Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 3 - Page 2, Submitted by Phyllis Hazen, May 31, 2012

Derivative of Indian Language

What is the origin and meaning of the word Mascoutin or Muscatine as the spelling and pronunciation now are, that has designated Muscatine island at least since 1819 and the city of Muscatine in more recent decades?

Antiquarians who have sought to answer this question do not entirely agree. That it is an Indian word nobody has doubted; but as to what it means, and as to the tribe or band that first applied it to the island, opinions have differed.

Three Possibilities.

Irving B. Richman, Muscatine historian who made a profound study of this question in 1892, points to three possibilities:

    1 – That the Mascoutin Indians, driven from what is now southern Michigan in 1642 or 1643 into the Fox river region of Wisconsin, migrated in the eighteenth century into this locality with the Sac and Fox Indians, and in some way gave their name to Mascoutin island.

    2 – That Muscatine is a sort of combination of an Indian and French word: “Mus-quo-ta,” Indian word for prairie to which the French added the termination, “tine,” and the compound word “musquo”, or “musquitine” means “little prairie.”

    3 – That the term, “Mus-quo-ta-menis” applied by the Indians to the island meant fire or burning island and was an expression inspired by frequent prairie fires known to have occurred on this nearly 40,000-acre tract in the days before the white man came.

Means “Little Prairie”.

Residents of the town in 1852 were puzzled as to the meaning of the word and the editor of one of the local papers wrote to Antoine LeClaire, at Davenport, for a definition of the word Muscatine. His reply to the question asked was that Muscatine “is a sort of combination of an Indian and French word. He expressed the opinion that to the Indian word “Mus-quo-ta,” meaning prairie, the French added the termination “tine,” which means “little prairie.”

But other students of the question have been inclined to disagree with LeClaire, on poetic grounds as well as others. For years after, as doubtless during an untold period before the town was founded in 1839, immense fires would sweep over Muscatine island in the autumn, denuding it of the tall grass – grass as tall as a mounted man – with which its soil was covered. Now, what would be more fitting, have contended some antiquarians, than that the name Muscatine island should signify burning or fire island. What more likely, furthermore, than that the Indians, impressed with the magnificent and terrible spectacle of the writhing, sweeping flames, where these flames were as regularly recurrent as the seasons, would call it by some name significant of them?

As Early As 1819.

Major Thomas Forsyth of the United States army, who made a voyage up the Mississippi from St. Louis to the falls of St. Anthony in 1819, mentions the Grand Mascoutin, which was probably Muscatine Island, in his diary. He says:

    “”Sunday, June 20th. Weather still very warm; had the said up and down several times. Met Mr. Davenport’s men returning home to St. Louis. Met the Black Thunder and some followers, all Foxes, going down to St. Louis in their canoes; they immediately returned when they met me. Encamped a little above the Iowa river. Eighteen miles was this day’s progress. Monday, 21st. We were off by time this morning; three Saukies overtook us on their way from hunting, bound up to their village on Rocky river; current strong today, made only 24 miles; encamped at upper end of Grand Mascoutin.”

On the day following he reached Fort Armstrong on Rock Island, having come, he said, “27 miles from his last stop.” Now, the fact is, Muscatine, is by river at least 20 miles – very near to what Major Forsyth guessed to be the distance there from to the upper end of the Grand Mascoutin; and, furthermore, the fact is that from Muscatine to Rock Island is by river 28 miles – just one mile further than Major Forsyth guessed it to be. This is evidence, then, that Muscatine island was known by the name Mascoutin as early at least as 1819.

Connection Traced.

Historians make a connection between the Mascoutin Indians that once resided on Fox river in Wisconsin and the Grand Mascoutin. The sac and Fox Indians had inhabited what is now eastern Iowa and western Illinois near the mouth of the Rock river, from seventy to one hundred years before the Black Hawk war of 1832-33. It is furthermore known that early in the 18th century the Sac and Fox tribes were denizens of the Fox river region, where also at that time were the Mascoutins. From this region the Sacs and Foxes had migrated to the Rock river region, and it is probable that the Mascoutins, or some of the Mascoutins, migrated with them. Assuming that some of the Mascoutin tribe accompanied the Sacs and Foxes to the mouth of the Rock river, they would have been within 28 miles of the island called Grand Mascoutin by Major Forsyth in 1819, and today called Muscatine by everybody. That this island, so near to the new abiding place of the Mascoutins, should in some way, by more or less permanent occupation, perhaps have derived its name from them is a reasonable supposition, Richman points out.

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Photo - A THRIVING RIVER PORT – An old copper engraving, found among The Journal’s oldest newspaper cuts which pictorially recorded this community’s earliest history, is presented. It was an artist’s interpretation of a thriving river city in its earliest days.

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Came in 1840’s
Photo of Robert D. Bodman

Robert D. Bodman, Civil war veteran, born in Hanover, Germany on Jan. 10, 1843, was a mere child when he came to Muscatine in 1847. His marriage took place on March 28, 1877, and death occurred on Feb. 19, 1927.

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