'chk'aapela Thiipiichki (with required locative suffix)

signifies 'a fast-moving river.'

Nothing in the semantics of Ohiio or Kit/'ane or *Kish'chk'aapela

Thiipiichki points to any practical significance of the Ohio River for

Indian life other than its usefulness as a waterway for migrants and

traders. As such, the Ohio had been indeed of vital importance since

pre-Columbian times for all Woodland Indians east of the Missis-

sippi. Traveling northward on two of the Ohio's major tributaries,


5 Ibid., 369.

6 Ibid., 368.

7 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 297.

8 Carl F. Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems and the Jacob P. Dunn Miami Dictionary,

Part III," Indiana Historical Society, Prehistory Research Series, I (Indianapolis,

1937-40), 301, 336.

9 Ibid., 319.




the Scioto and the Muskingum, two important East-Algonkian

nations, the Shawnees and the Delawares, penetrated into the present

state of Ohio, the Shawnees on the former, and the Delawares on

the latter.

The Indian name of the Scioto carried a connotation of 'good

hunting.' As a word formation, Scioto belongs to the same category

of Indian-white travel-and-trade lingo as does Ohio. As Indian

river names, both of them are incomplete. As to its provenience, the

term Scioto unmistakably is Iroquoian, and in particular Wyandot.

It is reliably attested that the Wyandots called the river Scionto,

although it was chiefly known as the Scioto, that is, among the

white people.10 The fragmentary character of this river name is

obvious from the fact that in Wyandot *och/sk'onto means 'a

deer,'11 while the unknown second half of the complete name must

have denoted 'river.'

When toward the end of the eighteenth century Delaware Indians

from eastern Ohio moved into the Scioto basin, they called the

Scioto *Me'nkwi Siipunk, that is, 'the Big River.' Nevertheless,

these same Delawares, at the same period, whenever temporarily more

concerned with the Ohio River, also called the Ohio *Me'nkwi

Siipunk. It shows that these aboriginal appellations were not specific,

as are our modern geographical names, but rather were coined and

applied as dictated jointly by the nature of the locality at hand and

by its momentary significance in the Indians' life.

The few authors dealing with conditions in early Ohio during

the last two decades of the eighteenth century and in the first three

of the nineteenth, had obtained their knowledge about the local

Indians mainly from Delaware informants, whose language, or

rather a quite terrible hodge-podge variety of it, had eventually be-

come the accepted medium of communication between the whites

from the East and the Indians in Ohio in general. Thus it happened

that most of the Indian stream and place names recorded in these

early days are in Delaware.

A Shawnee name for the Scioto, for instance, is not on record,

10 Emilius O. Randall and Daniel J. Ryan, History of Ohio: The Rise and Progress

of an American State (New York, 1912), I, 225.

11 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 293. Johnston writes it "Ough, scan, oto."




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.




the form of *M'shkiink'm (Mushkinkum), and by force of folk

etymology understood it to mean 'elk's eye.' It appears quite probable

that the original Shawnee place name as assimilated by the Dela-

wares, may have been *m'shkeenkw/aam(-), a Shawnee term com-

bining *m'shkeenkw-,25 'swampy,' with -aam, a stem approximately

denoting '(land, soil, etc.) being as indicated,' and invariably

followed by -'chki or some other adverbial determinant,26 with the

composite meaning, 'where the land is swampy, soggy.' Where this

place was located, it is impossible to ascertain.

Evidently, in their assimilation of this Shawnee place name, the

Delawares, disregarding as unessential the final locative affix, were

solely concerned with *M'shkeenkwaam, from which it was but a

small step, over intermediary *M'shkeenk'm, to folk-etymologically

conditioned *Muushkiink'm ( Mushkinkum; Muskingum).

Until after 1800 the name Muskingum also applied to its north

branch, today officially called Tuscarawas. The latter name com-

memorates the Iroquoian Tuscarora Indians, who once had a settle-

ment, Tuscarawi, or Tuscarawas, at its upper course, near present

Bolivar, on the line of Stark and Tuscarawas counties.

