Give Now  »

wfiu logo
WFIU Public Radio

wtiu logo
WTIU Public Television

Choose which station to support!

Indiana Public Media | WFIU - NPR | WTIU - PBS

News Contact IPM News Indiana Public Media News

Inquire Indiana: WHEN Did Salt Creek Get Its Name?

A map prepared by Daniel Hough, which was published by Hiram Beckwith in 1882, shows a Native American name for Salt Creek (Courtesy: Indiana University Libraries)

Last week we answered a question from a listener as part of our new journalism project Inquire Indiana

Richard Ciasto wanted to know how Salt Creek in south central Indiana got its name. 

We talked to some experts and found the answer for him: early settlers used natural salt deposits along the banks to manufacture salt, and Salt Creek became the name of the township that formed soon after. 

But after we aired that story on Friday, another listener reached out with more information. 

Michael McCafferty is a linguist who specializes in Algonquian languages, which includes several Native American languages originating in North America. 

He's the author of the book Native American Place-Names of Indiana

He references a map that was published in the Indiana Geological Report of 1882, which shows American Indian place-names for waterways throughout the state. 

It was prepared based on work by Daniel Hough, a Quaker from Indiana. On that map, Salt Creek has the name 'Wepepemay.' 

"This spelling is a garbling of the Shawnee term for 'salt'  /nepipemi/ (literally 'water-grease), where an original upper-case N- was mistaken for a W, a rather common historical copy error," McCafferty says. "This interpretation implies that Hough copied the name somewhere in an original form *Nepepemay." 

McCafferty says settlers did come up with their own names for places. 

"So 'Salt Creek' could be one of their own creations," he says. "But sometimes they borrowed the Indians' names for them." 

Regardless of how early the name came to be, there's no doubt that the salt deposits along this waterway inspired the name. 

Here's the complete map, which shows other Native American names for waterways throughout Indiana. McCafferty says it's important to note that map was prepared by an ameteur and includes several mistakes, which he outlines in his book. 

(Courtesy: Indiana University Libraries)


What question should we answer next?

This story is part of our new project, Inquire Indiana, where we answer your questions about the Hoosier state.

What question should we explore next? Vote below:

Have another question we should look into? Ask below:

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

Find Us on Facebook

Recent $baseCat Stories

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.