Saturday October 27th 2012
When I first came to Kentucky, I had an
interest in the origin of the state's name. Kentucky I was told,
meant something like "bloody field," in "one or other of the Indian
languages." A little time and much confusion has passed since
then. However, there are nine main language families amongst the
indigenous peoples of North America. Which means at the time of
Columbus, North America had more linguistic variety than did Europe.
During the very early European domination of the East Coast, the part of
Kentucky where I now live spoke one or other of the Algic languages.
In my understanding of the Algic family of languages, it includes
Shawnee, and Illinois. As well, Algic languages were spoken all the way
up to the Great lakes and all the way east to the Powhatan. But
soon after the arrival of the Europeans, the Iroquois, who where Five
Nations People - the Mohawks, the Seneca, from up there in the north,
toward Canada and New York State - ventured south and west, and into
Kentucky. They were looking for new hunting grounds and Beaver pelts,
and they were fierce and well armed following their contact with
European technologies and manners. As well, the Cherokee, from the
hills of South West Virginia, Tennessee, the very East of Kentucky and
that part of the Appalachians that includes The Smokies, spoke a
language in the Iroquois family of languages.
I have been told, the word "Kentucky" comes from
an Iroquois word "ken-tah-ten" which means "land of tomorrow." I
have also been told that today's word "Kentucky" comes from another
Iroquois word "kain-tuc-ee," which means "meadow lands." Then
there is the story of Dragging Canoe. Around the time of the American
Revolution, he was a Cherokee war chief, who as he matured became very
pissed off with both Kings and Colonists. He got his name, because
when he was a youngster, to show how ready for war he was, he told his
elders he could carry a canoe, but when they asked him to demonstrate, all
he could manage was to drag the canoe. When he was a younger chief,
Dragging canoe had an objection to selling off Cherokee ancestral hunting
grounds, which included parts of what is now Central Kentucky, and where
once Bison roamed. His opinion was overruled by the council, but not
before Dragging Canoe was able to tell the English speakers that they were
buying a "dark and bloody land." His face would have been
scarred by small-pox, his heroic reputation as a war leader a far way
from being made, and I can well imagine his eyes being fierce as he spoke.
Quite far to the east of here, but still in Kentucky, there are a couple of
hills and a zip code called Canoe, which I am told are named after him.
And a little to the north of here is a town called Buffalo. But so
little is recorded, who really knows.