At Coshocton, where the Tuscarawas and Walhonding rivers

unite, forming the Muskingum, there formerly was a Delaware

settlement called Koshachkink (spelled Goschachkung) in Moravian

documents. *Kosh'/'ochk/'nk was the Unami dialect version of a

more explicit Munsee dialect form, *Koch'/kochk/'nk, meaning

'where there is a river crossing.'27 It seems though that the present

name, Coshocton, is not just a white man's corruption of this

Delaware form, but rather reflects another Delaware original,

*Kosh'/'ochk/t/oon, likewise Unami, and meaning 'river-crossing

device,' that is, 'a ferry.' Although undocumented as the source of

the place name Coshocton, it appears obvious that it is.

Walhonding, the name of the west branch of the Muskingum, is

a Delaware term, woal'anti/nk,28 here not meaning a ditch dug by

human hands, but rather 'a ditch-like river stretch; a ravine,' such

25 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 363.

26 Ibid., 338.

27 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 49.

28 Ibid., 59.




as the one east of Mount Vernon at the middle course of the

Walhonding's west branch, commonly called the Kokosing River.

The complete Delaware name of the Walhonding, of course, must

have been *Woal'anti/nk Siipu/nk, 'ravine river.'

While this river name may have advised the canoe traveler that

here a strong current was to be encountered when paddling upstream,

it is not immediately apparent to anyone not a Delaware for what

practical reason that west branch of the Walhonding was called

*Kook'oos'nk Siipunk, that is, 'river where there are owls.' It be-

comes clear, however, from a remark of Zeisberger's: "If an Indian

hunter hears an owl screech in the night he immediately throws some

tobacco into the fire [as an offering], muttering a few words at the

same time. Then they promise themselves success for the next day

for the owl is said to be a powerful spirit."29 Hence, a place where

there were owls was, naturally, a place of good hunting.

As on the Scioto, so likewise on the Muskingum, the Delawares

knew of good hunting places because of salt licks and saline springs

at the headwaters of some side streams. One such salt spring which

eventually became of vital importance to the white settlers, mainly

those at Marietta, was located at one of the headwaters of Salt

Creek in Muskingum County. The Delaware Indians named this

particular Salt Creek Siik/hee/wi/nk Siipu/nk, that is, 'river where

there is salt-making.' The salt-making place was on Buffalo Fork at

the site of present Chandlersville in southeast Muskingum County. On

Rufus Putnam's "Map of the State of Ohio" (1804) it is shown,

marked "Salt Spring," at about nine miles south of the fortieth

parallel, and about six miles west of the eighty-second meridian.

Nine miles up the Muskingum from the mouth of Salt Creek, a

tributary comes in from the west whose good old Delaware name

has likewise been connected with salt, not by Indians though but

rather by a folk etymology of the white man. In 1881 a local histor-

iographer explained the origin of the river name, Licking, "from

the fact of there being in early times some 'salt licks,' as they were

called, upon or near the banks, which were much resorted to by dee

29 Zeisberger, "History," 139.




and buffalo."30 Of course, no English-speaking person in his right

mind ever would have dreamt of calling a river "Licking" because

of "salt licks" at its banks. Further, it is known that the Delaware

Indians formed the names of such salt-lick streams with the term

*m'hoani-, 'a salt lick,' as has been pointed out above. There existed,

moreover, two more streams called Licking, one an eastern tributary

of the Allegheny in Venango County, Pennsylvania, and the other the

second largest river in Kentucky, emptying into the Ohio from the

south, slightly east of Cincinnati. Both are shown on a map of 1765,

the latter named, instead of Licking, "Great Salt Lick River."31

The name Licking is a white-man's adaptation of an original Dela-

ware form *W'li/'ik'/nk, compounded as follows: *w'li-, 'yonder'

(spelled wuli by Zeisberger32); -'ik'-, shortened from -'ikan, '(reced-

ing) flood water' (spelled hickan, and defined as 'tide,' Germ. 'Ebbe

und Flut,' by Zeisberger33); and locative affix -'nk, 'where there is.'

