Most early Native peoples in North America arrived there as a result of migrations from South America or Central America. This is because the primary migration group from Asia arrived by rafts and went directly to southern Chile. From there, migrations left for other parts of South America and North America. The first North American migration from South America appears to have been the Chumash to southern California’s Channel Islands, who then spread up the Pacific Coast. This will be the subject of later blog posts. Click to enlarge map.
The Native ancestors spoke a very old form of Ch'orti' Maya in South America and when they arrived in North America. The places they named are translatable using Ch'orti'. The Native ancestors – ancestors of the Lakota, Keresan, Mohawk, Cherokee, Iroquois, and more – travelled up the Mississippi River, even though they eventually settled near the Missouri River. The name Minnesota suggests that the ancestors first went up the Mississippi River before turning back to go up the Missouri, due to the ice sheet of the Ice Age. Minnesota is mi in neh ehtz' so ta’ and means "cats’ first tail, observe arch of residue." "Cat's first tail" is their first river and "arch of residue" probably refers to the way the Mississippi River emerged from underneath the ice sheet. The presence of "first" (in) in Minnesota suggests they saw the ice sheet there before seeing it at Sioux City. Both southwest Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota were unglaciated, even though much of northern Iowa was glaciated as well as south-central Wisconsin and even northern Illinois.
Several place names indicate a bad accident in the river caused by icebergs about 30 miles northwest of Winona. The story starts with Minneiska about 20 miles northwest of Winona. It is mi in neh ix kah and means "beginning of movement in cats’ first tail." I think beginning of movement refers to where the large icebergs began – perhaps further downstream they were considerably melted.
On the Minnesota side, Wabasha is wa’ bah ch’a’ and means "horizontal body(ies) of being(s)" and is clearly a reference to a death or deaths. Wabasha may be the most likely spot of the accident. Further downstream is Kellogg or k’el lo’ ok’, which is "loose one slashes and divides in half," where "loose one" refers to an ice berg. Weaver might be wehr per or "collapsed remnant." Near Kellogg, Newton is neh toh on, which means "offering to the tail from the previous." Offering refers to the bodies of the beings given up to the river. Further upstream, Lake City might be latz ker si ti’, which would mean "series of slashers in the narrow opening." This name describes what happened just prior to the accident – a number of icebergs in a narrow part of the river.
On the Wisconsin side, Pepin is downstream from Lake City and is per pi in or "first companions to collapse" - collapse means to die. Alma is across from Kellogg and is ahl mah or "time of the badness." Further downstream is Cochrane, which is k’och cher ahn neh and means "spread out flow of the unbalanced ones in the tail," indicating where the icebergs began to spread out and be easier to manage in the river. Finally, Buffalo is next to Cochrane. It is buh bal lo’ and means "loose one cuts boat to pieces." Loose one, usually used to indicate an animal, here indicates an iceberg. This name shows that the term buffalo first referred to an iceberg, but was then borrowed to name the bison as well, although in that case its root meaning was "cut body of loose one into pieces."
The name Red Wing, 60 miles northwest of Winona, indicates that was as far as the boats got. It is retz wih in and means "source of first climb." This is further evidence that the Mississippi was the first river ascended and "source" indicates the highest point on the river that they attained. Back downstream is Winona which is wih in noh on ha’ and means "source of our first big ancient river."
Even much lower on the Mississippi the ancestors had seen the icebergs. Cairo, halfway from the mouth of the Mississippi to Winona, was the first place that they saw icebergs. Cairo is kah ir ro’ and means "beginning of seeing the loose ones." It is not a name that came from Egypt to Illinois. Louisiana, Missouri, about 180 miles upstream of Cairo, is lo’ ix si an ha’ and means "series of loose ones moving in the river current." At some point, on a later trip, the ice bergs reached the area of the current-day state of Louisiana, giving rise to its name.
From Winona the ancestors went downstream to modern-day St. Louis to reach the Missouri River, which they ascended until they reached Sioux City. They called it suh, meaning "layer" or "base" – it was an ice layer - the ice sheet of the Ice Age, on the north bank of the Missouri River, where it likely had been for thousands of years. The Missouri River continued, along the southwest edge of the ice sheet. The Native ancestors may have gone a little further to Burbank, just before Vermillion. Burbank is bur ban ak’ and means "much of the up and down covering."
But the ancestors may have been disappointed with the presence of the ice sheet because it seems they turned around and went down the Missouri to the Omaha area. This is known from the name Pottawattamie, the name of the county of Council Bluffs, across the river from Omaha. Pottawattamie is po' ot ha' wat’ ta' am mi and means "cats return from the residue by spidering (sailing) on the river to make a shelter home near the deep hole." Residue refers to the ice sheet and deep hole either refers to the Missouri River or a lake.
The Native ancestors – the "cats" – spent some months or years along the Missouri there. They noticed where the Missouri had changed course over the years, like at Onawa, six miles east of the river, which is on ha’ wa’ and means "river previously being here." They liked the area, calling the vast expanse to the east, Iowa or ir ho wa’, meaning "desirable for beings to see." They explored local rivers with canoes – their ancestors had invented dug-out canoes in south Chile – starting with the Mineola, a 40-mile river which flows into the Missouri about 20 miles south of Council Bluffs. Mineola is mi in neh hol ha’ and means "cats’ first river head to tail." They explored the river from end-to-end. Mine or minne became a common name beginning and meant "cats' first tail."
But the flow of icebergs was probably terrible in spring and early summer. One caused a death(s) at Omaha, which is om mah ha’ and means "foam of the bad river." The syllable mah, which means "bad," was associated with death on the upper Mississippi, such as with the name Alma, Wisconsin, and on the Missouri, just as it was in the Monte Verde, Chile, area. The Native ancestors backed down the river to south of the present-day Missouri border to the Nishnabotna River, which is ni’ ix nahb ot in ha’ and means "first shelter to forget about moving river knobs." Somewhere along the Nishabotna River they made a camp site to get out of the way of the large ice chunks coming down the Missouri.
