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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Native American Place Names

It has been 190 years since the Treaty of Chicago (1833) required the Potawatomi, Chippewa and Ottawa peoples to vacate their lands and move west of the Mississippi River. 

Today, local place names hold reminders of Native peoples, the original stewards of the land on which we live. 

The Fox River is a major waterway and tributary of the Illinois River, and its' headwaters are northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Fox enters Illinois and passes through Lake County by way of the Chain O' Lakes and meanders through western Cuba Township on its way south to the Illinois River at Ottawa, Illinois. 

The river is named for the Fox Tribe (Menominee) of Wisconsin, whose self-given name was "Red Earth People." In the 17th century, explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette interpreted their name as "Renard," meaning "Fox" in French, referencing the red color of foxes. Fox Lake is the progeny of the Fox River. (Source: Encyclopedia of Native Tribes of North America, Michael Johnson, 1993; Place Names of Illinois, Edward Callary, 2008). 

Photo postcard view of Fox Lake with the Illinois Hotel and Willis Inn resort in the distance at center and right respectively, circa 1910. BBDM 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. BBDM 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 and possibly means "smooth pebbles in the bed of a stream." 

The Skokie River was historically a large meandering stream that included sedge meadow and wet prairie, and ran from Waukegan Township south to Chicago. During early non-Native settlement in the mid-1800s, farmers partially drained the area to plant crops. In the early 1900s, the river became a drainage ditch. The name "Skokie" comes from the Potawatomi word Chewab Skokie for "big wet prairie." 

The village of Mettawa adopted its name in 1960 to avoid such common appellations as grove, lake and woods. Mettawa was a Potawatomi leader/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 represent him at the proceedings.

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

Wauconda is a term used by American Indians (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. The town's first non-native settler, Justus Bangs, is reported to have selected the name from a character in a book he was reading.

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

The largest community with a Native American appellation is Waukegan. The city of 87,000 was once known as Little Fort for its 17th century trading post (speculated to have been built by the French or American Indians). In 1849, when the community increased 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 to 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 Aptakisiconce located south of Prairie Viewno 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 was first known as Indian Hills subdivision.

The newest place name in Lake County is Manitou Creek. The name change was approved by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names in December 2021. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, among the most used place names in the U.S. with a derogatory term is "squaw," which historically has been used as a slur for Native American women. 

Since the 1840s, the name Squaw Creek was used for a tributary of the Fox River (via Fox Lake) in Lake County's Grant Township near Ingleside. The Manitou (formerly Squaw) Creek Drainage District worked with local organizations, historians, individuals, and tribal nations with historic ties to the region, to find an appropriate name for the creek. After much consideration Manitou Creek was selected. "Manitou" is the spiritual and fundamental life force among Algonquin Native American groups, and honors the spirit of the waterway.

Native peoples from many different nations call this region home and continue to sustain their cultures, languages and traditions. 


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.

Nancy said...

Thank you for this very interesting information. I live on Drexel Blvd right befor it turn into Ackerman Road and to the island called Indian Point. My great grandfather and great Grandmother built their home on Drexel back in the 20's and is still there. I grew up there.

Unknown said...

Any books you can suggest on the Indian tribes that lived in lake county?

Diana Dretske said...

Suggested reading:

The Prairie People: Continuity and Change in Potawatomi Indian Culture, 1665-1965 by James A. Clifton.

Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, by Helen Hornbeck Tanner.

Thanks for reading!

creativecatering said...

I actually grew up on the island. There were 87 houses and I used to deliver the advertiser to all of them.