As a river name it requires the addition of Siipu/nk, 'river.' Hence,

the composite meaning of the entire name is: 'river where (Siipunk),

at a given point (w'li-, 'yonder'), the flood waters recede again

(-'ik'/nk).' It may be noted that the verb stem 'ik- (hik-) basically

implies 'a dropping water level'; Brinton defines hikan as 'ebb tide;

(at the ending of the flow).'34

All this indicates that at a certain distance upstream from the

mouth of the Licking River the flood waters of the Muskingum

ceased to back up in the Licking, but receded again. Evidently, there-

fore, the name Licking was a hint at the varying navigability of a

river thus named to the Indian canoe traveler about to enter its

mouth from the main stream, be it the Muskingum, the Allegheny,

or the Ohio.

The ready association formed by the whites between "Licking"

and "salt lick" clearly comes to the fore in John Johnston's following

30 N. N. Hill, History of Licking County, O. (Newark, Ohio, 1881), 199.

31 "A Map of the Country from the Western Lakes to . . . the Center Colonies of

North America, 1765. Traced by Wm S[cull?]."

32 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 236.

33 Ibid., 198.

34 Daniel G. Brinton and Albert S. Anthony, A Lenape-English Dictionary (Phil-

adelphia, 1889), 48.




remark about the Shawnee name for the Licking River: "Nepep-

enime Sepe, from Nepepenime, Salt, and Sepe, River, i. e. Salt

River."35 Johnston's name for the river, Nepepenime, is correct

Shawnee (Sepe is not; it ought to read Thiipii). However, Nepepen-

ime does not mean 'salt'; the Shawnee term for 'salt' is nepepimma,

according to Johnston's own word list;36 Voegelin carries essentially

the same: nepipemi, 'salt.'37 Obviously under the sway of the popular

etymology (Licking == salt lick), Johnston confused the Shawnee

river name Nepepenime with Shawnee nepipemi (in his own

spelling, nepepimma), 'salt,' and, presto, he had "Salt" River for

Licking River.

But what does Nepepenime actually mean? This Shawnee term

is composed as follows: nepi-, 'water'; -pen-, 'below'; and -ime,

'it is.'38 The composite meaning is 'water, below, it is.' It indicates

that 'here is a river with water at its lower course,' that is, 'a river

navigable only near its mouth.' Thus in the Shawnee name for the

Licking we have another such hint to the canoe traveler about the

water conditions of that stream.

The navigation of the lower course of the Licking must indeed

have posed quite a problem to Indians traveling on the Muskingum,

for we encounter a second Delaware name for the Licking which

likewise shows concern with the condition of the water. The term

in question is Pataskala, a white-man's simplification of the original

Delaware form. Pataskala today is the name of a town founded in

1852 in southwest Licking County, Ohio, by people with not the

faintest notion of the name's significance.

This modern version, Pataskala, being the only form available,

the name might have defied interpretation were it not for a com-

pound listed by Heckewelder spelled petapsqui and defined as

'bank or tide water.'39 Analytically written *p't/aaps/'kui, its com-

ponents are: p't- (p'nt-), adverbial prefix, 'up to (a certain point)';

-aaps- (-as-, -ash-), Unami contractions of Munsee aptchi, 'always';


35 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 299.

36 Ibid., 292.

37 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems." 93.