At some point the Native ancestors decided to move from the Iowa section of the Missouri River to the western South Dakota area, perhaps waiting until late fall when there would be less icebergs. Passing by Yankton, they made an observation about the river. Yankton is yan k’ot on and means "flow previously altered." This suggests that these early Native Americans were aware that the Ice Age changed the course of the Missouri River. A little past Yankton they may have made a camp on the non-ice-sheet side (Nebraska) of the river at Aten, which is aht ten and means "flattening (clearing) by the bath."
It is along the Missouri River in eastern South Dakota that the Dakota people got their name. In Ch’orti’, Dakota is ta’ ak’ k’ot ha’ and means "arrive by river to the residue covering." Residue covering refers to the ice sheet, so the name Dakota preceded the melting of the ice sheet.
When they neared Pierre, they made another observation, indicated by the Oahe Reservoir. While the reservoir is recent the name is very old. Oahe is ho ha’ her, which means "similar to the desirable river." While the Amazon might seem like the best comparison, another Brazilian river has an earlier record of human habitation – the Opara, or São Francisco. In addition, the beginning 'o' in both Oahe and Opara, is a clue that they meant to compare the Oahe (Missouri) to the Opara (São Francisco). Opara is "desirable for boating river" and Oahe is "similar to the desirable river." The Opara is a considerable river – the fourth longest river in South America. Considering that the first generation of these ancestors had come from South America and that by nature they were curious and travelled by water, it is possible that at least a few in their party had been up the Opara River. This is also a clue that Oahe may have been the name of the Missouri River. "Missouri" is a recent name, having followed the Missouri people from northern Canada to the state of Missouri in about 1600 CE. The name Missouri was likely given to the river by white settlers or officials for the Missouri people.
The Black Hills and Western South Dakota
Pierre is a marker on the path – water path – to arrive at the ancestors’ home in the Black Hills. Pierre is pir or "waterway" and refers to the Bad River entering the Missouri there. Bad is bah aht and means "bodies in the bath." Upstream on the Bad is Philip, which might be pil li ip or "spirit beside the waterway." Quinn might indicate as far as they could go up the Bad River. Quinn might be k’ah ha’ wih in or "origin of first desirable river."
From near Quinn the ancestors would walk to the Black Hills. Within the Black Hills there are many names that are viable in English, but may have been first named by the Native ancestors. In the northeast part of the Black Hills, is Buckeye Gulch. The English name may be layered over an indigenous name buk k’er, meaning "divide and scatter," likely referring to a separation of the Native ancestors. Supporting this meaning is the nearby Ingersoll Peak, which is in k’er soh hol and means "first dividing in two on arched crest." This name, along with Buckeye Gulch, suggest a separation ceremony at Ingersoll Peak, perhaps with the Crow ancestors going northwest into Montana and the Lakota staying in the Black Hills. Crow in Ch’orti’ would be k’er ro’ or "split open the loose ones," referring to the buffalo.
Further to the west is Willow Creek, which could refer to a willow tree, but also could be from Ch’orti’, wil lo’, meaning "loose winged ones," referring to birds, perhaps the teratorn. Palmer Creek is nearby and, if from Ch’orti’, would be pal mer, meaning "impossible to boat."
By Palmer Creek is Rabbit Creek, an unusual name for a creek. Rabbit is likely a name that, when given by the white settlers, sounded like the already existing indigenous name for the creek. In Ch’orti’, Rabbit would be rahb biht and means "rubbing the carrier." It is a name of tenderness, of taking care of the one who carried heavy loads up the mountains. The Ch'orti' meaning of the name Rabbit is consistent with the Lakota name for the Black Hills, Paha Sapa. Paha Sapa has a sacred meaning in modern Lakota. But I believe its original meaning comes from Ch’orti’, the language that the Lakota ancestors spoke before the Lakota language evolved. In Ch’orti’, Paha Sapa is pah hahp sahp ha’ and means "rub the body from the river gap." The river gap refers to the long walk from Quinn, the point on the Bad River where one had to leave the boats and walk toward the Black Hills. Traveling on the Cheyenne River would require a shorter walk, but a strenuous walk nevertheless. When the persons arrived, their bodies were rubbed. The meaning of Paha Sapa is nearly identical to the meaning of Lakota. Lakota is lahb bah k’ot ha’ and means "arrive from river, rub the body." Note, it was common in the Ch'orti' of the day for b's to disappear in the middle or end of a name.
The second name the Lakota associate with the Black Hills is Khe Sapa. In Ch’orti’ it would have a similar meaning to Paha Sapa – ker sahp pah, meaning "rub the broken body." This name may correspond to Oglala, described below, or to one of the various tragedies on the Missouri and James Rivers, described later.
Odakota is the second tallest mountain in the Black Hills, located northwest of Harney Peak in western Pennington County. Odakota is ot ak’ k’ot ta', meaning "shelter after arriving from residue covering (ice sheet)." This indicates that Odakota Mountain may have been the first place that the Native ancestors arrived to in the Black Hills. It also makes it clear that the ice sheet was in place when they arrived in the Black Hills and, by the name, they associated themselves with the Dakota people.
In the southeast part of the Black Hills is Iron Mountain. It may have an English origin, but it also might be from Ch’orti’, in which case, it would be ir ro’ on, meaning "see the loose ones (animals) from previous era." This could refer to buffalo and would have been very early, as later on the plentiful buffalo would not have been a special sight to be used in a name. Further east is the Hugo Mine. Hugo is huhk’ ho’ and means "desirable sharp edges." The Hugo mine is a pegmatite mine. The crystals and quartz in pegmatite can have sharp edges.
