Muscatine County Iowa

Source: History of Muscatine County Iowa, Historical Section, 1879, pages 453-454


There is always more or less obscurity surrounding the origin and signification of Indian names. The title "Musquitine" (as it was originally spelled) was bestowed upon this county because of the Indian name given the island in the Mississippi River opposite it. The choice of the name for the city, when it was found that Bloomington was no longer desirable, was but a natural one. What the Indians meant by the term, however, is less easily determined. Mr. Suel Foster has ingeniously traced out the origin to a band of Indians who inhabited Wisconsin. In Bancroft's History, where the Indian tribes are spoken of and their homes defined, the following sentences occur: "The last village on Fox River ever visited by the French were found Kickapoos, Muscoutins, and Miamis, who dwelt together on a beautiful hill, in the center of prairies and magnificent groves," etc. Further on, the historian, in speaking of Marquette and Joliet's explorations, says: "Marquette begged two guides of these Indians to pilot them to the portage from the Fox to the Wisconsin Rivers, when he and he his companion Joliet went on their voyage and first discovered the Upper Mississippi River." Mr. Foster argues that the remnants of this tribe, which existed in 1673, but not at the later period of white occupation of the West, were driven westward and found a lodgement in this vicinity. The island became known as the home of the Muscoutins among the more recent tribes, and hence the name. Mr. Foster also states that Antoine Le Claire once wrote him that there was no known meaning of the name among the Indians here.

Mr. J. P. Walton offers another interpretation. He declares that the Indians informed him that "Musquitine" meant "burning island," a title given because of the rank grass which grew thereon, and which was annually destroyed by fire. Mr. Walton also says that Le Claire gave the same interpretation of the word. This conflicting report from the celebrated half-breed, is not altogether surprising to those who know of his occasional errors of memory.


The title "Hawkeye," as applied to a resident of Iowa or to the State itself, first appeared in print, so far as we have been able to ascertain, in the Fort Madison Patriot of March 24, 1838. That issue was the first one of the paper founded by James G. Edwards in this region. In an editorial, the following suggestion was made:

"If a division of the Territory [Wisconsin] is effected, we propose that the Iowans take the cognomen of Hawkeyes. Our 'etymology can then be more definitely traced than can that of the Wolverines, Suckers, Gophers, etc., and we shall rescue from obliviOn a memento, at least, of the name of the old chief (Black Hawk.)"

September 5, 1839, Mr. Edwards, who had moved his office to Burlington, gave the name of Hawk-Eye to his paper, as is shown in the history of the press. He was familiarly styled "Old Hawk" by his friends throughout the West, even to the day of his death. It is quite likely that the Indians had used their synonym of Hawkeye as a distinctive title for some of their associates, but there is no evidence to show that the name had been offered prior to Mr. Edwards' suggestion of it, to apply to Iowa at large. It has been stated that the Indian trader S. S. Phelps was called "Old Hawkeye" by the red men; but if he was, the cognomen went no further.

Until conclusive evidence is adduced to the contrary, the people of Iowa will be disposed to accredit Mr. Edwards with the honor of having affixed to the State a name which will live as long as Iowa itself endures.

Back to Historical Index Page

Back to 1879 Table of Contents Page

Back to the Muscatine Co. IAGenWeb Index Page