38 Ibid., nepi-, 375; -pen-, 95; -ime, 338.

39 Heckewelder, "Indian Names," 378.




and -'kui (properly, -t'kui),40 'a wave,' in particular, 'a wave from a

tide or flood.' By adding to this compound the verb affix -'l'w, 'it

exists (in motion),' we are confident to have established the basic

Delaware form of Pataskala: *P't/aaps/'ku'/'l'w. We feel all the

more justified in adding this final element since there is known

another such multiple-stem compound, in all probability traceable

to Zeisberger, which consists of essentially the same components as

Heckewelder's, has the same meaning, and, moreover, contains

-'I'w (in Moravian spelling, -helleu) as its final element. Evidently

a Munsee parallel to Heckewelder's Unami form, it occurs in the

spelling Pendaskitquehelleu, with the definition, 'a rising river

which swells the water of a creek.'41 Analytically written, it is

*P'nt/as/'k'/t'ku'/'l'w. Apart from -'k' (-iki-), an emphatic verb

element not translatable, and from the initial t- in -t'kui ('a wave'),

this term is identical with *P't/aaps/'ku'/'l'w in form as well as

basic meaning, the latter being, 'up to some point/always/a swell/

exists (in motion).' In conjunction with the two lexical definitions

cited above, this semantic interpretation of the Delaware term under-

lying the name Pataskala clearly shows that this original term indic-

ated to all concerned that the waters of the Muskingum, at flood

stage, invariably backed up to a certain point in the Licking.

In connection with the river name Muskingum, it has been

mentioned that bands of Shawnees had preceded the Delawares in

their inland penetration of the Muskingum river system. These

Shawnees had mainly settled on the west bank of the Muskingum,

north of present Zanesville, and in particular along a river bend

at present Dresden, Muskingum County. It embraces an extended

area of fertile land, named, in Shawnee, *W aak/'t'/aam/'chki,

meaning 'it is river-bend land.' The term is compounded from

waak/'t'-, 'it (the river) is bent,' and -aam/'chki, 'it (the land)

is of the nature just indicated.'42 Even today the stream here empty-

ing into the Muskingum is called Wakatomika Creek, in Shawnee,

*Waak't'aam'chki Thiipii'chki.


40 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 222.

41 Brinton and Anthony, Lenape Dictionary, 112.

42 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 338, 416.



Not quite twenty-seven miles down the Ohio from the mouth of

the Muskingum there is the mouth of the Hocking River, formerly

called Hockhocking, a form of the name which occurs on a map of

1764, though on another map, one of 1765, the river is called

Hocking Hocking. Apparently this last version, probably the oldest

of all, is not just a duplication of Hocking, but rather seems to

reflect the original Delaware appellation *Hok/'nk/haki/nk Siipu/-

nk. The initial term, hok/'nk, idiomatically functioned as a locative

adverb, meaning 'high up; above,' while haki/nk indicates that 'there

is land, or soil.' Hence the meaning of the composite river name is

'river where there is (arable) land upstream.' As a matter of fact,

bands from the Turkey tribe of the Delawares followed this compara-

tively short watercourse, which was easily navigable for canoes

for almost eighty miles upstream, to its headwaters, and settled

there, near and on the site of present Lancaster, in Fairfield County,

naming the area Achsinink, that is, 'place of the rock,' after the

enormous rock formation which, at Lancaster, dominates the scene.

It is most likely that, rather than the whites, the Delawares them-

selves shortened the river name to Hok'/haki/nk, which is less

clumsy than the original form but conveys the same meaning.

