Indian River and Place Names in Ohio
By AUGUST C. MAHR*
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 , 367.
138 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
River.' But this in no way implies that the Indian name Ohio has
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 139
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.
140 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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 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."
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 141
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,
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.
142 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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),
17 Reuben G. Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels, 1748-1864 (Cleveland, 1904),
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 143
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
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."
144 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
(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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 145
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.
146 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 147
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.
148 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 149
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,
40 Zeisberger's Indian Dictionary, 222.
41 Brinton and Anthony, Lenape Dictionary, 112.
42 Voegelin, "Shawnee Stems," 338, 416.
150 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 151
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.
152 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 153
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.
154 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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
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.
INDIAN RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 155
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.
156 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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 RIVER AND PLACE NAMES 157
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
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-
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.
158 THE OHIO HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
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
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.