History of American Towns & Cities Many Named For American Indian Heroes, Historical Events or Tribe Names

Map showing original colonies with present boundaries
Map showing original colonies with present boundaries | Source

Names and stories of America’s towns and cities

As the name suggests, the purpose of this hub is to find and discuss how our towns and cities in The United States got their names. In the process I would like to explore the history, folklore and stories concerning the towns. Since cities and towns are defined differently from place to place we can just refer to them all as towns.

Although I have not had the to opportunity to travel as much as I would like to, I have always had a fascination with different towns , wondering why they are where they are, what people do there and where did they get their sometimes funny names . When I do travel, I prefer to take the old roads and avoid the interstates as much as I can. Many people avoid these roads because they go through small towns and slow them down. However, that is the reason that I prefer them. I like going through the towns and villages and seeing what they are like. It’s much more interesting than the Interstates. I believe it was Charles Kuralt who said you can take the interstate from coast to coast and never see a damn thing.

When many years ago I went to Forest City, Iowa to take my first newspaper job I discovered that the paper had, some years earlier, put out a special edition to honor their centennial. It was quite a large publication and told stories of the founding and colorful events surrounding it. Since that time, I have learned that many towns have done similar publication by their newspapers or a historical society. I do not know specifically how the name “Forest City” originated but I found an article about the Lacklore family that settled in what is now Forest City around 1885. They picked this area because of its forest and timber. William Lacklore that leaf loam was the best soil and the wood was needed for building and fuel. While there is no statement that the Lacklores named the town , it seems likely as they were the pioneer family and settled there because of the forests.

So I have come to wonder about the stories behind the towns , how they got their sometimes colorful names, what kind of tragic incident may have happened. Even towns that seem small and boring probability had some colorful incidents in the past.

Many towns have foreign names, many bear the names of Indians and Indian tribes , and some are named for their founders. Whatever the names, I believe the establishment and names of towns all have a story behind them. With that in mind I hope to find more history and lore about the origins of our towns.

Peekskill, N.Y.

Jan Peeck was the first European in this territory in the Northwestern part of Westchester County. It is on the bay along the Hudson River across from “Jones Point”. Peeck apparently established trade with the Sanchoes Indian tribe, trade of useful products to the Indians in 1684 was recognized as a land deed officially called Ryck’s Patent. . Unofficially the area was called Jan Peeck’s Creek.

The area became known as “Peeck’s kil”(“stream” in Dutch), which somewhere along the way became Peekskill. The town, however, was not incorporated until 1826.

The area has a rich history from the beginning, through the revolutionary war on to the present.

More detailed history can be found in Wikipedia and westchetertowns.com.

Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Pagosa Springs, Colorado is the where early explorers came upon the Great Pagosa Hot Spring which was used by the Ute Indians as a sacred rite. Legend has it that the Indians discovered a pool of boiling water bubbling from beneath the coals of their ceremonial fire. They took this to be a sign of the gods and those who bathed in the water were cured. They named the place “Pog-Osah” The area became Pagosa County. And the town became Pogosa Springs.

Nighttime Chicago

Chicago

My personal experience with Chicago has been rather limited. The closest I came to live there was when I once went to Chicago to train for work with the A.C Nielsen Co.

Chicago is one of the towns that basically has an Indian name. The Indians named it shikaakwa, which means “wild onion” in the Miami-Illinois language.”Chicago” is a French translation of the Indian word.

About the middle of the 18th Century the Chicago area was inhabited by the Potawatomis tribe, who had replaced the Sauk and Fox Indians. The Fox River, no doubt, was named for the Fox tribes that lived there. It puts me in mind of a remark made by a coworker, who was part Indian. People must have really admired the Indians because they named so many things after the Indians. I tend to agree.

The first permanent settler who was not Indian was Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, who was mixed African and European heritage and born in what is now Haiti. He came in the 1770’s. He married a Potawa woman and started the first trading post.