While the Shawnees and Delawares in the main had penetrated

into central and eastern Ohio from the Ohio River, the Miami

Indians, according to tribal traditions of their own, seem to have

originally emigrated from the north, eventually reaching the west-

ernmost rivers of the state, which even today are named after them,

the Maumee River in the northwest, and both the Big and Little

Miami in the southwest. Apart from other testimony, the northern

provenience of the Miami Indians is confirmed by the name

Loowanwaaki (plural), which the Shawnees in Ohio gave them,43

loowaani being a Shawnee term for 'north; northern.' The Shawnees,

having migrated north from the South, called themselves

Shaawanwaaki (plural), or Shawanooki, literally meaning


Maumee and Miami are the same name in two slightly different

pronunciations. Seventeenth-century French transliterations, in com-


43 Ibid., 352.

44 Ibid., 318.




bination with linguistics, permit us to establish *'/m'oam/'k as the

basic aboriginal form of the name. It is definitely Central Algonkian,

possibly Chippewa, and is supposed to mean 'people who live on

the peninsula.'45 that is, the narrow strip of land reaching out for

about eighty miles into Lake Michigan on the east side of Green

Bay in a general northeasterly direction. The basic form,

*'/m'oam/'k, not only explains both the current names Miami and

Maumee but also corresponds to the Miamis' own name for them-

selves, which in their tongue is Miamiaki (plural).46

One of the Miami settlements in western Ohio was on the site

of present Piqua, on the upper course of the Big Miami. As the

Miamis had taken it from the Shawnees, it was known by its

Shawnee name, Pickawillanee, indicating that its inhabitants were

members of the *pekewaaka, a political subdivision of the Shawnee

nation. The basic meaning of Pekewaa-, despite a few existing

theories, must be considered uncertain.

A like mystery shrouds the name of another Shawnee subdivision,

called tchalaaka, a member of which was a tchalaakaatha (plural

tchalaakaathaaki,47 a term which has survived in the place name

Chillicothe. Wherever located, the village of these members of the

tchalaaka, the most distinguished of all four subdivisions of the

Shawnees, invariably bore the same name, perpetuated by the whites

as Chillicothe. Since no one but a tchalaakaatha could become great

chief of the Shawnee nation, the tchalaaka village was regarded as

the national capital. The fact that there were in Ohio successively

several Shawnee settlements called Chillicothe, clearly shows that

the location of the grand council seat could be freely shifted.

When by the treaty of Greene Ville in 1795 the Shawnees lost

their holdings along the Scioto, they settled, with the consent of

the Wyandots, at and near a village on the Auglaize River, the

name of which has survived in the modern place name Wapakoneta.

According to local folk tradition, the name contains in its initial

half the name of a chief, Wapach, who so far has not been identified.

45 Frederick W. Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico

(Washington, 1907), I, 852.

46 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 374. By early colonial authors writing in English,

the Miami Indians usually are called Twichtwees, a term of uncertain origin.

47 Ibid., 149.




Evidently it is sheer fantasy. It appears plausible, however, to analyze

this place name in the following manner. As may be inferred from

the name of that fictitious chief, Wapach, the name of the place

sometime in the past must have been Wapachkoneta, a form more-

over, recorded by Johnston in the spelling Wapaghkonetta.48 With

this older form as a guide to appropriate Shawnee word stems, it

seems safe to propose *Waapi/yochkan/ite as the original form of

the name. It is a compound from waapiyochkani-, 'white bone(s),'49

and -ite, a final affix vaguely indicating 'here (is, are).'50 The com-

posite meaning is 'white bones place.' It may refer to skeletal remains

of a person or persons found unburied there.

Next, let us take a look at the names of a few streams and places

along Ohio's Lake Erie shore. The Maumee River has already been

discussed in connection with the Miami Indians, who availed them-

selves of this waterway. So likewise did the Hurons, or Wyandots,

who had settlements at and near the Sandusky River. Both Huron

and Wyandot are names for the same nation of Iroquoian Indians;

and both names are documented in seventeenth-century French

records. The name Huron is not even of Indian origin, but is French;

in the French usage of the period, un huron signifies 'a wretch; a

lout; an unkempt person,' in brief, 'a roughneck.'51 The name

Wyandot, a term of obscure Indian origin, appears in French records

of 1640 as Guyandotte, and Ouendat. Conrad Weiser, a German by

birth, in 1748 wrote it Wandat. The name was especially applied

to those Hurons who, after their defeat by the French in 1748, had

returned to their former settlements at Detroit and Sandusky. These

Wyandots "gradually acquired a paramount influence in the Ohio

valley and the lake region. They laid claim to the greater part of

Ohio, and the settlement of the Shawnee and Delawares within that

area was with their consent; they exercised the right to light the

council fire at all intertribal councils, and although few in numbers

they joined all Indian movements in the Ohio valley and the lake

region and supported the British against the Americans."52


48 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 298.

49 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 448.

