Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


The Many Uses of the Word "Indian" in the

English Language



[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North - West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]



Indian. The common designation of the aborigines of America . The name first occurs in a letter of Columbus dated Feb., 1493, wherein the discoverer speaks of the Indios he had with him (F. F. Hilder in Am. Anthrop ., n. s., I, 545, 1899). It was the general belief of the day, shared by Columbus , that in his voyage across the Atlantic he had reached India . This term, in spite of its misleading connotation, has passed into the languages of the civilized world: Indio in Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian; Indien in French; Indianer in German, etc. The term American Indian, for which it has been proposed to substitute Amerind [nowadays: Amerindians], is , however, in common use; less so the objectionable term redskins, to which correspond the French Peaux - rouges, the German Rothhäute. Brinton titled his book on the aborigines of the New World , The American Race, but this return to an early use of the word American can hardly be successful. In geographical nomenclature the Indian is well remembered. There are Indian Territory , Indiana , Indianapolis , Indianola, Indio . Besides these, the maps and gazetteers record Indian arm, bay, bayou, beach, bottom, branch, brook, camp, castle, cove, creek, crossing, diggings, draft, fall, field, fields, ford, gap, grove, gulch, harbour, head, hill, hills, island, lake, mills, mound, mountain, neck, orchard, pass, point, pond, ridge, river, rock, run, spring, springs, swamp, town, trace, trail, valley, village, and wells, in various portions of Canada and the United States. The term Red Indian, applied to the Beothuk, has given Newfoundland a number of place names.


Many wild plants have been called: "Indian" in order to mark them off from familiar sorts. Use by Indians has been the origin of another class of such terms.


The following plants have been called after the Indian.


Indian apple.   - The May apple, or wild mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum ).


Indian arrow. - The burning bush, or wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus).


Indian arrow - mood . - The flowering dogwood or cornelian tree ( Cornus florida ).


Indian balm. - The erect trillium, or ill - scented wake - robin (Trillium erectum).


Indian bark. - The laurel magnolia, or sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana).


Indian bean. - (1) The catalpa, or bean - tree (Catalpa catalpa); (2) A New Jersey name of the groundnut (Apios apios ).


Indian beard - grass. - The bushy beard - grass (Andropogon glomeratus).


Indian bitters. - A North Carolina name of the Fraser umbrella or cucumber tree (Magnolia fraseri ).


Indian black drink. - The cassena , yaupon, black drink or Carolina tea (Ilex cassine).


Indian boys and girls. - A western name of the Dutchman's breeches (Bikukulla cucullaria).


Indian bread. - The tuekahoe (Scelerolium giganteum) .


Indian bread - root. - The prairie turnip, or, pomme blanche (Psoralea esculenta ).


Indian cedar. - The hop - hornbeam, or ironwood (Ostrya virginiana).


Indian cherry. -   (I) The service - berry, berry, or June - berry (Amelanchier canadensis). (2) The Carolina buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana).


Indian chickweed. - The carpet - weed ( Mollugo verticillata).


Indian chief. - A western name of the American cowslip or shooting-star (Dodecatheon meadia).


Indian cigar tree. - The common catalpa (Catalpa catalpa ), a name in use in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. See Indian bean, above.


Indian corn. - Maize ( Zea mays ), for which an early name was Indian wheat.


Indian cucumber. -   Medeola v irginiana, also known as Indian cucumber-root.


Indian cup. - (1) The common pitcher-plant (Sarracenia purpurea). (2) The cup-plant (Silphium perfoliatum ).


Indian currant. - The coral-berry ( Symphoricarpos vulgaris ).


Indian dye. - The yellow puccoon or orangeroot (Hydrastis canadensis ); also known as yellow-root.


Indian elm. - The slippery elm (Ulmus fulva ).


Indian fig. (1) The eastern prickly pear (Opuntia opuntia ). (2) Cereus giganteus, or saguaro, the giant cereus of Arizona, California, Mexico, and New Mexico.


Indian fop. - The crooked yellow stone-crop or dwarf house-leek ( Sedum reflexum ).


Indian grave- root. - The tall boneset or joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium purpureum ).