After the Northwest Indian War some Indians gave part of what is now Chicago to the United States in the Treaty of Greenville. In 1803 the U.S. Army built Fort Dearborn. It was destroyed in the 1812 Fort Dearborn massacre. The Ottawa, Ojibwa, and Potawatomis ceded additional land in the 1804 Treaty of St. Louis. In 1833, after the treaty of Chicago, the Potawatomis were forcibly removed.. That same year the town of Chicago was organized with a population of about 200.

Rudolph Grotto

Grotto at Rudolph, WI
Grotto at Rudolph, WI | Source

Rudolph, Wisconsin


This town of and village of Rudolph have about 1814. While it was the second town to be established in Wood county it was not incorporated until 1960.

I often visit Rudolph to buy cheese at the Dairy State Cheese store which is on the main highway. I have also attended church there and visited the Grotto Shrine and Wonder Cave of St. Phillips Catholic Church. The shrine attracts about 30,000 visitors a year.

Although the town was named after Rudolph Hecox, who was the first white male born there, it seems more involved with Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. Thus this is the Rudolph that serves as a logo for the town.

An annual Rudolph’s Country Christmas event on the second Saturday of December is the year’s end to the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer celebration.

Pittsville, Wisconsin

This small Wisconsin city, with a population of about 850, prides itself on being the geographical center of the state and has a sign to announce it.

It was named after Oliver Wright Pitts, who came from Pennsylvania with his wife in 1856.

Fargo, North Dakota

Fargo, N.D. is located in Cass County North Dakota along the Red River. Moorhead, Minnesota is just across the river. Fargo’s population is 99,000 people. The metro area has a population of 175,000.

The city was founded in 1871 when settlers staked out claims where the Northern Pacific Railroad would cross the Red River.

The city was named for William G. Fargo, director of the Northern Pacific Railroad and cofounder of Wells Fargo Express Co.

Lynchburg, Verginia

This town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains has a population of 72,596 people.t was first settled in 1857. It was founded and named after John Lynch who started a ferry service across the James River. He was later responsible for building a bridge across the river.

The town was a Confederate supply base during the Civil War. In the 19th Century it turned to manufacturing and was referred to as the Pittsburgh of the South.

Ironwood, Michigan

Ironwood is about 18 miles south of Lake Superior and is the furthest West of Michigan Cities. Population is about 6, 293.

While originally an Iron Mining town, which gave it it’s name but looks to skiing resorts as a major attraction. A tall 52 ft fiberglass statue of Hiawatha is claimed to be the “World’s Tallest Indian.”

The town of Ironwood was settled in 1885, incorporated as a village in 1887, as a city in 1889, and the Township area north of the city was incorporated as Ironwood Township in 1889, Iron ore was discovered in the 1870’s.

It is generally accepted that the town was named for James (Iron) Wood who was a mining captain who worked for Frederick Rhinelander. Mr. Rhinelander named the town in honor of his captain

Montreal, Wisconsin

Montreal, Wisconsin is in Iron County, of northern Wisconsin, not very far from Lake Superior. The Population is about 838 people.


I got its name from the Montreal Mining Co., which had several copper and iron ore mines in the area during the 19th century. The town is historical and has a historical district known as the Montreal Company Location Historic District. There are several company town houses that were built for workers in 1918. The houses were pre-fabricated and for rent to the workers back then. The district was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1980.

Duck, N.C.

Duck, N.C. is a small community of about 515 people, in Dave County in the Kill Devil Hills metro area. In the 1980’s it was still a sleepy undeveloped village.


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Today it is filled with bookstores, specialty shops, art galleries and other things of interest. It also has a wide sandy beach and several businesses renting water sports equipment.


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The name Duck was chosen because of the numerous ducks in the area.


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© 2009 Don A. Hoglund

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21 comments

Bill Kinghorn 7 years ago

It's pleasant and easy reading.

Here's a book to challange your library system which I'm sure you'd like and which might suggest other themes to write about: "Families" by Wyatt Cooper, Anderson Cooper's dad, must have been too old-fashion in 1975. It doesn't seen so now. I really admire it.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

Many Indian names in Wisconsin.

