A couple of posts ago, Dark Rain called attention to the work of Carl Voegelin and Erminie Wheeler-Voeglin on the Shawnee language. Her post prompted me to do some googling. I must confess that, although I had run across the name Voegelin many times, I did not know that they had done such work. One of the good things about doing a blog like this is getting the kind of feedback that helps me learn more.
Learning about the Voegelins prompted me to look for more information on Shawnee color words, which led me to this. That page doesn’t say whether it’s based on Voegelin’s work or what, but it looks like the words for black and red do indeed start with “M” even though the “M” doesn’t seem to have come through into the English transcriptions of name words that I was talking about. The words are similar to the same words for those colors in other Algonquian languages. (The relationship between the word for yellow in Shawnee and in the other languages is a little harder to see, but the web page suggests how they might be related.)
Speaking of color words, here is a photo from September 1. The day before I had ridden to Fort Loramie and then to this site just north of Piqua, Ohio. On Sunday afternoon we came back to both sites by car to visit the museums. The house was the home of John Johnston, who was for some years an Indian agent in the area. Here is a Piqua web site that tells about him.
The color I’m referring is not that of the orange Alice Allis Chalmers tractor. (There was a big Heritage Festival going on over the Labor Day weekend. A tractor show was part of it.) Rather, I’m referring to the word for white.
Back in January I had written about the Wapa Farm near Wapakoneta. In that post I wondered if the word for Wapakoneta meant white-something-or-other. Judging by some of the subsequent search engine traffic to this blog, the question of the meaning of Wapakoneta had been of interest to some other person(s), too. But all I’ve ever learned since then about the meaning of the word is something John Johnston had said, as reported in the 1905 “History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County” that was written by C.W. Williamson. Here is from page 586.
There seems to be some uncertainty among authorities concerning the personage after whom the village was named. John Johnston, the Indian agent at Piqua at the time the Shawnees occupied Wapakoneta and the surrounding country, states that “it was named after an Indian chief long since dead, but who survived many years after my intercourse commenced with the Shawnees. The chief was somewhat club-footed, and the word has reference, I think to that circumstance, although its full import I never could discover.”
So much for my idea that it meant white something-or-other. Or is that the end of it? Did Johnston know what he was talking about? When I was at the museum I picked up a little book which I can’t seem to lay my hands on right now, which contained some of Johnston’s writings and a Shawnee word list (as well as a Wyandot one). I wondered what Johnston knew about the Shawnee word for white (or dawn, or light). But it was interesting to see that although Johnston provided words for the names of animals and a great many other things, he didn’t even list color words. That was a strange omission, I thought, because of the importance of those words in so many persons’ names.
That led me to wonder whether Johnston actually spoke Shawnee. He talks about his discussions with Shawnee leaders, but I’m wondering if his knowledge of the language was good enough to allow him to converse. Did he use an interpreter? I just don’t know yet.
Not that the meaning of Wapakoneta is such a huge issue, but I also have a few other questions about Johnston and his relationship with Native peoples of the Great Lakes region. So I think it will be worth my while to learn more about him.