Friday, April 16, 2010


In New Mexico over spring break, I was rifling through some old papers in my parents' genealogy file. My great grandfather had been a historian, in Council Bluffs, IA, and had collected a number of papers that had been thrown in with the genealogy information. These papers had to do with Iowa history, and also the history of a certain fight that actually occurred, apparently, in Oregon. But that's another story, or a few more, maybe.

The letter that is copied below is one of those papers. It is from the Smithsonian National Museum, (International Exchanges, Bureau of American Ethnology, National Zoological Park, Astrophysical Observatory), specifically Charles Walcott, Secretary, though I can't make out Mr. Walcott's signature exactly, and may be wrong about the first name. It is dated April 11, 1903, though once again, the day has been altered and may not have been 11 originally. The letter is written to the Hon. Walter I. Smith, House of Representatives, Washington D.C. The letter is as follows:

My dear Mr. Smith:

Recalling your reference, during the meeting of the Committee of Appropriations some days since, to the meaning of the name Iowa, Mr. Holmes has taken up the matter with one of the specialists of the Bureau, and I now beg leave to submit his statement, which I trust you will find of interest as bearing on the origin of the name of your State, from the most authoritative source possible:

Some variation of this word was applied to the Iowa Indians by nearly all their neighbors, whether of Algonquian or Siouan affinity. The Santee Sioux call them Ayuhba, or Iyuhba*, which Rev. S. R. Riggs, for years a missionary among these people and one of our very best authorities regarding their language, translates "sleepy ones". This statement was first made in the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, containing Riggs' Dakota Grammar and Dictionary, published in 1852, Vol. IV, p. 378, and was repeated in his Dictionary published as Volume VII of the contributions to North American Ethnology in the Powell Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region, p. 60, 1890. According to the unanimous testimony of history and tradition, the Iowa once lived in southern Minnesota, in immediate contact with the Sioux, and therefore this name might very well have originated with this latter people. The fact that it has a meaning in that language, while no interpretation has so far been obtained from any other, is evidence in the same direction.

This interpretation by Riuggs is not a mere guess, the term being readily analyzable. nba as nba-ya - "to make sleepy"; nba-ye-dan** (Teton Sioux, nba-ye-la), "softly, gently, mildly". yu- is a causative verbal prefix of very general signification and usage, often interpreted simple "to be". a- is an adverbial or prepositional prefix signifying properly "along with", but since it conveys the sense of "accompaniment" it frequently, as in this case, forms plurals. The i- of the form Iyunba would be another adverbial or prepositional prefix which sometimes signifies "with" and would therefore have an analogous force. That a- in the original prefix seems to be indicated, however, by the preponderance of early spellings containing it.

It now remains to be shown how "Ayuhba"* could pass into "Iowa", which is at first sight quite a distinct word. The disappearance of the b is readily accounted for by one familiar with the Dakota language. There the sound represented by b is not well developed, but hesitates between b, p, and w, is often heard as w by careless listeners, and is w (or nearer that sound than any other), in the Teton or western dialect of the Dakota or Sioux tongue. The sign h* stands for that represented by the German ch. This is wanting in French and English, the two languages through which the word has come to us, and it is well known that in similar situations it is apt to be dropped entirely when pronounced by persons whose languages do not contain it. We should thus have instead of Ayuhba or Ayuhwa, Ayuwa. Now the sound of a and y brounght together as ay is almost identical with English long I, which could easily be substituted for it, leaving us Iuwa. The substitution of o for u is, of course, simple, and it may be added that many Indian languages employ u and o in the same situation indifferently, while even in those which differentiate the two it is usually for the uninitiated to distinguish the two sounds.

In cases like this it is always difficult to be absolutely certain, but on circumstantial grounds the evidence is very strong. That the Iowa should be called "sleepy ones" by the Sioux, who were usually hostile to them, is quite likely, but for us it carried no more stigma than the term by which the Iowa tribe knew themselves. This was, as nearly as we can express it in English, Pahoche, or Pahutse, and without much doubt means "Dusty noses", although Major Stephen H. Long, owing to a confusion of similar sounds, rendered it "Gray snow". The use of this name is based on a tradition, and very likely the same was true of Ayuhba

Very truly yours,

Charles Walcott,

(my notes/TL)
*single dot over the h. there also appears an accent mark, upper right to lower left, over the u
**here, I see a carat under a raised n. also, the a appears, in both words, with an accent mark, again upper right to lower left, over it. I am referring to the a of hba


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