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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Native American Place Names

It has been over 170 years since the Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa tribes called Lake County home. These Native peoples signed over their last remaining Illinois lands (including Lake County) to the U.S. government in the Treaty of Chicago in 1833. But there are still daily reminders of this heritage in local place names.

The Fox River on the west side of the county was originally called Pistakee, the Algonquin word for buffalo; a name preserved in Pistakee Lake. The river, more recently, was named for the Fox Indian tribe. The tribe perished at Maramech Hill in Kendall County when assaulted by a superior force of French and their allies in 1730. The name Fox Lake is the progeny of the Fox River.

Photo postcard view of Fox Lake with the Illinois Hotel and Willis Inn resort in the distance at center and right respectively, circa 1910. LCDM M-86.1.165.

The name for Nippersink Lake in Grant Township, north of Grand Avenue, is probably of Potawatomi origin and signifies "at the little water/lake." The post office at Fox Lake was called Nippersink until 1901.

Photo postcard of iron bridge over Indian Creek, Half Day (today's Lincolnshire), circa 1910. LCDM 92.27.82.

The village of Indian Creek was named for the creek of the same name, which runs through Lincolnshire. The creek is apparently named in remembrance of the Native American villages found in this vicinity before settlement by newcomers. There is an Indian Lake in Lake Barrington, presumably named to honor Native Americans as well.

Sequoit Creek in Antioch got its name from early settlers who came from Oneida County, New York where there is a Sauquoit Creek. The word Sauquoit is Iroquois, possibly meaning "smooth pebbles in the bed of a stream."

Grant Township has a Squaw Creek, which is a tributary of the Fox River (via Fox Lake). Squaw means "woman" or "wife" in the Algonquin language.

The village of Mettawa adopted its name in 1960 to avoid such common appellations as grove, lake and woods. Mettawa was an actual Potawatomi chief whose village was near the junction of the Des Plaines River and Indian Creek. Mettawa was unable to attend the signing of the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, but his friend, Aptakisic wore his moccasins to the proceedings to represent him.

Wauconda large letter postcard, Curt Teich Company, 1950. Teich Postcard Archives OCH1780.

Wauconda is a term used by Native Americans (spelled Wakonda) to signify "when the power believed to animate all natural forms is spoken to or spoken of in supplications or rituals." (Source: Frederick W. Hodge, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, 1912).

Village residents claim Wauconda was a young Native American chief who is buried on the south shore of Bangs Lake. There is no evidence of such a person, and it was the town's first non-native settler, Justus Bangs, who selected the name from a character in a book he was reading.

Waukegan large letter postcard, Curt Teich Company, 1946. Teich Postcard Archives 6BH1342.

The largest community with a Native American appellation is Waukegan. The city of 87,000 was once known as Little Fort for its 17-century trading post (speculated to have been built by French or Native Americans). In 1849, when the community grew to about 2,500 inhabitants, it became clear that "little" no longer fit. Native American language experts, John Kinzie and Solomon Juneau, were consulted and the Algonquin word for trading post "waukegan" was selected.

The name that sounds the least Native American and causes the most confusion about its origin is Half Day. Though people believe the town was given the name in relation to its distance from Chicago (which it was not), the name actually honors Aptakisic, a Native American chief whose tribe lived near there from about 1830 - 1834. As discussed in a previous post on Aptakisic - Half Day, Half Day is named for Aptakisic, whose name can be translated to "sun at meridian" or "half day."

The name Aptakisic remains in use as Aptakisic Creek and Aptakisic Road. However, the town of Aptakisic (once located south of Prairie View) no longer exists.

Native American place names that are no longer in use include: Indian Grove, which referred to a grove of trees near today's Forest Lake in Ela Township (circa 1839). The name was also formerly associated with the area around Sylvan Lake. Indian Point referred to an area on the northwest side of Fox Lake, and Round Lake Heights started as Indian Hills subdivision.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. I believe I once saw a copy of a french map from the 1700's that had a Wakegance marked just north of Portde Chicagou (the portage named Chicago).

Shawn Ford

Anonymous said...

I believe Indian Point is located on the North shore of Fox Lake.
Also the Chicago historical Soc.
has many documents and maps that can be copied that describe the Lake County area as it was being settled.

D_Dretske said...

Thanks for the correction! I just looked back at my research, and I had northwest, but didn't put that in the blog. Gonna correct it right now...

Jocelyn Wilhelm said...


I was wondering if it would be OK for me to get a copy of your Wauconda photo from your blog? I would be happy to give you credit for it. Let me know if it would be OK.


D_Dretske said...

Hello Jocelyn,
If the use of the image is non-profit/personal, you can use it for no charge and save it directly from the blog (and credit the museum please). If you'd like a higher res image or one without the Teich logo watermark, there is a $20 fee.

You can contact me directly at
Thank you!

Jocelyn Wilhelm said...

Thank you so much! It is for non-profit, FB community page I'm creating for Wauconda businesses and residents, to be called My Town Wauconda. It's not published yet, but soon to be - So linking back to the museum would be a great complement! Thanks again.