These are probably just old wive's tales but this is what was told to me when I was growing up in the Oconomowoc and Okauchee area in Wisconsin.

OCONOMOWOC........an old weary Indian stopped and uttered the words "I can no more walk."

OKAUCHEE..........an Indian sneezed and it sounded like this.

Thought that you might be amused by these stories whether factual or not. :-)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Peggy W

Sounds like something from this part of the country.Wisconsin seems to have more unpronounceable Indian names than I recall from Minnesota, but Indian names are prevalent. A friend at work in Illinois once asked me if people in Minnesota really talked like those in the Movie "Fargo." Just enough to be recognizable


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

Thank you for this informative article; It is nice to understand the origins of unusual city names.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for coming over and commenting.I'm glad you found it interesting.


nikitha p profile image

nikitha p 6 years ago from India

Very informative hub, thanks for sharing.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for visiting and commenting.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 5 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

Very interesting information. Many English place names have obscure origins, but some describe the geography of the place. Our town is called Seaford - it is beside the sea, and was a busy port several hundred years ago. The geography has since changed due to tidal erosion. The town is still by the sea, but no longer has a harbour.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I find the origin of towns interesting, especially haas they often have some history behind them. The name of our town also is based on a geographical aspect . The town is Wisconsin Rapids, named for an aspect of the Wisconsin River. Thanks for commenting.


KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

KoffeeKlatch Gals 5 years ago from Sunny Florida

dahoglund, it's fascinating to delve into the past of cities and town and learn where their name came from. The names seem to come, mostly, from their most prominent citizen. I wonder what name the towns went by until they came along. I like Duck, N.C., it is such a whimisical name.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

This was one of my first hubs when my concept was to write a blog which would just talk about place names such as this. I soon discovered it was the wrong format and now I still write about town names but usually longer articles.I still don't guite know what a blog is or how to use it for my purposes.

Thanks for commenting.


WesternHistory profile image

WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

Very nice story. Towns and cities all around the country have names from famous Americans, Native Americans, army generals or from people who started industries important to the area. There are many of them mentioned on westerntrips.blogspot.com


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Your blog looks interesting. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


OHB profile image

OHB 5 years ago from Rapid City

As I've gotten older history in general has become much more interesting. My father homesteaded in South Dakota so researching the small towns around that area as well as the other areas of the state is very interesting.

Nice Article. I enjoyed it.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I got interested in the origins of small towns when I worked in some.I just wondered why is this town here?Thanks for you comment.


Carolyn Moe profile image

Carolyn Moe 5 years ago

another fine hub... I grew up in "Esther's Town" across the street from the city's newspaper publisher... Estherville named after the first white woman born in Emmet county Iowa... my neighbor wrote a book about the towns history and I wrote a paper in college using his material as my main source of reference... You have a plethora of interesting hubs... will be back for more goodies!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

The small town weekly was probably the most misunderstood of institutions.People who laughed at their hometown paper would have it sent to them wherever they moved to.It served a different purpose than the city paper. The weekly helped tie the community together. Lot of papers published some sort of history of the town.Thanks for commenting.


Carolyn Moe profile image

Carolyn Moe 5 years ago

btw, this was a daily... still is though now owned by a major conglomerate.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I really should have referred to community papers.


prasadjain profile image

prasadjain 4 years ago from Tumkur

A useful hub. Study of place names has acquired many dimensions in the past 40 years and has emerged as as important branch of study. There are place name societies in almost all countries.Keeping association with them helps a lot in studying place names.

I wish you to clarify who do you indicate by 'Indians' in the present article. Whether they are red Indians, west Indies, or Indians.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the information about the study of place names.I didn't know there was that much interest in it.I have modified this to indicate "American Indians." At the time I wrote this I was unaware that there would be world wide readership.I will have to think about a proper designation.I am not sure how much the therm "Red Indian" is used now.I have only run across it in older writings.

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