Meramec River History: Name Origins

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The name “Meramec” is of Algonquian Indian origin, and means “ugly fish” or “catfish”, which were abundant in its waters, however, it is possible that the river is named after a band of Miami-Illinois (Inoka) Indians.

According to Michael Mccafferty, Algonquian linguist specialist in the Miami-Illinois language and expert in Algonquian place names/river names in the Midwest. “The river is noted and its name is given in the dictionary prepared by the Jesuit missionary Antoine-Robert Le Boullenger. The name in the Miami-Illinois language is myaarameekwa ‘catfish’. Myaar(a) means ‘ugly’ and meekwa means ‘fish’. (the double-e is what is termed a “long vowel” in Algonquian, and is pronounced like the ai of ‘rail’.)”

Also according to Mccafferty, that name was given the Meramec for one of two possible reasons: “1) Actually, it *is* possible that this stream did indeed have an noticeable abundance of catfish. This may seem unlikely, but we do know for certain that other streams, for example the Tippecanoe and the Eel rivers of Indiana, were each named after a kind a fish that lived in their respective waters in outstanding abundance (the first is the name for buffalo fish, a species of carp). In Miami-Illinois the term is kiteepihkwana. Or 2) it was named after a band of Indians known as the “catfish”.” and “It is not impossible that myaarameekwa was the name of a Miami band, since we see in history references to “the Miami of Meramec”. Or it just may be that this group of Miami were living on the Meramec River.”

The name of the Mississippi is also of Algonquian origin, derived from their term mihsisiipi, meaning ‘Big River’. Also, the title of this state Missouri is of Miami Illinois origin, from the Miami-Illinois Indians’ name for the Siouan—speaking tribe known as the Missouri Indians. The term “Missouri” comes from weemihsoorita, meaning “one who canoes,” “one who has a canoe”.  -SPECIAL THANKS TO MICHAEL MCCAFFERTY

Even in geological time, the Meramec is a very old river. It does not drain its northeastern section of the Ozark Plateau with the reckless abandon of a mountain stream. Instead, it meanders through the landscape in a countless succession of bends, riffles, and placid slow stretches, each of which is another small step in the Meramecs’ eight hundred foot decent from the Ozark Plateau to the Mississippi River.

There is no need for a special knowledge of the past to enjoy the Meramec. The natural beauty of the landscape along its banks provides most travelers with a deep appreciation. It evokes in me a special feeling of connection with my primordial past. A past in which our ancient ancestors prospered and gave birth to civilization around rivers, and whose lives were inextricably linked to the streams, for many thousands of years. I believe that out of that relationship has evolved a deep, basic affinity for the picturesque, natural setting of a river such as the Meramec.

That is not to say however, that an understanding of how this river and its features came to be is in any way the least bit detrimental to enjoying the experience of it. Indeed, to me, knowing the story of the Meramec has enhanced my appreciation of its character and features and also increased my spiritual feelings of ancient links and natural existence. It is the great age of this river that creates the splendor and allure of its setting. To understand how it got this way, we must go way back in time, to the geological formation of the under-pinnings of the entire region of the Ozark Plateau.

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“The Meramec River: Then and Now. 2003 Revised Edition by William R. Kammer”