Eventually the Native ancestors (Lakota, Dakota, Iroquois, Mohawk, and Cherokee) spread out into what is now southwest and south central South Dakota, as well as into Nebraska. In current-day Todd County (Rosebud Reservation), there are names like Okreek, Keya Paya River, and Parmelee, that date from the time period when Ch’orti’ was spoken – 11500 BCE to perhaps 10500 BCE. Parmelee is par mel li and means "beside the impossible to boat." This most likely refers to the Little White River, a few miles to the east. This meaning is reinforced by the county to the north, where the Little White River flows, Mellette County, which is mel eht and means "impossible challenge." Because they couldn’t boat out on the Little White River they had to walk to the White River to enter the Missouri River system. This might explain the name Todd County, Todd would be t’oht’ in Ch’orti’ and would mean "padders" or walkers.
But the Native ancestors here may have had seasonal boat access further downstream on the Missouri River by way of the Keya Paha River which flows east out of the county and into Nebraska, joining the Niobrara. Keya Paha is k’er yah pah ha’ in Ch’orti’ and means "sore and cut open body river." Apparently it was a rough canoe trip down the Keya Paha, causing open cuts and soreness, maybe not the best alternative to walking. Keya Paha is also a play-on-words with the name for the Black Hills, Paha Sapa. This could indicate a move by some from the Black Hills to the Rosebud area.
Closer to the Black Hills is the Pine Ridge Reservation. The name Oglala might refer to the White River, whether upstream in Nebraska or downstream through the Badlands. Oglala is ok’ k’al lab bal ha’ in Ch’orti’ and means "rubbed after broken boat from the retained water." The White River flows close to Oglala. However, I think Oglala refers to the survivors of the Missouri River accident at Mobridge, described later, who may have been taken to Oglala to recover.
The Pine Ridge Reservation lies in Shannon and Jackson counties. Both names seem to originate in Ch’orti’, with later Irish and English names placed on top. Shannon is chan noh on or "snake through the great ancient (land)." "Snake" refers to the White River and "great ancient" refers to the Badlands. Jackson would be chak soh on in Ch’orti’ and means "ancient red arches." The ancient red arches of the Badlands continue in Jackson County.
Once there was population in the areas of the current Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations, paths to pass between the Bad and White rivers were created. It would seem the Bad River was used more to connect with the Missouri River going north (upstream), while the White River was used to connect with the Missouri going south (downstream). The more western crossing path between the Bad and the White is marked by Kadoka. It is k’at ok ha' and means "crossing between rivers by foot." The more eastern crossing point between the Bad and the White rivers was at Okaton. It is ok k’at on and means "foot crossing to the ancient (ice sheet)," showing that the path was in use while the ice sheet was still present at the Missouri River. North of Okaton on the Bad River is Capa, which is kah par and means "beginning boating," the place where they switched from foot to boat. Okaton and Capa are in Jones County, a name probably coming from Ch’orti’, in which it is choh neh ehtz’ and would mean "observe the esteemed tails" – "tails" being a colloquial term for rivers. The Bad River is at the northern edge of the county and the White River is near the southern edge.
The Cheyenne River was likely used to go from the Black Hills to the North Dakota area, although originally it was likely Cheyanne, or che’ ahn neh, meaning "handle the flow of the tail." Haakon, a county name along the Cheyenne River, is ha' ak' on and means "river to the ancient covering (ice sheet)." North of the Black Hills, the Arpan River was used to bathe and stay cool – it is ahr pah ahn and means "the time of bodies in the current."
Further north is Reva and the Slim Buttes. Reva is a few miles from Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Moreau River. Reva is rehb bah and means "tapping the bodies," referring to a massaging action. Rabbit Creek, distinct from the Rabbit Creek in the Black Hills, is rahb bit or "rub the carrier." The presence of Reva near Rabbit Creek, both referring to massage, is evidence that the meaning of Rabbit Creek in the Black Hills also comes from Ch’orti’ and refers to massage. References to massage are also found in the names Lakota, Paha Sapa, and Khe Sapa.
The word 'bison' may have originated from this area, at the town of Bison, 25 miles east of Reva. Bison is pi ix so on and means "companions’ moving ancient arched ones." The use of the word ‘companions’ creates some distance – either it was named by visiting Lakota/Dakota from elsewhere or, more likely, much later on by visiting Ch’orti’ speakers, such as the Maya.
A group of Lakota ancestors moved, probably from the Black Hills, to the upper Missouri near modern-day Mobridge. In more modern times the people there have called themselves Lakota rather than Dakota, which seems to indicate a Black Hills origin. The purpose of their move is spelled out by the names Corson County (on the west side of the river across from Mobridge) and Rogo Bay on the Missouri. Corson is k’or soh on and means "transporting the ancient arched ones," while Rogo is ro’ ok' k’or and means "transporting broken loose one." To whom were they transporting bison bodies? Most likely to family members in the Black Hills, going up the Cheyenne by boat and then walking the last bit, or elsewhere in western South Dakota.
The names around Mobridge indicate an important tragedy where the Grand River meets the Missouri, giving name to the Hunkpapa Lakota. Mobridge comes from Ch’orti’: it is moh bir ix and means "movement of the waterway constricted." This indicates that a large iceberg was blocking all or a portion of the Missouri River, most likely threatening to flood neighboring villages. The name Hunkpapa was likely originally Hunakpapa or hur un ak’ pah ap ha’ and means "bodies of the young people hurled by the swinging water covering." Water covering is an expression for ice and the ice sheet. The name Hunkpapa provides a summary of what happened in the Missouri River at Mobridge.
The Grand River might have been named by this event too. Grand would be k’er ahn aht and would mean "the splitting in two in the bath current." The village a few miles upstream on the Grand River is Wakpala and also indicates that a deadly accident occurred in the area. It is wa’ ak’ pah al ha’ or "the time of bodies of beings covered by water." After the accident a ceremony was probably done at Mahto, five miles further upstream from Wakpala. Mahto is mah aht toh and means "offering after the badness in the bath." Or it could mean "sacrifice to the bad bath." In summary, it appears that at or near Mobridge a large iceberg in the Missouri River smashed into one or more boats, killing or injuring its occupants.