50 Ibid., 151.

51 Hodge, Handbook, I, 584.

52 Ibid., I, 589-590.




Sandusky is the name of two Ohio towns, one at the upper course,

and the other about twenty-five miles east of the mouth, of the

Sandusky River, from which these places took their name. As a

term, Sandusky is a white-man's adaptation of Wyand. *sa'ndesti,

plainly denoting 'water.'53 As a Shawnee name for this river,

Johnston lists "Potake Sepe," defined as 'a rapid river.'54 While

his definition is correct, the Shawnee name ought to read *P'too/'ki

Thiipii/'chki, meaning 'fast-running river.'55

At about fifteen miles east of Sandusky the Huron River empties

into Lake Erie. In Croghan's travel journal an Indian name for this

stream occurs which is definitely Ottawa and has been transliterated

by Croghan as "Notowacy Thepy,"56 which is not sufficient for ascer-

taining the original Ottawa form of the name. It can however be easily

interpreted on the basis of a Shawnee parallel, due to the fortunate

congruity in this instance between the two Algonkian dialects.

Whatever Ottawa sound values Croghan's transliteration may repre-

sent, "Notowacy" without a doubt corresponds to Shawn.

naatoweeki (plural), 'the Senecas, the Wyandots,' a derivative from

a basic term naatoowe, 'Seneca, Wyandot (tribe or individual),'

with a Miami parallel natawia, 'Seneca.'57 Hence, "Notowacy

Thepy" means 'Seneca, or Wyandot, River.' Its English name,

Huron River, indicates that in this case the Wyandots were meant.

The Delawares called the Huron River Pettquotting, as it is

spelled in Moravian Mission diaries. Analytically written, the term

reads *P't/t'ku'/'att'/nk and, being the name of a stream, requires

the addition of Siipu/nk, 'river.' It is a compound of the following

elements: p't-, 'up to (a certain point)'; -t'ku'-, 'a wave'; -'att'-

(-hatte-), verb stem, 'doing, making, being'; and locative affix -'nk,

'where there is.' The composite meaning is '(river) where there is

tide-water up to a certain point.' The name reminded Delaware In-

dians traveling by canoe along the lake shore that this river was com-

fortably navigable upstream from its mouth because "up to a certain

point" it was on the same water level as the lake.


53 Johnston, "Indian Tribes," 297, 299.

54 Ibid., 299.

55 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 74, 319, 331.

56 Thwaites, Early Western Travels, I, 109.

57 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 377.



Similar hints at the navigability of a stream are implied in the

names Licking, Pataskala, analyzed above, and possibly Conneaut,


The next noteworthy channel east of the Huron River for Indian

penetration from Lake Erie was the Vermilion River. As previously

pointed out, its main attraction for the aborigines was an abundance,

in its drainage area, of that iron-oxide clay which they used for

making their red face-paint.

The easternmost of the sizable penetration inlets from Lake Erie

this side of the Pennsylvania state line is the Cuyahoga River. The

name is doubtless Iroquoian. That is about all we know about it.

It is quite possible though that it reflects the name of the Cayuga

Indians, which in Onondaga was *Kayukuhaga, as transliterated

from German-based Gajukuhaga in a Zeisberger word-list,58 where

it appears under the German heading Cajuger (meaning 'Cayuga

Indians'). If this derivation is tenable, the complete Iroquoian name

of the Cuyahoga River may have been *Kayuhukuhaga Kaihate

(Onondaga; spelling modified). The second term, Kaihate, is like-

wise listed by Zeisberger, spelled geihate, and defined as 'river.'

Although of no significance as channels of Indian penetration,

there exist in the extreme northeastern part of the state two small

streams, the Ashtabula River and Conneaut Creek, both of which

empty into estuaries of Lake Erie at a distance of about fifteen

miles from each other. Today the mouth of either stream is marked

by a lake town named the same as the respective streams Ashtabula

and Conneaut.

