Native American City Names in Wisconsin and Towns with French Origins
Nicolet Depicted in a 1910 Painting by Frank Rohrbeck
Native American and French Influence in Wisconsin
There are many Wisconsin cities and towns with Indian names and French origins. By examining the meaning of these names, one can gain an insight into the history of a great state where I was born and grew up.
Highway and Regional Map of Wisconsin
Wisconsin is located in the north central part of the continental United States. It is bordered to the south by the state of Illinois, and to the west by the states of Iowa and Minnesota. To the north lie Lake Superior and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, while to the east is Lake Michigan. Wisconsin is truly an outdoor sportsman's paradise with its great number of forests, rivers, and lakes. Known as America's dairy land, it has countless dairy farms in the eastern and central part of the state. Hills and small mountains are also found in the southwestern and northwestern parts of the state.
Wisconsin Town Names
Most visitors and inhabitants of Wisconsin get their first taste of Wisconsin's early history when they visit the many casinos which are located on Native American (Indian) reservations. According to Wikipedia, Native Americans have inhabited Wisconsin since 10,000 B.C. Permanent settlements started forming in 500 B.C. when farming was established. When the first Europeans arrived in Wisconsin, the most important Indian tribes were the Ojibwa, Ho-chunk, and Menominee.
In 1634 the French led by Jacques Nicolet landed at Green Bay after traversing Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan. After establishing a fur trading post at Green Bay, Nicolet led a portage from the Fox River to the Wisconsin River. At that time the French were searching for a route to China.
In 1763 the British took over control of Wisconsin following France's defeat in the French and Indian War. In 1787 following American independence from Great Britain, Wisconsin became part of the Northwest Territory; however, America didn't control Wisconsin until the British were finally defeated in the War of 1812.
From the 1840s through the 1860s Wisconsin was settled by immigrants from New England, New York, and Germany. After Wisconsin became a state on May 29, 1848, settlers from England and other places in America came to southwestern Wisconsin to engage in lead mining. Finally, during the last half of the 19th century, settlers from other European countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and Sweden also arrived in Wisconsin.
Exploring Origins of People in Wisconsin
Native American Tribes in Wisconsin
Which is the most important Native American tribe in Wisconsin?See results without voting
Native American City Names in Wisconsin
The name of the state itself, Wisconsin, and many towns and cities have American Indian origins. A listing of the state's more notable locations with Native American origins is as follows:
1. Wisconsin: This is anglicized from the French "Ouisconsin" which is a corruption of the Ojibwe (Algonquin) "Meskonsing." It is the name for the Wisconsin River.
2. Milwaukee: According to the website Milwaukee.org, the name for the city of Milwaukee originated from the Algonquin word "Millioki" which means "gathering place by the water." This could refer to the Indians' used area for tribal gatherings, or because the three rivers Menominee, Kinnickinnic and Milwaukee met there before flowing into Lake Michigan.
3. Oshkosh: This small city in east central Wisconsin was named after Chief Oshkosh of the Menominee tribe.
4. Wausau: It is a small city in central Wisconsin named after the Chippewa (Algonquin) word which means "far away."
5. Sheboygan: This small city in east central Wisconsin is the Algonquin word for the Sheboygan River. It means "thundering under the ground."
6. Neenah: this small city in east central Wisconsin is a Winnebago word and it means "running water."
7. Menasha: It is a small city in east central Wisconsin named after the Menominee word meaning "thorn in the island."
8. Mukwonago: This is a small town in southeastern Wisconsin where I attended elementary school. It is a Potowatomi word which means "a ladle or a bend in the stream."
9. Oconomowoc: This is a small town in southeastern Wisconsin. It is a Potowatomi word which means "water fall" in the vicinity.
10. Manitowoc: It is a small city in east central Wisconsin, and it is an Ojibwa word which means "place of the good spirit."
11. Menominee: This is a small town in northeastern Wisconsin. It is Menominee word (Algonquin) word which means "wild rice people."
12. Ozaukee: This is a county in east central Wisconsin. It is a Chippewa form of the tribal name of the Sauk people. It means "people living at the mouth of the river."
13. Waukesha: This small city and county is in southeastern Wisconsin. It is a Chippewa word meaning "little fox."
14. Waupun: this small town is in central Wisconsin. Its name comes from an unknown Indian tribe, and the word means "day break or dawn."
All of this reference material was taken from Wikipedia and the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
Cities and Towns with French Origins
Some names of significant towns and cities in Wisconsin with French origins are as follow:
1. Eau Claire: This city is in northwestern Wisconsin. It means "clear water."
2. Fon du Lac: This is a small city in east central Wisconsin. It means "bottom of the lake" and is located at the foot of Lake Winnebago.
3. Green Bay: Home of the Packers, this small city is in northeastern Wisconsin. It is anglicized from the French "baie verte."
4. La Crosse: This small city is in southwestern Wisconsin. it means "the rozier" - a bishop's crozier.
5. Prairie du Chien: This is a small city in southwestern Wisconsin. It means "dog prairie."
6. Prairie du Sac: This village is in south central Wisconsin. It means "prairie of the Sac Indian tribe."
7. Racine: This is a city in southeastern Wisconsin. It means "root" after the Root River.
8. De Pere: This is a small town in northeastern Wisconsin. It comes from "les rapides des peres" which means "the rapids of the fathers."
9. Calumet County: This is French for "the Menominee peace pipe."
10. Trempealeau River: it is in southwestern Wisconsin running from La Crosse to Eau Claire. It means "plunge into the water."
11. Portage: This is a very small town in central Wisconsin. it means a "carrying place."
All of this information was taken from Wikipedia and the Wisconsin State Historical Society.
Other Origins of Towns and Cities in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin there are numerous locations of English origin with the state capital, Madison, being a prime example. Madison was named after the fourth president of the United States, James Madison. There are also locations of Polish origin such as Pulaski, named after Count Casimir Pulaski who was a mercenary fighting for the American colonists during the Revolutionary War.
There are many other towns and villages in Wisconsin which have Native American and French origins. I have pointed out only a few which I consider significant, and I encourage you to visit Wisconsin to learn more about its early history.
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn
More by this Author
Based on more than 20 years of life overseas on Taiwan and in Thailand, I list in this article the main advantages and disadvantages of living outside the United States, especially when on your own.