Opinion: Discovering our Indian place names
"My recent drive from Kansas City to Tulsa, Okla., for a family wedding was truly a journey down American Indian trails. Along the way are many geographic site markers to our Native American past: Wyandotte, Quindaro, Shawnee, Olathe, Paola, Miami, Osawatomie, Iola, Lenapah, Delaware, Nowata, Watova, Talala, Oologah (home of beloved Will Rogers, a Cherokee), Owasso, and of course, Tulsa. Such names may honor a tribe or chieftain, a legendary woman or maybe a distinguished land feature. My nephew’s wedding was held on a mound in Catoosa, which is "hill" to the Cherokees.

I grew up in Nowata, Okla. Looking back, my little hometown lived up to its Delaware tribal name, which means "welcome."

I give talks to local school kids about Indian place names, sharing the map I created for Kansas City’s 1997 welcome home party for the Oklahoma Osages who once lived here. My young listeners have favorites, like Dakota, a popular first name that means "a friend" to the Lakota Sioux.

A little boy who heard my talk later boasted that he won a dollar from his dad for knowing that Three Rivers Stadium, where the Chiefs play the Pittsburg Steelers, is named for three Indian rivers — the Monongahela, the Allegheny and the Ohio.

Indian place names in our area are scarce even though the Missouri, Oto, Iowa, Kaw or Kansa, Sac and Fox, and the Osage were once hereabout. Perhaps the tribes were nomadic hunters, or maybe white settlers replaced the Indians’ names. Two thousand years ago, Indians of the Middle Woodland time lived in and around Line Creek Park on Waukomis Drive. They came to be called the Hopewells after the Ohio landowner who first discovered similar ruins. Their true name is unknown."

Get the Story:
Reta Jo Mitchell: A search for our Indian place names (The Kansas City Sun Tribune 10/1)