The most frequently posed question on the search engines that brings readers to my blog (yes, I check those things) is, "How did Chicago get its name?"
Ann Durkin Keating explains in the Encyclopedia of Chicago, "The name 'Chicago' derives from a word in the language spoken by the Miami and Illinois peoples meaning 'striped skunk,' a word they also applied to the wild leek (known to later botanists as Allium tricoccum). This became the Indian name for the Chicago River, in recognition of the presence of wild leeks in the watershed. When early French explorers began adopting the word, with a variety of spellings, in the late seventeenth century, it came to refer to the site at the mouth of the Chicago River."
Allium tricoccum, also known as "ramps," was a favorite spring addition to the diet of early Native American and, later, the white settlers. "The fresh and tender-green ramp leaves with their strong onion-garlic taste were an improvement on the bland winter fare of dried fruits, pickled vegetables, nuts, beans, and dried beef or salt pork; they were regarded as a spring tonic that cleansed the blood...Native Americans knew ramps well. They used them in decoctions to treat coughs and colds, and they made a poultice from the juice of the strong summer bulbs to alleviate the pain and itching of bee stings. The Menomini called them pikwute sikakushia (skunk plant), and they referred to an area near the southern shore of Lake Michigan, where ramps grew abundantly, as CicagaWuni or shikako (skunk place). The term was later applied to a white settlement now known as Chicago." (Cosby Ramp Festival)
But, the origin of the name may not be quite that simple. In 1929 Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith wrote in Chicago: The History of its Reputation:
Just why they called it "Chicago' is disputed. On the banks of the creek grew a weed, a sort of wild onion or garlic which the red man named "Chickagou." One tribal word for "playful waters" was "Shecaugo," another word meaning "destitute" was "Chocago" and, to some redskins, the word "Shegahg" meant "skunk." A word that sounded like "Chi-cago" was also used by the Indians to describe thunder, or the
voice of the Great Manitou or the Mississippi River- Also in the late 1700's there was an Indian chieftain named "Chicagou." In general the word was interpreted as applying to a bad smell.
Most meanings had one thing in common, observed Edgar Lee Masters [A Tale of Chicago], one of the region's prominent literary figures in times to come, in one form or another they stood for "strength."
Early historian Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie (wife of John Harris Kinzie, the son of John Kinzie) addressed the issue in Wau-bun: The Early Day in the Northwest published in 1856:
The origin of the name Chicago is a subject of discussion, some of the Indians deriving it from the fitch or polecat, others from the wild onion with which the woods formerly abounded; but all agree that the place received its name from an old chief who was drowned in the stream in former times. That this event, although so carefully preserved by tradition, must have occurred in a very remote period, is evident from an old French manuscript brought by General Cass from France.
In this paper, which purports to be a letter from M. de Ligney, at Green Bay, to M. de Siette, among the Illinois, dated as early as 1726, the place is designated as "Chica-goux." This orthography is also found in old family letters of the beginning of the present century.
Any other questions?