It is probably at about the same time of the populating of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud areas that portions of Nebraska were populated. Bonesteel, close to the Nebraska border and somewhat close to the Missouri, is bon ehtz’ tel and means "observe abundance of ridges." Forty miles southeast of Bonesteel in Nebraska, where ridges alternate with three rivers - the Missouri, Ponca Creek, and the Niobrara River, is Monowi, a very curious name. Monowi was about seven miles from the edge of the ice sheet. Monowi is mo’ noh wih and means "large bird source." I take "source" to mean nest or home. This could be referring to bald eagles, but the Native ancestors probably would not have found eagle nests to be worth mentioning. Instead, I believe Monowi refers to the teratorn, a giant bird of prey related to the vulture and stork that went extinct at the end of the Ice Age.
By jaime chirinos [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are five known species, four of which have been found in North America. The only one so far found in the northern part of the U.S. – Woodburn, Oregon – is the teratornis woodburnensis, which had an estimated 14-foot wingspan. Large birds on or around the ice sheets will come up again in the eastern South Dakota place names. In the graphic is an approximation of the largest teratorn species, found in Argentina.
About five miles south of Monowi is the Niobrara River, the major river in northern Nebraska. Niobrara is ni’ ho’ bar ahr ha’ in Ch’orti’ and means "the time of the boats through the desirable hills river." The desirable hills most likely mean the Sand Hills of north central Nebraska. One of the most interesting names in Nebraska is the town of Ogallala, with the same name as the Ogallala aquifer, the huge underground reserve of water that is now disappearing. Ogallala is a Ch’orti’ name – ok’ k’al ahl ha’ and means "the time of the break of the retained water." I understand the "break of the retained water" to mean the time that the water from the aquifer came to the surface and that this happened at the town of Ogallala, about 180 miles south of South Dakota’s badlands. By using a name, Ogallala, that sounds like Oglala, would seem to link the discovery of the aquifer to those who lived near the town of Oglala.
While living in South Dakota and Nebraska the Native ancestors began to hunt buffalo. To do this, they had special spears with spear points now called Clovis points. There is evidence for this at an archeological site in Montana.
The Wilsall Boy
In early 2014 a team of scientists announced the results of their study of the genome of the remains of a two-year-old boy found on a ranch outside of Wilsall, Montana, in 1968. The genome strongly relates the boy to most Native Americans in both South and North America – in fact, 80 percent of Native Americans can count this boy’s family as one of their many ancestors. The boy’s genome also is closely linked to the genome of the child’s remains found at Mal’ta, Siberia. According to scientist team member Morten Rasmussen, the Y-haplogroup of the Wilsall boy is Q-L54*(xM3). Q is the most common Y-haplogroup among the Maya and most Native Americans.
The scientists also found tools that are of the type called Clovis, seemingly relating this boy’s family to the people who used the Clovis points throughout North America. The story of the Clovis points is a little more complicated than that – it is best to say that the culture of this boy’s family acquired the points and were not the only ones to use them – but that is a story for a later post.
Wilsall is located 25 miles north of Livingston and 350 miles west-northwest of the Black Hills. The boy’s family may have belonged to the Crow ancestors who appear to have left the Black Hills to hunt buffalo once the Clovis point had been acquired and reproduced. In fact, language suggests that Wilsall may have been one of their first attempts to hunt buffalo with the Clovis points.
Wilsall is located in an area with drop-offs used by early Native Americans to run the buffalo off the drop-off, like the one to the right. Curiously, the boy was buried at the base of one of these cliffs.
The name Wilsall seems to link the site linguistically to the Lakota ancestors found in South Dakota and to the Monte Verde culture of south Chile, helping to confirm the primary migration pattern of south to north in the Americas. In Ch’orti’, Wilsall is wil sal, which means "flying wall," named after the walls or small cliffs used to run bison off of. A second name dating from that time is Sacajawea, which is both a peak 15 miles west of Wilsall and a street in Wilsall (likely named after the peak). Sacajawea is sahk k’ah ch’a’ weh ap in Ch’orti’ and means "hunt the satisfying meat with horizontal swinging." Horizontal swinging was an expression for the motion of the Clovis-point spear, as opposed to the motion of what was used before the spear, such as the hatchet. In more modern times, Sacajawea was used as a women's name.
There are several other names in the broader area that originate in this time period. One is the name Montana, which I argue comes from an indigenous source, rather than Spanish – dubious since Montana was not in a Spanish area. In Ch’orti’, Montana is moh on ta’ ahn ha’ and means "restriction of water current by the residue of previous eras." This probably refers to the Great Falls of the Missouri. "Residue of previous eras" refers to the debris left from the Ice Age or earlier earth processes.
Another name of a state that is from this era is Wyoming, which is wih om mi in in Ch’orti’ and means "source of the first foam (river) of the cats." One of the branches of the Missouri River has its source in Yellowstone Park, as does the Yellowstone River. However, there is a bit of riddle in the name Wyoming, because the Snake River also originates in Wyoming, in Yellowstone Park, and Native Americans were active in the Snake River area possibly before the Missouri-Yellowstone River watershed. In a future post I will identify the early native people in Idaho as the Nez Perce ancestors and that they, too, were part of the Monte Verde culture and spoke Ch’orti’. While the Nez Perce could have named Wyoming for its Snake River source, my inclination is that the name was meant to capture all three river origins – Snake, Missouri, and Yellowstone.
The name Teton also seems to come from the early Native people. Teton is te’ toh on, meaning "offering for the trees and the ancient." Ancient could refer to the rock cliffs and mountains in the Tetons.
The Melting of the Ice Sheet
At some time the ancestors noticed that the ice sheet in eastern South Dakota was melting and beginning to break-up. They began to gather on the western and south side of the Missouri River, next to the ice sheets, in places like Wynot, Nebraska, 15 miles southeast of Yankton. It was perhaps then and there that the tipi was invented, using the new surplus of bison skins. Wynot is wih in noh ot and means "origin of first large shelter."