The linguistic structure of the two names shows that Ashtabula

is of Algonkian coinage, either Ottawa or, more probably, Delaware,

while Conneaut clearly is Iroquoian, either Onondaga or another

closely related dialect.

The Delawares who named Ashtabula most likely were members

of the Munsee, or Wolf, tribe, who came to the lake shore evidently

for the purpose of fishing at places such as Ashtabula and Conneaut

where, as they knew, good fishing was assured. The Iroquoian

Indians who named Conneaut seem to have arrived there by canoeing

58 E. N. Horsford, ed., Vocabularies by Zeisberger (Cambridge, Mass., 1887), 1.




westward along the south shore of Lake Erie from somewhere at

the eastern end of the lake.

Ashtabula is a white-man's adaptation, most likely of Del. *Ash'/-

t'pe/'l'w, a contraction, ash'-, of aptchi-, 'always,' and, added to

it, a verb form -t'pe/'l'w, 'there is enough of it, moving,' the plural

of which, spelled tepelook and defined as 'enough of them,' is listed

by Zeisberger.59 The composite meaning of the name is 'there is

always enough, moving,' probably with reference to fish.

The name Conneaut may be an anglicized form of Iroquoian (pos-

sibly Onondaga) *(wa)/koano/hote, 'there is increase.'60 Since

basically it means 'it has been made big,' the term may apply to an

"increase" of water in the Conneaut estuary whenever, for one

reason or another, the water level of the lake had risen. Provided that

this derivation is tenable, Conneaut is another one of those Indian

names that reminded the canoe traveler of essential features of a

waterway he was about to pursue.

Sir William Johnson in 1761 described the topography of

Conneaut as follows: "Encamped in a very good creek and safe

harbor. The creek about fifty yards wide, and pretty deep; two

very steep hills at the entrance thereof, and the water of it of a

very brown color."61 This reference to the water's "very brown

color" (due to ferruginous seepage from neighboring bogs) sug-

gests a possible connection of the name Conneaut with Onon.

*kanawoate, 'mud' (spelled ganawate by Zeisberger).62

As stated above, the most likely group of the Delawares to be

concerned with those two fishing places at the lake shore were the

Munsees. They populated, in the main, the drainage areas of the

Beaver, Little Beaver, and Shenango rivers, that is, roughly, present

Butler, Beaver, Lawrence, and Mercer counties in northwestern

Pennsylvania. Whenever bound for Ashtabula or Conneaut, ob-

viously for the purpose of fishing, these Munsees pursued an estab-

lished route. It led, either by trail, or by canoe, up the Shenango

to its junction near present Clarksville, Mercer County, with a

western tributary called Pymatuning Creek. From here either one


59 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 67.

60 Ibid., 102.

61 Thwaites, Early Western Travels, I, 103, note 68.

62 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 126.




could pursue Pymatuning Creek into neighboring Ohio upstream to

its headwaters in Ashtabula County, from whence a short portage

led to the west branch of the Ashtabula River. Or, one could con-

tinue on the Shenango upstream to a point at the state line, near

Andover, Ohio, where the former Pymatuning Swamps rendered

further progress by canoe impossible. Hence, a portage had to be

made to either the west or the east branch of the Ashtabula. From

this river, an easy portage could be made to Conneaut Creek by

travelers bound for Conneaut.

This travel route has been discussed in some detail because the

interpretation of the Delaware name Pymatuning is closely tied up

with it. On modern maps it occurs as the name of the Pymatuning

Reservoir, an 18,000-acre expanse of water, partly in Ashtabula

County, Ohio, and partly in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. It

covers in its entire north-south extension a considerable stretch of

the Shenango traveled by the Munsees on their way to the lake. Once

more in Ohio, the name appears in Pymatuning Creek, already

mentioned as part of that alternate Munsee route to the lake.

