Tradition tells us that Iowa, in Native American tongue, means “Beautiful Land.” As early as the mid-nineteenth century, this phrase was being used to describe our new state. Now, while that “Beautiful Land” phrase sounds really nice, most historians don’t believe it’s accurate.
Here’s the real story…
The Sauk (Sac) tribe, which has long been associated with the Fox/Meskwaki tribe, had a word they used frequently, pronouncing it, kiowa. According to Sauk history, when Black Hawk, the celebrated war chief, made a raid west of the Mississippi, he crossed the Great River at or near where Davenport now is, and designated that spot as kiowa — meaning this is the place where we cross. Apparently, this word, kiowa, was in frequent use by the Sauk and Fox tribes when the first settlers came into the state.
As further evidence of the correctness of this interpretation, in 1896 – a Meskwaki chief in Tama was asked the meaning of the word “kiowa.” His answer came back immediately – “kiowa means ‘This is the place’ – when camping-time came, and the chief found a suitable spot, he would exclaim, “kiowa,” and the party understood it was a good place to camp.
So, while Iowa might be “Beautiful Land” – the real meaning is kiowa – This is the place!
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