Places naturally require names, and one of the tasks in newly settled southern Illinois was to select them. They came from many sources. Some were borrowed from the localities where the earlier settlers had lived; others were from literature, history, the Bible, and from mythology. Still other places were named for individuals or objects, while some come by their names accidentally.
Several places in southern Illinois have names borrowed from the Indians, though such borrowing did not occur here so frequently as in many other states. The Indians’ “beautiful river” still is the Ohio, their “big water” is the Mississippi, and “shining water” remains the Wabash. The Kaskaskia River and village with the same name recall the once powerful Indian tribe that lived in Illinois. Even the state received its name from the Indian word “Illini” meaning “real men.”
The village of Tamaroa in Perry county derives its name from another vanished tribe, and the city of DuQuoin does honor to John DuQuoin, a literate chief of the Kaskaskia. Makanda, at the entrance to Giant City Park in Jackson County, is said to have been named for the last Indian chief living in that vicinity. Oskaloosa, in Clay County, commemorates the wife of Chief Mohasda. Patoka was an Indian chief that lived in Marion County. The Cahokia gave their name to a mission there more than 250 years ago. Mascoutah in St. Clair County also arouses memories of an Indian, while Shawneetown is named for the Shawnee Indian tribe which once lived in the region. Shobonier, in Fayette County was another Indian chief. Nameoka, in Madison County, is the “place of fish”; War Bluff, Indian Kitchen, Mound City, Indian Gap, the Pounds, and another half dozen Indian forts suggest the prevalence of Indians in early Illinois. Several smaller streams still are called Indian Creek.
People who came here to setlle brought the names of their former homes. An English colony settled in Edwards County and called their villages Wanborough and Albion. Alhambra, in Madison COunty, and vanished Cadiz, in Pope County, suggest Spain. A great battle was fought at Alma in the Crimea in 1854, and that name, then in the news, was given to Alma, in Marion County. The Swiss came to settle in Madison County, and Highland, once referred to as Helvetia, was named. Some sailors home from the seas settled in the community that is now Marine, in Madison County.
A number of community names were drawn from the Bible. The mountains of Palestine suggested names for Lebanon, in Madison County, and Mt. Carmel, in Wabash County. From Palestine also came Palestine, in Crawford County. A fair and fertile spot in Randolph County became Eden, while Sparta was named for the ancient Greek city. Egypt gave names to Cairo, Karnak, Thebes, and Goshen. Odin was named for a god in Norse mythology. Countless churches answer to the names of Gilead, Zion, Mt. Olive, Bethany, Joppa, Ebenezer, and other biblical names.
Jasper County offers a somewhat unusual association of names of two individuals. The county itself was named for the Revolutionary soldier, Sgt. William Jasper, hero at Fort Moultrie, who was killed later at Savannah. Its county seat of Newton was named for Sgt. John Newton, another Revolutionary War hero. Gallatin County was named for Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, as was Galatia once spelled Gallatia. DeSoto, in Jackson County, is for the Spanish explorer of that name.
General John B. Turchin, “the Mad Cossack,” a former officer in the Russian army, served with distinction in the Union army during the Civil War. After the war, he formed a settlement in Washington County and called it Radom for his native district in Poland. Randolph County was named for the Governor of Virginia. Vanished Santa Fe village in Alexander County was for the Spanish town of Santa Fe in New Mexico.
French names linger in a number of places. Prairie du Rocher was “field of the rock”; Bellefontaine still is a “beautiful spring” near Waterloo, in Monroe COunty. LaClede, in Fayette County, is for the French founder of the city of St. Louis. Vanished Belle Rive, in Hamilton County, was for Louis St. Ange de Bellrive, who surrendered Illinois to the British in 1765. Pawnee became “pani” or slave in the French patois and later was used for the new town of Pana.
Fort Massac and Massac County are for M. Massiac, Minister of Marine for France, during the French and Indian War. The Embarrass River, passing near Lawrenceville, and Bonpas Creed (Bumpus), in Edwards County, answer to the names the French gave them as also does Beaucoup (Buckoo) Creek, in Jackson County. Grand Pierre (Grampeer) and Big Grand Pierre, in Pope County, bespeak a French derivation. The town of Equality, in Gallatin County, echoes a part of the rallying cry of the French Revolution. Tonti, in Madison County, was named for LaSalle’s faithful lieutenant of that name.
“Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois” – John W. Allen