Indian hemp. -   (1) The army-root (Apocynum cannabinum ), called also black Indian hemp. (2) The swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and the hairy milk-weed (A. pulchra ) called also white Indian hemp. (3) A West Virginia name for the yellow toad-flax (Linaria linaria ), (4) The velvet-leaf (Abutilon abutilon ), called also Indian mallow.


Indian hippo. - The bowman's root (Porter anthus trifoliatus), called also Indian physic.


Indian lemonade. -   A California name, according to Bergen, for the fragrant sumac (Rhus trilbata).


Indian lettuce. - The round-leaved wintergreen (Pyrola rotundifolia ).


Indian mallow . - (1) The velvet - leaf ( Abulilon ), also known as Indian hemp. (2) The prickly sida ( Sida spinosa ).


Indian melon. -   A Colorado name of a species of Echinocactus.


Indian millet. - The silky oryzopsis (Oryzopsis cuspidata ).


Indian moccasin. - The stemless lady's slipper or moccasin flower (Cypripedium acaule)


Indian mozemize, or moose misse. - The American mountain-ash or dogberry (Sorbus americana).


Indian paint. - (1) The strawberry-blite (Blitum capitatum ). (2) The hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens ). (3) A Wisconsin name, according to Bergen, for a species of Tradescantia . (4) Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), called red Indian paint. (5) The yellow puccoon (Hydrastis canadensis ), called yellow Indian paint.


Indian paint-brush. - The scarlet painted cup (Castilleja coccinea).


Indian peach. - Ungrafted peach trees, according to Bartlett, which are considered to be more thrifty and said to bear larger fruit. In the South a specific variety of clingstone peach.


Indian pear . - The service-berry (Amelanchier canadensis ), called also wild Indian pear.


Indian physic. - (1) The bowman's-root (Porteranthus trifoliatus), called also Indian hippo. (2) American ipecac (Porleranthus stipulatua). (3) Fraser's magnolia, the long-leaved umbrella-tree (Magnolia fraseri).


Indian pine. - The loblolly, or old-field pine (Pinus laeda).


Indian pink. - (1) The Carolina pink, or worm-grass (Spigelia marylandica). (2) The cypress-vine (Quamoclit quamoclit ). (3) The fire pink (Silene virginica ). (4) The cuckooflower, or ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi). (5) The fringed milkwort, or polygala (Polygala paucifolia).   6) The scarlet-painted cup (Castilleja coccinea). (7) The wild pink (Silene pennsylvanica). (8) Silene californica.


Indian pipe. - The corpse-plant or ghostflower (Monotropa uniflora ).


Indian pitcher . - The pitcher-plant or sidesaddle flower ( Sarracenia purpurea).


Indian plaintain . -   (1) The great Indian plaintain or wild collard (Mesadenia reniformis.) (2) The pale Indian plaintain (M. atriplicifolia). (3) The tuberous Indian plaintain (M. tuberosa). (4) The sweet-scented Indian plaintain (Synosma suaveolens).


Indian poke. - :(1) American white hellebore (Veratrum vivide). (2) False hellebore (V. woodii).


Indian posey. - (1) Sweet life-everlasting ( Gnaphalium obtusifolium). (2) Large-flowered everlasting (Anaphalis argaritacea). (3) The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).


Indian potato. - (1) The groundnut (Apios apios). (2) A western name for the squirrel-corn (Bikukulla canadensis). (3) A California name, according to Bergen, for Brodioea capitata but according to Barrett (inf'n, 1906) the term is indiscriminately given to many different species of bulbs and corms, which formed a considerable item in the food supply of the Californian Indians.


Indian puccoon. - The hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens).


Indian red-root. - The red-root (Gyrotheca capitals ).


Indian rhubarb. - A Californian name, according to Bergen, for Saxifraga peltata .


Indian rice. - Wild rice (Zizania aquatica).


Indian root. - The American spikenard (Aralia racemosa).


Indian sage. -   The common thorough-wort or boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).


Indian shamrock. - The ill-scented wake-robin, or erect trillium (Trillium erectum).


Indian shoe. - The large yellow lady's slipper Cypripedium hirsutum).