It does appear that this group of Native ancestors was bison hunting in the area. Forty miles southwest of Wynot is Winnetoon, which is wih in neh toh on and means "offering for source of first tailed ancient one." I don’t think this means first buffalo in general, but first buffalo for this group that moved to northeast Nebraska. Twenty miles east of Winnetoon is Wausa, which is wa’ us ha’ and means "beings in the useful river," referring to Elkhorn Creek. Logan Creek, 20 miles south of Wynot is lo’ ok’ k’a ahn and means "split open the desirable running loose one (bison)." Next to Logan Creek is Belden, which is bel ten, or "collapse and flatten," referring to the process of flattening the hide of the buffalo after it was killed (collapsed).
It's not clear if the ice sheet started melting in central or eastern South Dakota, but generally across the continent the language suggests it started melting in the west and melted last in the east. I will start by looking at the westernmost portion of the ice sheet in central South Dakota. The place names make it clear that the Native ancestors followed the ice sheet north as it melted. The story told by the place names is a cultural heritage for the world to demonstrate a little of the wonder of the end of the thousands of years of the Ice Age. Not all of the names presented here are indigenous – some are authentically European. But many of the European names are examples where a European name with the same sound was placed over an ancient indigenous name.
As the ice sheet became unstable, icebergs entered the Missouri River and became a major hazard. A deadly accident occurred at Chamberlain, today where interstate 90 crosses the Missouri River. Chamberlain is cham ber ha’ in and means "first death from collapse in river." Collapse refers to a raft – or its occupants – sinking. At least four other place names in the area speak of this accident. Immediately across the river from Chamberlain on the west bank is Oacoma, which is wa’ k'o om mah in Ch’orti’ and means "being(s) on (under) the teeth in the bad foam." Teeth here could mean either icebergs or rocks near the shore. Foam is the river and is described as "bad" because it caused a death(s).
Oacoma is located in Lyman County. Lyman is li mah ahn and means "beside the bad current" referring to the Missouri River, which caused a death(s). Back on the east side, is Brule County, which includes Chamberlain. Brule is ber ul and means "explain the collapsing" – a place where the accident, the collapsing, was explained to another group of ancestors. Pukwana is a town about five miles east of Chamberlain. Pukwana is puh uk’ wa’ ahn ha’ and means "sadness for the beings cut up by the river current." A couple miles north of Chamberlain is the Akta Lakota Museum. Akta is ak’ ta’ and means "covering of residue," referring to the ice sheet.
North of Pierre is Sully County. Sully is suh li and means "beside the layer." Layer refers to the ice sheet, just like it did with Sioux City. Onida and Agar are towns in Sully County. Agar is ak’ k’ar and means "retained from the covering," probably referring to the small lake east of town formed as the ice sheet receded.
Twenty-five miles north of Agar is Akaska which is ak’ k’as kah and means "beginning of the breaking off of the covering." This indicates the first place that the ice sheet began to melt – at least along this part of the ice sheet. As the ice sheet melted, the ice retained for a longer time in certain places, like Onaka, 30 miles east of Akaska. Onaka is on ak’ ha’ and means "water covering of the previous era." "Water covering" refers to the ice sheet.
Where the Missouri River completes its southeast trajectory and turns east, at the present-day Yankton Indian Reservation, a group of Native ancestors followed the melting ice sheet north, starting at the present-day town of Marty, about three miles northeast of the Missouri River. Marty is mar ti’ and means "open space opening." Open space refers to open ground no longer covered by the ice sheet. Ten miles northwest of Marty is Lake Andes. Andes is ahn tech and means "expansion of the flow," most likely referring to a melt flow which resulted in Lake Andes.
click to enlarge
East of Marty and ten miles north of the Missouri is Avon, which might be ap on which would mean "swinging of the previous." This mostly refers to the swinging icebergs in the new river formed to the west of Avon. Right along this river is the town of Dante. Dante is ta’ ahn te’ and means "tree(s) along the flow from the residue." These were likely the first tree(s) in this part of the melted ice sheet. Finding shade would have been hard in the residue zone. Curiously, Dante is located in Lone Tree Township.
Twenty-five miles north of Marty is Armour. Armour might be ahr mo’ ur and would mean "the time of explaining the birds." This likely was referring to the giant teratorn birds, mentioned earlier in relation to Monowi, Nebraska, about 35 miles southwest of Armour. The first syllable of Armour matches that of the arrow and this could be where the Native ancestors invented the arrow, in order to shoot at the teratorn. Arrow is ahr ro’ and means the "loose ones’ time." "Loose ones" are a typical way of refering to animals, such as birds. The oldest known indented arrow dates to about 8000 BCE in Germany. Bow might be bor and would mean "to swell," describing the increasing backward motion of the bow as it pulled on. Of course, bow makes sense in its English meaning, as well.
The town northwest of Armour, Corsica, supports the idea of the use of bow and arrow here. While Corsica could be referring to the Mediterranean island, more likely Corsica is drawing from Ch’orti’ and would be k'o hor si ik’ kah and means "beginning of a series of tooth heads in the wind (air)." This would likely be after the sharp edges (Clovis points) were first used with the spear. The name of the Mohawk indicates that they were likely the lineage that first created and used the bow and arrow. Mohawk is mo’ ha’ ak’ and means "birds on the water covering." This suggests that the Mohawk ancestors were hunting birds – possibly the teratorn – up on top of the ice sheet. While the conventional wisdom is that Mohawk is a recent name, the result of a misspoken name of an enemy people, I don’t think that names were so trivial – there must be a more valid reason for the name Mohawk, such as suggested here.
The Native ancestors also followed the melting of the ice sheet in what is now far eastern South Dakota, starting at Vermillion. Vermillion is per mi il li on and means "cats beside the previous (ice sheet) see the collapse." The Native ancestors – the cats – were beside the ice sheet when they saw it begin to collapse. Twenty miles northeast of Vermillion is Alcester, which might be ahl che’ ehtz’ ter and would mean "the time of handling observing from the ridge."
