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American Indian Place Names

Chetopa, Kansas, 
circa 1870Many Kansas counties, rivers and streams, towns and townships, and even the state, itself, have been named for American Indian people, their tribes, or words from their languages.

A town in Labette County, three townships in Montgomery, Neosho, and Wilson counties, and a creek in Montgomery county share the name Chetopa. They are named for the Osage chieftain Tzi-Topah. Among the Osage, warriors earn their names and Tzi-Topah was no exception. His name, which means Four Lodges, was earned when he captured and burned four houses in a Pawnee village during a raid. Tzi-Topah was the leader of one branch of the Osage, the Little Osage. He was a respected leader, but he knew that his reputation would last only as long as his people's memories. Before his death, Tzi-Topah made one last parade through his village in full warrior regalia. He knew his people's tongue-to-ear historical record would insure he would not be forgotten so long as there were tongues to tell and ears to hear. Four Lodges, Tzi-Topah, chieftain of the Osage, will be remembered long after his passing. The English version of his name, Chetopa, is a permanent part of the Kansas landscape.

The Potawatomi peoples first started coming to Kansas in the 1830s, settling in present-day Linn and Miami counties. In 1848 they moved to new lands west of present-day Topeka. Part of that land is now known as Wabaunsee County, named for the Potawatomi leader Wabansi, whose name means "Dawn of Day." Wabansi was a respected leader among the Potawatomi for whom a village in Iowa was named. One Potawatomi band took its name from that village. Wabansi earned his name for exhibiting bravery. As a young man Wabansi set out to avenge the death of a close friend. He used the cover of a misty morning to sneak into an Osage village where he is said to have single-handedly killed several fierce Osage warriors before they could sound an alarm. Wabansi, "Dawn of Day," is said to have escaped as the morning was dawning. Wabansi never made it to Kansas. He died in a carriage accident in Washington, D.C., while negotiating the treaty that would bring the Potawatomi to Kansas. Wabansi is the only American Indian tribal leader for whom a county in Kansas is named. Within Wabaunsee County a township, a town, a creek, and a lake are also named for the Potawatomi leader.

Tzi-Topah and Wabansi are among the hundreds of people who contributed to our rich Kansas history.

Entry: American Indian Place Names

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: April 2010

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.