Why Blackhoof?

Today’s post comes from Cynthia in Mahtowa

In August I decided to respond to a challenge put out by the Blackhoof Estate Winery in Barnum. (Yes, it’s true, there is a winery in Carlton County at latitude 46.5030° N and barely gardening zone 4. They plan to fill 6,000 bottles of wine this winter. Amazing harvest…but I digress.) They invited people to find the origin of the name Blackhoof which is the name of a river, lake, valley and township just east of my farm.

Researching anything is my favorite indoor sport. MPR finally made use, encouraged and developed my skills for their benefit. But now I am retired, I have to find and/or invent ways to indulge in it.

And so I began.

Warren Upham’s Minnesota Geographic Names: Their Origin and Historic Significance, Volume 17, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1920, states that “Black hoof” is the English translation of an Ojibwe word.” Since it doesn’t mention what the Ojibwe word is…I googled and found  in an Ojibwa-English dictionary that Makadewaa is “black” and Ninzid (an) is “foot or feet.” Then perhaps Makadenasid might be “black hoof.”

But it doesn’t answer the question “Why” Blackhoof. I traveled to Cloquet to the Carlton County Historical Society for their files on the township and found these:

  • Named after a settler of that name (but who was that settler?)
  • Named for the abundance of black deer that once ranged the area (I could find no species of “black deer” native to North America though woodland caribou, moose and elk — not any deer– were abundant in the area before the settlers arrived.)

I continued googling…and found “Catahecassa (Black Hoof, possibly from ma‛ka-täwikashä), a principal chief of the Shawnee, who was born about 1740. He was one of the greatest captains of this warlike tribe…He was present at Braddock’s great defeat in 1755, and he bore a prominent part in the desperate battle against the Virginian militia under Gen. Andrew Lewis at Point Pleasant in 1774.”

Cool. But the question then is, what connection is there between the Ojibwe and the Shawnee in Ohio? Well, it turns out that the Ojibwe are part of a large language group of Native American and First Nation people known as the Algonquin “family.” As are the Shawnee.

Then the next question arises, how or why would the Ojibwe in northeast Minnesota know about Chief Black Hoof in the Ohio Territory? Turns out, that some of the Ojibwe on their migration west from the east coast and away from the Iroquois, settled in the Northwest Territory – including along the Ohio River and Lake Erie near the Shawnee.

So, getting closer. After reading what I had learned so far to my 93 year-old Minnesota aunt, she said, ”I’ve heard of Chief Black Hoof.” What? How? She had just read a book called The Other Trail of Tears: The Removal of the Ohio Indians. So I immediately ordered a copy. And then I found the author Mary Stockwell’s website and emailed her. And her reply was, “Yes, there was an Ojibwe-Shawnee connection. . .The tribe often joined the Shawnee in wars against the British (French & Indian War; Pontiac’s War) and then against the United States (American Revolution, Indian Wars of the 1790s, and War of 1812). And they also were among the tribes who ended up in Kansas. (Would you believe I learned that watching a Netflix series, “The Pinkertons?”)

But I still couldn’t confirm that would be the source for the name of the river and lake. And then a friend who grew up in Blackhoof Township, said her father told her it was named after an Indian tribe. Could it be a mistranslation of the Ojibwe word and really should be Black Foot or Black Feet? Down another path altogether? Back to Google. The Black Foot tribe in Montana turns out to also be in the Algonquin language family. And they were once in the Great Lakes area before migrating on to Montana.

And what about the Blackfeet Sioux? I tend to count them out as the Chippewa and Sioux were enemies, not likely the Chippewa would honor their enemies by naming a river and lake after them.

screenshot-2016-11-28-at-9-13-21-pmI found that none of the Ojibwe whom I contacted — Anton and David Treuer, brothers from the Leech Lake Reservation who are both authors and professors; Karen Diver, former Fond du Lac tribal chair currently serving as Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs; Linda LeGarde Grover, author and UMD Native Studies professor – have any idea.

So this is where my research stands as of today. I did win the challenge and received a bottle of wine and a cap, along with fame on the Winery’s Facebook page. I also received encouragement — or rather, a mandate — to continue the search.

Do you have any suggestions where to look next?