Fifteen miles northwest of Vermillion and about seven miles north of the Missouri is Volin. Volin is pol li in and means "beside the first swelling," indicating the first formation of a river or lake that they saw in the area formerly covered by the ice sheet for thousands of years. Wakonda is a few miles north of Volin and is wa’ ak’ k'o on ta’ and means "beings with points on the residual covering of the previous (ice sheet)." This may indicate the use of bow and arrow after it was first used at Armour to the west. In any case, it indicates hunting up on top of the ice sheet.
Irene is five miles north of Wakonda and is ir ren neh, which means "see pulsing tail." A river formed as the ice sheet melted – perhaps the Vermillion River to the east of Irene. Viborg would be pi bor ak’ and means "companions’ swelling from the covering," speaking of nearby Swan Lake which formed as the ice sheet melted. Swan Lake is a natural lake, i.e. formed as the ice sheet melted. The name, Viborg, was given by a second or visiting group. Hurley might be European or indigenous. If indigenous, it would be hur li and mean "beside the throwing." This would indicate that it was next to a hunting area, like Wakonda.
As rivers began to form, the Native ancestors began to canoe up the rivers, to move people, supplies, and food around. The Vermillion River was navigable. However at Parker, they ran into trouble. Parker is par k’er and means "boat splits open." Marion is upstream from Parker several miles. Marion is mar ri on and means "open space beside the previous (ice sheet)." It seems as though Marion was at the edge of the ice sheet for a while. Monroe is four miles northeast of Marion and is mo’ on ro’ in Ch’orti’, which means "loose birds over the previous." This could be referring to the teratorns, just like at Armour.
Ten miles east of Parker is Lennox, another name that could be European. In Ch’orti’ it would be len ox and would mean "patting the legs," referring to massaging. This name has a similar meaning to Rabitt Creek in the Black Hills as well as the name Lakota. Six miles northeast of Lennox is the curiously named town of Tea. While it may be of European origin, in the time of the ice sheet melting it would have made sense – te’ means "trees," a rare thing soon after the ice sheet melted.
Big Sioux Falls in Sioux Falls, Minnehaha County, by James St. John (Flickr: Sioux-Quartzite1) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Fifteen miles east of Lennox on the Big Sioux River is Canton. Canton is k’ah ahn toh on and means "offering for the desirable current from the previous." This could be in reference to the Big Sioux River winding through the beautiful Newton Hills south of Canton. Upstream on the Big Sioux is the waterfalls (Sioux Falls) in what is now Minnehaha County. The name Minnehaha refers to the waterfalls. It is mi neh ha’ hahp and means "cats’ river tail through the gap." Fifteen miles northwest of Sioux Falls is Colton, which is kol toh on and means "offering for the loosening of the previous (ice sheet)."
Finally, there is a special narrative of the melting of the portion of the ice sheet between Marty and Vermillion. Utica is a town six miles north of the Missouri River, just west of Yankton. Utica is ut ik’ k’a and means "listen to satisfying air." Close your eyes and listen to the sound of the ice sheet melting. Eight miles southwest is Tabor, which is ta’ bor and means "swelling from the residue," perhaps indicating a temporary river or lake. Tyndall is seven miles northwest of Tabor and is ti’ in ta’ ahl and means "the time of the first opening of the residue." This definitive language makes it sound like Tyndall was one of the first places that the Ice Age started to end – at least in this part of North America.
Of all the rivers to form from the ice sheet in eastern South Dakota, none would be so important as the James River. Eventually, as the ice sheet melted more, it would provide canoe access into eastern North Dakota. The James River drains into the Missouri just east of Yankton. While many of the names around the James River sound very European, many, in fact, are indigenous. This can be shown by the consistent story that so many of them make.
The story starts at Olivet, about 30 miles north of the mouth near Yankton. Apparently this was a place that the water pooled on top of the ice sheet and poured over the edge. Olivet is hol li pet and means "beside the pouring from the crest." Five miles east is Menno, which is men noh and means "large shade." There was very little shade in the first years after the ice sheet melted – no trees yet. It seems Menno was a place that large trees grew after the ice sheet melted, providing valuable shade.
The ice sheet retreated further north. The Native ancestors were in the narrow James River with canoes. A terrible accident happened, probably near present-day Milltown. The name Dimock begins the story. Dimock is ti’ im ok’ and means "splitting blast at the opening." An iceberg fell into the river with a loud sound. North of Dimock is Ethan, which also tells a little of the story. It is ehtz’ ahn and means "see the flow (iceberg)." The town of Freeman, 15 miles east of the river, offers the next part of the story. As an aside, having grown up here, there is no logic for a European meaning to this town name. In Ch’orti’, Freeman is bar ehm mah ahn and means "boat in the descent of the bad flow," referring to the deadly iceberg flowing down the river toward a canoe(s).
The name James River itself is indigenous, with a name that sounded like James – it was cham ehtz’ and means "observe the death(s)." There were deaths when an iceberg went down the James River and smashed a boat. Four additional names reflect the sacrifice made to the iceberg. West of the river about 12 miles is Parkston, which is par k’as toh on and means "sacrifice to the breaking away of the previous (ice sheet) into boat." On the river and probably very near the site of the accident is Milltown. It is mi il toh on and means "cats see the sacrifice to the previous (ice sheet)." Eight miles east is Clayton, which is k’el la’ht’ toh on and means "sacrifice to the previous (iceberg) that slashed the load." Dolton is 15 miles northeast of Clayton and is tol toh on or "sacrifice to the bruising previous (iceberg)." Davison County, just north of the accident, might be ta’ ap pi ix soh on and would mean "companions in the arch (canoe) swung by the movement of the residue of the previous (ice sheet)."