Indian slipper. - The pink lady's-slipper, or moccasin-flower Cypripedium acaul).


Indian soap-plant. - The soap-berry, or wild China-tree (Sapindus marginatus).


Indian strawberry. - The strawberry-blite ( Blitum capilatum).


Indian tea. - Plants, the leaves, etc., of which have been infused by the Indians, and after them by whites; also the decoction made therefrom, for example, Labrador tea (Ledum groelandicum ), which in Labrador is called Indian tea.


Indian tobacco. -   (1) The wild tobacco (Lobelia inflata). (2) Wild tobacco (Nicotiana rustica ). (3) The plaintain leaf everlasting (Antennaria plantaginifolia ). (4) A New Jersey name, according to Bartlett, of the common mullein (Verbascum thapsus).


Indian turmeric. - The yellow puccoon, or orange-root (Hydrastis canadensis).


Indian turnip. - (1) The jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), also called three-leaved Indian turnip. (2) The prairie potato, or pomme blanche (Psoralea esculenta).


Indian vervain.   -   A Newfoundland name, according to Bergen, for the shining club-moss (Lycopodium lucidulum).


Indian warrior. - A California name for Pedicularis densiflora.


Indian weed. - An early term for tobacco.


Indian wheat. - An early term for maize, or Indian corn.


Indian whort. - A Labrador and Newfoundland name for red bearberry or kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).


Indian wickup. - The great willow-herb or fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), although Algonquian Indians called the basswood (Tilia americana) wickup.


There are, besides, the Indian's dream, the purple-stemmed cliff-brake (Pellaea atropurpurea), and the Indian's plume, Oswego tea (Monarda didyma ).


Another series of terms in which the Indian is remembered is the following:


Indian bed. -   A simple method of roasting clams, by placing them, hinges uppermost, on the ground, and building over them a fire of brushwood.


Indian bread. - Bread made of maize meal or of maize and rye meal.


Indian-corn hill. -   (1) In Essex Co., Mass., according to Bartlett, hummocky land resembling hills of Indian corn. (2) Hillocks covering broad fields near the ancient mounds and earthworks of Ohio, Wisconsin, etc. (Lapham, Antiquities of Wisconsin).


Indian dab. - A Pennsylvania name for a sort of battercake.


Indian file. - Single file; the order in which Indians march.


Indian fort. - A name given to aboriginal earthworks in W. New York, in Ohio, and elsewhere.


Indian gift. - Something reclaimed after having been given, in reference to the alleged custom among Indians of expecting an equivalent for a gift or otherwise its return.


Indian giver. -   A repentant giver.


Indian ladder. -   A ladder made by trimming a small tree, the part of the branches near the stem being left as steps.


Indian liquo. - A Western term for whisky or rum adulterated for sale to the Indians.


Indian meal. - Maize or corn meal. A mixture of wheat and maize flour was called in earlier days "wheat and indian"; one of maize and rye flour, "rye and Indian".


Indian orchard. - According to Bartlett, a term used in New York and Massachusetts to designate an old orchard of ungrafted apple trees, the time of planting being unknown.


Indian pipestone. - A name for catlinite, the stone of which tribes in the region of the upper Mississippi made their tobacco pipes.


Indian pudding. - A pudding made of cornmeal, molasses, etc.


Indian reservation or reserve. - A tract o land reserved by Government for the Indians.


Indian sign. -   A Western colloquialism of the earlier settlement days for a trace of the recent presence of Indians.


Indian sugar. - One of the earlier names for maple sugar.


Indian summer. - The short season of pleasant weather usually occurring about the middle of November, corresponding to the European St. Martha's summer, or summer of All Saints (Matthews in Mon. Weather Rev ., Jan., 1902.)


The name Indian appears sometimes in children's games (Chamberlain in Jour. Am. Folklore , XV, 107-116, 1902).


In Canadian-French the usual term applied to the Indian was "sauvage" (savage); and hence are met such terms as "botte sauvage," "traîne sauvage," "tabagane," "thé sauvage." The "Siwash" of the Pacific coast and in the Chinook jargon is only a corruption of the "sauvage" of French-Canadian voyageurs.


Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 218 - 221.




© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College