41 thoughts on “Why Blackhoof?”

  1. Do you have any sense as to when Blackhoof was named and under what circumstances? What, if anything, did the locals call it before it was named? There had to be a moment when that name was chosen, either by an early and dominant individual or by a committee. Your research demonstrates that “Blackhoof” may not have been simply a manufactured name, but why would it have been so available to the consciousness of the namer or namers? Township meeting records, if any exist, or the archive of nearby newspapers from the period might explain why “Blackhoof” would have been top of mind.


    1. Okay, so I went back and reread your account and I see I had forgotten you mentioned that the lake and river had also been named Blackhoof. So that was a readily available name. Still, I think it would be necessary to try to follow back the first instance of the names to try and discover if they were simply adopted from extant Native American usage or chosen by early settlers.


      1. The owners of the winery have checked the county & township records at the courthouse and found no clues. The earliest records I have found are online are 1916 courtesy. of MHS. The earliest settlers in Duluth were 1853, the Ojibwe and Dakota had been here for a couple hundred years before that. According to the 1920 Upham MHS book, Blackhoof was originally an Ojibwe word…but I find his explanation for the name Mahtowa (half Sioux, half Chippewa each for bear) might be a stretch and an error. Sier Du Luht was in the area in the 17th century and according to a 1903 book of Minnesota Indian Stories, he visited a Dakota village called Mah-to-wa and carved a totem in a tree to claim it for France. So I am not convinced Upham necessarily had the correct information either…but, yes, trying to determine exactly when it was first named is another road to follow. Thanks.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. When I wrote my initial response, I was thinking about other naming stories I had heard. In my experience, Upham is sometimes unsatisfying in his explanations, While possibly correct as far as he goes, he doesn’t always dig very deeply. I don’t have much dealing with that period in Minnesota. Laurence Oliphant, in Minnesota and the Far West, traveled with Lord Elgin from Lower Canada down to St. Paul in the early 1850’s, but they went further west through Sandy Lake and down the Mississippi and make no mention of Blackhoof. Theodore Blegen’s book taken from early accounts of fur traders also makes no mention of Blackhoof or Cloquet or the immediate area, as far as I can tell.
          It’s safe to assume that the river and lake had names before the locale did. Early maps might provide some clues.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Researching old place names is fun, but hardly an exact science. One of my favorite examples is the Gooseberry River. That name first appears on a map written up by Major Stephen Long in 1823. One theory has it that he chose the name by translating it from the Ojibwe name, meaning “River place of Gooseberries.”

    The alternative theory is that early colonists accepted the name assigned by French explorers in a map from 1670. The explorers in this case were Pierre Espirit Radisson and Médard Chouart, Sieur Des Groseilliers. According to legend, early Minnesotans butchered the French names, calling these two explorers “Radish and Gooseberry.”

    I always like it when whites honor a place name chosen by Native Americans, so the first theory attracts me. But as someone who has no flair for foreign languages, the impish side of me enjoys the thought of settlers calling French explorers Radish and Gooseberry.

    Hmmm. One of the best early maps of Minnesota was drawn by Major Long. Aha! That must be why there are so many Long Lakes in Minnesota!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. What about a French connection? Is Blackhoof an English translarion of a French name given by these early French traders and explorers?


      1. That would be up to the Pipeline company, which hired the security guards. The governor hasn’t sent anybody to the protest. There is a no travel advisory for the area. No one is going anywhere there today.


  4. cynthia,
    nicely done, thanks for the blog, interesting stuff,
    its too bad the indians werent better at keeping a log on what they called everything. they just passed it on and that was that. we either heard about it or didnt.. minnehaha made it, mississippi made it. but ma‛ka-täwikashä is such a wonderful word and a shame to lose. the name black hoof was someones idea of an ok name ans so it got plugged in.
    congrats on the tenacity to follow it this far now figure out the rest. i dont think a bottle of wine is enough though. a case a month for life ought to be the payout. yo want me to talk to them?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There is ‘Black Leg’ disease in cattle. And it’s a serious one but preventable with vaccines. The ‘black’ coming from gangrene more than any particular reference to today’s topic…

      From ‘Cattletoday.info’:
      “Blackleg is a highly fatal disease of young cattle caused by the spore forming, rod shaped, gas producing bacteria Clostridium chauvoei. The spores of the organism can live in the soil for many years. The bacteria enters the calf by ingestion and then gains entrance to the body through small punctures in the mucous membrane of the digestive tract. Cattle that are on a high plane of nutrition, rapidly gaining weight and between 6 months and 2 years of age are most susceptible to the disease. The disease is not transmitted directly from sick animals to healthy animals by mere contact.”

