Skip to comments.Archaeology Paper Reports Meaning Of Indian River Names
Posted on 03/11/2003 4:25:49 PM PST by blam
Archaeology paper reports meaning of Indian river names
McCOMB, Miss. - The Chickasawhay, one of the finest rivers in the state, also has one of the prettiest-sounding names - Chick-a-sah-HAY. The Choctaw meaning: "Place Where Martins Dance."
The name probably referred to a long bluff on the river known as King's Bluff where martins built nests in the bank.
That tidbit is in a research paper by University of Southern Mississippi anthropology student Chris McPhail: "Mississippi Rivers: A Study of Choctaw Indian Place-Names of the Streams and Rivers of the State of Mississippi."
McPhail pored over 300-year-old maps of French explorers showing the rivers with their Indian names. To translate them he studied the Muskhogean language the tongue of Choctaws and related tribes and consulted books such as "Choctaw Language Dictionary."
Right off the bat he solved "bogue" (originally "boke") refers to a clear, swift stream with a sandy gravel bottom, while "hatchie" (originally hatcha) refers to a sluggish, broad, deep river.
Just look at the rivers with "bogue" in the name, like Bogue Chitto and Bogue Homa, and then at those with "hatchie," like Tallahatchie and Hatchie, and the difference is obvious.
Some of his definitions disagree with those given by other sources, which suggests that the translation of old Indian place names is a mighty complicated business. Samples:
_Mississippi River. There are many theories about the meaning of Mississippi. McPhail thinks it's a contraction of Choctaw "mishi sipokni sipi," meaning infinitely old.
_Yazoo: McPhail dissents from the commonly accepted "river of death" and says Yazoo comes from "yashu," Choctaw for stinking mud.
_Tallahatchie River, Tallahala Creek, Tallahoma Creek: After much research, McPhail found a distinction between the Choctaw word "tala," which means palmetto, and "tali," which means rock. As a result, he says Tallahatchie means palmetto river, Tallahala means dancing palmetto, but Tallahoma means red rock.
_Homochitto River, Bogue Homa Creek, Tallahoma Creek: McPhail likewise differentiates between "humma," which means red, and "homi," which means bitter. Thus he says Homochitto means big red and Tallahoma means red rock, but Bogue Homa stands for bitter creek. Incidentally, he says the original name for Homochitto was Bokomachito, as in Bogue Homo Chitto, or big red creek (chitto means big).
_Okatoma: This name comes not from a contraction of homa but from "oka" for water and "katoma" for stench, thus stinking water.
_Yocona River: This is a contraction of "yockni catawpha hatcha," or land of dividing creeks.
_Tombigbee River: From "itombi ikbe," or box maker, in reference to the limestone slabs along the river which Indians used to make boxes to hold the bones of their deceased.
_Buttahatchie: "Bota hatcha," corn meal river.
_Buckatunna: Probably from "bogue tunna," or weaving creek, either from its meandering course or from riverside canes which could be used to weave baskets. Or maybe tunna comes from "tunnap" for "other side," since the creek was on the far side of the Chickasawhay River where the Choctaws had a village.
_Biloxi: "Biluchi," hickory bark.
_Tchoutacabouffa: "Shuti kobaffi," broken pots.
_Pearl: Maps show the Indians called the middle river "Talli Yaiya," or moaning rock. McPhail believes this came from a section of rock cliff which "produces a clearly audible moaning sound as wind blows up the river and is trapped and forced over this rock and into the recessed cliff. Years after reading accounts of this phenomenon and after many trips by small boat to this place I was finally privileged to hear it. It can be likened to one blowing into an open soda bottle."
_Topisaw: McPhail didn't include this in his paper but analyzed it at McComb outdoorswoman Vickie Cothern's request. His best guesses were "tabi sha," which means peeled vines, or "tappa asha," meaning "creek of many falling banks."
That would have to be Detroit, which is French for Detoilet.
Sounds like ol Chris has a lot of spare time on his hands. Sure hope this was not done a a grant from the feds.
Did he say anything about finding the body of Billy Joe McAllister ?
Lol. Not a word about Billy Joe. (Some, to this day, say he faked the jump.)
Sure, I posted it somewhere yesterday, but I still really like it. :-)
Yeah, that's the "sanitized" definition. But there are natives who insist that the true translation is considerably less flattering.
On the other hand, there is no ambiguity regarding Council Bluffs. All they need is banjo lessons ...
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