Time passed. Beauty was present. Canistota is 12 miles northeast of Dolton. Canistota is k’a ahn nich toh ta’ and means "offering for the satisfying flowers in the residue of the flow." It is hard to imagine a more beautiful name – for flowers growing up where there had been an ice sheet for thousands of years before. Did the Native ancestors inadvertently carry the seeds or did they blow that far from the south? Salem, ten miles northwest might be a European name. But if indigenous, it is tz’a’ ahl ehm and would mean "time of the descent of the wetness." Fifteen miles west of Canistota is Emery, which is ehm mer ri and means "beside the failing to descend." Perhaps this refers to standing water after the ice sheet melted that failed to drain.
It was at this time that one group made a new home near Alexandria or Mitchell and then the group split in two. The path begins at Bridgewater, a town where there is no body of water nor any bridges. Bridgewater is an English name over an indigenous name, which was bir ix wat ter and means "move on pathway to make home on ridge." The path probably moved northwest, like highway 262 does today. Twelve miles from Bridgewater is Alexandria, another beautiful name in English, but most likely originally an indigenous name, since the narrative is consistent with the names around it. If indigenous, Alexandria would be ahl ix ahn ter ri ha’ and would mean "the time of moving to the ridge beside the flow of the river." The river is the James River a few miles west of Alexandria.
Mitchell is where the group split up. Mitchell is mi ix chel and means "cats move to spread out." The implication is that they separated into two (or more) groups. Perhaps this is spot from which the Iroquois-Mohawk-Cherokee group separated and moved east. Twelve miles northwest of Mitchell is Letcher. Letcher is letz cher and means "spreading out and climbing." Like Mitchell, here is another reference to spreading out. I assume climbing means to continue to follow the nearby James River upstream.
A note on South Dakota place names. Many place names were named by transportation companies, riverboat companies along the Missouri River, or by railroad companies. It is quite likely that these companies had Native American advisors, both to negotiate with native groups encountered as well as to provide native place names. In southeastern South Dakota the two main railroad companies were the Milwaukee Road and the Chicago and North Western. Local branches were built out between the late 1870s and the late 1880s. This is also likely the same time many local places were named. The railroads likely heard the Native names for places and then used a similar sounding European name. This minimized the Native sound of the names while providing the railroads with some rationale for the names.
Soon the ice started melting in northern Iowa as well. A group went east, possibly the group that split off at Mitchell, to accompany the melting ice sheet. At a town called Cherokee, Iowa, there is information about who went to Iowa. Cherokee is cher ro’ ok k’er and means "spread out loose on foot, divide in two." The Cherokee left the Dakota, walking on foot, following the ice sheet. Fifteen miles northeast of Cherokee is Wanata State Park. Wanata is wa’ ahn naht ta’ and means "ran from beings by the distant residue." They were feeling the distance between themselves and their companions they had recently left in South Dakota.
This would not be just the Cherokee but all of the groups who are part of the same language group, today called the Iroquoian languages. Beside Cherokee and Iroquois, this includes Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, Susquehannock, Wyandot, Wenrohronon, Erie, Tuscarora, and Nottoway. And the Winnebago and Hochunk as well. At that time, it seems that Cherokee and Mohawk were the first two names for these Native ancestors.
Twenty five miles southeast of Cherokee is Nemaha, Iowa. This seems to have been the site of a fatal accident due to the Ice Age melt-off, similar to the James River. Nemaha is neh ehm mah ha’ and means "descend the tail of the bad river." Nemaha is by the Raccoon River. Raccoon might be based on an indigenous name, in which case it would be ratz k’o on and mean "teeth of the previous (iceberg) through the narrow." Nemaha is located in Sac County and eight miles downstream is Sac City. Sac is sahk in Ch’orti’ and means "search," as if they were searching downstream for a person or body. Fifteen miles downstream from Sac City is Ulmer, which is ul mer and means "explain the failure." They were unable to find the body(ies).
Fifty miles northeast of Cherokee is a series of lakes left by the ice sheets by the town of Okoboji, which lies between two of the lakes. The name Okoboji comes from this early time period – it is ok’ k’ob bo’ ch’i’h and means "dividing the large gathered deep holes." "Gathered" means collected, as a hole gathers or collects water. The narrow strip of land of Okoboji divides the lakes on either side. Wahpeton is just west of Okoboji on West Lake Okoboji. It is wa’ pet toh on and means "beings making offering for the pouring over by the previous." Hollows became lakes filled up from run-off of melting ice sheet.
Fifty miles east of Cherokee is Pocahontas. While this is a well-known, more-contemporary Native American name, its meaning in Ch’orti’ indicates that it could date from the time of the first Native ancestors. Pocahontas would be pok ha’ ho’ on ta’ as and mean "play and rinse in the desirable rivers from the residue of the previous". The "previous" refers to the ice sheet.
Ninety miles northeast of Cherokee is Winnebago County, which may indicate the beginning of the Winnebago split off – one group staying in Iowa and Minnesota, becoming the Winnebago, and the Cherokee-Mohawk continuing east. Winnebago is also the name of a river that starts near Mankato, Minnesota, and flows into the Shell Rock River south of Mason City. Winnebago is wih neh bah ha’ k’o and means "source of river by tail with body(ies) on the rocks." This meaning makes sense knowing that the source of the Winnebago River is near Mankato and that Mankato was the site of deaths as people tried to cross the Minnesota River ("bodies on the rocks"). Mankato is mah ahn k’at toh and means "sacrificed while crossing the bad current." Use of the descriptor "bad" indicates that a death(s) occurred there.
Forty miles east of Winnebago County, Iowa, is Mitchell County and the town of Mitchell. The repeating of the name Mitchell, first used in South Dakota, indicates that the same splitting apart occurred here that happened at Mitchell, South Dakota. In that case it was the splitting of the Dakota and Cherokee-Mohawk-Iroquois lineages, with the Cherokee-Mohawk-Iroquois moving east. Here in northern Iowa, it was the Winnebago staying and the remainder of Iroquois moving east. Linguistically, the proximity of the Winnebago to the Dakota would make their language Siouxian rather than an Iroquois language. Mitchell is mi ix chel and means "cats moving and spreading out."