      Wikipedia says: “C. chauvoei can produce a large amount of gas as a metabolic byproduct when growing and reproducing, hence the alternate name gas gangrene, present in humans. This gas builds up in infected tissue, usually large muscles, and causes the tissue to make a crackling or popping sound when pressed.”

      I remember that cracking sound; checking cattle with my dad and finding that on a calf. I remember him saying it came from the ground. Interesting flashback there…


    2. There is foot rot…which would turn a hoof black, but would someone name a river and lake after disease? Well, perhaps the manifestation of the disease as in black. Someone I asked jokingly said it was because a horse hoof was covered with manure…of course then he laughed.


  5. Another little bit of Native American history I chanced upon while watching The Pinkertons on Netflix…the Ojibwe were among the tribes that were forced out of Ohio and some ended up in Kansas along with the Shawnee.


  6. Just got an email from the winery: “We did find an 1869 map in the National Archives with the name Black Hoof on the river. I hope to purchase a copy for the winery wall.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rise and Shine Baboons!

      Cynthia, I love this kind of stuff. I would look in genealogy sites to determine if and when that is a name and what the source would be. I like the theory that there was an Ojibwa named Black Hoof–no facts. I just like that one.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. 1869 is relatively late. I agree with Renee that you need to know what the French called it. I was unaware of the connection between Sandy Lake to the west and the Duluth/Cloquet area but they are apparently on the same pathway. According to an account in “Old Rail Fence Corners”, the indian trail ran from Fon du Lac to Knife Falls, by canoe on the St. Louis River to Cloquet, from there to Hoodwood(?), then to Sandy Lake, portage to Grand Rapids and then on down the Mississippi. French explorers and trappers would have been using this same trail long before settlement.


        1. That was my thought as well. The transcription in the book was clearly “Hoodwood” but it’s easy to imagine how that could be misread from a manuscript.


    1. We know what a bar will look like in the distant future. It’s right there in the first Star Wars movie. But I struggle to form a vivid picture of a tavern in the distant past . . . a Clovis people tavern, if you will.


    2. I emailed the Bar/Restaurant in Toronto and they responded with “no connection to MN” but also a link to a review which tells the origin of the name:
      “Black Hoof (named for the revered Spanish ham from pata negra – i.e. black pigs) isn’t exactly upscale. The sign out front says simply: Charcuterie. Inside there is an ancient electric stove in the open kitchen. The smoker is in the backyard. The restaurant’s ceiling is corrugated tin, the walls are variously black and papered in funereal brocade, which must have been on special. We sit on wooden schoolroom chairs at scarred plywood tables with paper napkins.

      They don’t take reservations, they don’t take credit cards and most nights there is a 45-minute wait for tables. You can show up and they’ll call you on your cell when a table comes up. Good luck finding a salutary bar where you can kill 45 minutes. Several times I’ve given up waiting, and dined at the Vietnamese veg place down the block. Better on the arteries, but less fun on the taste buds.

      For Black Hoof is serving the most exciting meat Toronto has ever tasted. Chef Greg Van Gameren (ex Amuse Bouche, Lucien and Canoe) has made the smoking and curing of meats his passion. His signature dish is the long narrow wooden platter of charcuterie ($16 for eight items, $25 for 10). What’s on it? From one moment to the next, nobody knows until chef composes the platter, because it changes all the time.”

      whole review at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/black-hoof/article785410/

      I wish I lived closer to Toronto!


  7. Some body stubbed his toes and called it his blackhoof.
    Farmers etc. have been known to name animals for a distinctive trait, such as a black hoof.
    A Norwegian looked at the woods in the winter up there and said. Black! Uffda!

    Liked by 3 people

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