Expressly as an Indian place name in Mercer County, Pennsylvania,

Heckewelder listed Pymatuning (in this spelling), and transliterated

it into Del. Pihmtonink, which he interpreted as 'the dwelling place

of the man with the crooked mouth, or the crooked man's dwelling

place.'63 His first definition, although linguistically tenable (while

his second one is not), bears the earmarks of a folk etymology, as it

goes counter to the Indians' basic motivation for the coining of

place names--a practical purpose. His naive parenthetic remark,

"I knew this man perfectly well. J. H.," adds in no way to the

validity of his interpretation. As an example, by the way, of the

irresponsible manner in which Indian names are frequently dealt

with, see the interpretation of the name Pymatuning in a well-known

guide book. After having cited Heckewelder's "translation," the

unidentified writer quotes another one, "whispering waters," which

is downright idiotic.64

The Indian place in Mercer County called Pymatuning by

Heckewelder is shown on a map of Pennsylvania of 1788 as an

63 Heckewelder, "Indian Names," 365.

64 The Ohio Guide (New York, 1940), 433.



Indian village spelled Pamatuning. It appears on the west bank of

the Shenango, a few miles up the river from another Indian village,

likewise on the west bank, called Shaningo.65 On a modern road

map, along the corresponding river stretch, there appears a small

community, Shenango, about two miles south of Greenville, Mercer

County, and, eight miles upstream from it, near the southern tip of

the Pymatuning Reservoir, the town of Jamestown.66 If present

Shenango stands on or near the site of the Indian village of Shaningo

(as, to all appearances, it does), the Munsee village of Pymatuning

must have stood on or near the site of present Jamestown.

On the map of 1788 there appears a trail which cuts off a loop

of the Shenango and returns to the river again a few miles upstream

from Pymatuning, by-passing the village at about a mile's distance.

This close proximity of Pymatuning to this trail, together with its

location on the river, makes it appear probable that the place had

some special significance for travelers both by land and by water.

With this in mind, for the name Pymatuning an original Munsee

form is proposed, analytically written *Piim/'attoon/'nk and com-

posed   of the following    elements: piim-, 'sweating     oneself';67

-hattoon-, 'it is put there';68 and -'nk, 'place where.' The composite

meaning is 'sweating oneself, it is put here,' or, in idiomatic English,

'here are facilities for sweating oneself.'

The significance to the Indians in general of the sweat-oven and its

habitual use can hardly be overrated. Heckewelder has this to say

about it:

The sweat oven is the first thing that an Indian has recourse to when he

feels the least indisposed; it is the place to which the wearied traveller,

hunter, or warrior looks for relief from the fatigues he has endured, the cold

he has caught, or the restoration of his lost appetite. The oven is made of

different sizes, so as to accommodate from two to six persons at a time, or

according to the number of men in the village, so that they may be all suc-

cessively served.69

65 This map was printed in the Columbian Magazine in 1788. A large separate copy

was reprinted in 1937 by the U. S. Geological Survey.

66 Road map of Pennsylvania published by the Standard Oil Company in 1951.

67 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 189.

68 Ibid., 152.

69 John Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who

Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighbouring States (Philadelphia, 1881), 225.



This intimates that the villagers of Pymatuning may have erected

a particularly fine sweat-oven, which, perhaps for a consideration,

they made available to outsiders traveling by trail or canoe.

The reputation of this Indian village on the Shenango, quite

likely as a familiar sweating station on the customary route to and

from the lake, must have been well established among the Munsees.

Otherwise its name would never have spread either to Pymatuning

Creek or to the Pymatuning Swamps. The fact that it did may be ex-

plained as follows: On the basis of this fact it is to be assumed

(although there is no documentary proof for it) that the Munsees

among themselves did not call the Shenango by this its Iroquoian

name, but called it *Piim/'attoon/'nk Siipu/nk, that is, 'sweating-

place river.' The extended swamps, the source of the Shenango, were

analogously named Pymatuning Swamps by people familiar with

the Munsee name of the river--less likely by Indians, though, than

by whites.

Evidently the name *Piim/'attoon/'nk Siipu/nk could also have

been applied to Pymatuning Creek (which has retained the name)

whenever Munsee travelers followed this western branch of the

Shenango on their way to the lake.