Moving North on the Former Ice Sheet
While it seems the ice sheet to the east was just beginning to melt, the ice sheet in Iowa melted well into Minnesota, and, in the Dakotas, up into North Dakota. It seems that the Winnebago followed it north into Minnesota and the Dakota north into North Dakota. In Minnesota there are many names translatable using Ch’orti’, including Watonwan County and Watonwan River, 30 miles southwest of Mankato. Watonwan is wat on wa’ ahn and means "beings making home along current of the previous (ice sheet)." Ten miles south of the river is Odin, which is ot ti in and means "first shelter in the opening," where opening likely means newly opened space after the ice sheet melted. The source of the river which goes by Odin is at Windom, which is wih in toh om and means "offering for the source of our first foam."
Eight miles north of St. James is Godahl, which is k’ot ta’ ahl and means "the time of arrival to the residue." This seems to be where they found the ice sheet. Ten miles southwest of Godahl is Darfur, which is ta’ ahr pur or "the time of the up and down of the residue," likely referring to the ice sheet melting down and then rising again. A few miles north of Godahl is Lake Hanaska, which is ha’ ahn as k’a and means "content playing in the water of the current."
About 70 miles northwest of St. James is Minneota in Lyon County. Lyon is li on and means "beside the previous (ice sheet)." Minneota is mi neh ot ta’ and means "cats’ shelter by the tail from the residue." Tail from the residue likely means the Yellow Medicine River, which may have been right at the edge of the ice sheet for a while. Ten miles southwest of Minneota and also along the Yellow Medicine River is Wilno. Wilno is wil noh and means "large wing," most likely indicating a teratorn.
Forty miles east of Mankota, the Winnebago ancestors noticed an interesting phenomenon. The Straight Cannon River flowed north toward the ice sheet rather than away from it like they had usually seen. Owatonna is hor wat on ha’ and means "river returning to the crest of the previous." Finally, at Minneapolis, they recognized the coming together of the Minnesota River and the newly formed Mississippi to form the Mississippi, the same river that their own ancestors had attempted to ascend many years prior, but faced tragedy with the icebergs. They recognized that Minneapolis was only a few miles upstream of that tragedy, just southeast of Red Wing. They named it mi in neh ap pol li ix, which means "beside the cats’ first tail with swollen, swinging moving ones."
In South Dakota, the Dakota ancestors found it hard to live in some parts of the new land that had been under the ice sheet. In the far northeast of the state is Sisseton, which is sis eht on and means "challenge of the cold past." Perhaps this was referring to all the standing water and lakes left by the melting ice sheets.
The animals began returning to the land. For the buffalo this was no easy task, as they were west of the Missouri River and could not cross the river. Yet the town of Canning, ten miles east of Pierre, suggests that they did arrive. Canning is k’a ahn ni’ in and means "first desirable knobbed runners." Knobbed runner is a good description of the buffalo. Most likely the buffalo outflanked the Missouri River in western Montana and over many years found their way along the northeast side of the river until reaching east-river South Dakota. Another town speaks of the return of the animals, probably buffalo. Wecota is 70 miles northwest of Canning and is weh k’ot ta’, which means "arrival of the flesh to the residue" - the return of animals to be hunted.
Onida is 20 miles north of Canning and is on ni’ ta’ and mean "remnant knobs on the previous." This is a reference to the buffalo and is somewhat similar to the Dakota name for the buffalo, tatanka. Tatanka is ta' ta' an k'a and means "remnant desirable runners on the residue." Remnant signifies that most of the buffalo stayed west of the river, while only a small group, a remnant, made it east of the river. Residue refers to the area formerly under the ice sheet, making it clear that tatanka was not used for buffalo west of the river at that time.
Another name which seems to reference buffalo in eastern South Dakota is Huron, 90 miles east of Canning. Huron is hur ro' on and means "throwing at the ancient loose ones." This would seem to indicate throwing a spear at the buffalo, the ancient animals.
Another significant name in far northeastern South Dakota is Wilmot, about five miles west of Big Stone Lake. Wilmot is wil mo’ ot and means "shelter for wing bird." Here wing and bird are rather repetitive, so putting them both in the name emphasizes wing – large wings. This may be another name referencing the teratorn.
As the Lakota and Dakota ancestors went further west on the Missouri and came back down to eastern South Dakota, they began to appreciate the vegetation, including new vegetation on the northeast bank. Several names in Nebraska speak to this. Thirty miles southwest of Yankton is Santee, which is san te’ and means "increase in plants." This name only makes sense if one is going downstream on the Missouri.
In a related vein is the name of the town of Tekamah, about 40 miles north of Omaha. Tekamah is te’ k’a am ha’ and means "satisfactory trees for spidering in the river." Spidering was an expression for sailing, as I have shown elsewhere in early South America research. They got large logs to make rafts for sail rafts at Tekamah. At some point, they travelled up and down the Platte River. Nebraska was named for the Platte River. Nebraska is neh bar ratz k’a and means "boating the satisfying narrow tail."
I have told the story of the migration of the ancestors of the Dakota, Lakota, Keresan, Iroquois, Cherokee, and Mohawk from Chile to the Great Plains in about 11500 BCE. These early Native ancestors found the expansive Ice Age ice sheets blocking the Mississippi River and covering much of Minnesota, Iowa, and the Dakotas. They were people of the suh, the "layer," Sioux. The Lakota settled in the Black Hills and western South Dakota. The Dakota settled in eastern South Dakota once the ice sheet retreated.
I have yet to tell the story of the Keresan and the "Clovis" points of New Mexico. There is also more to tell of the Iroquois, Cherokee, and Mohawk as they moved east following the melting of the ice sheet, with groups staying in Minnesota (Winnebago) and Wisconsin (Hochunk). And there are stories to tell of the Chumash, Pomo, Klamath, Nez Perce, and Salish, the people of the first migration from South America to North America.