What’s in a Name? – Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls State Park, in Ithaca, NY, is part of the historical territory of the Cayuga Nation, one of six nations that form the Iroquois Confederacy. In the period of European colonization of the Americas, the Iroquois controlled an expansive territory that included New York, Pennsylvania, and part of southeastern Canada.

There are two commonly repeated sources for the name of Taughannock Falls, the tallest waterfall in the state of New York

Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650
Territory of the 5 Iroquois Nation, approx. 1650. This image is in the public domain.

and a highlight of Taughannock Falls State Park. Both are explained in a travelogue from 1872 by Lewis Halsey, The Falls of Taughannock.

The first is a translation by William H. Bogart, who claims that Taughannock means “the great fall in the woods.” However, Bogart combines his understanding of Iroquoian root words with roots from the Algonquian language, a group with lived south of Iroquois territory.

George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.
George Copway, 1850. This image is in the public domain.

Haley also cites George Copway–a well-known Christian-educated Ojibwe man who produced many writings in the late 19th century– as positing his own translation as, “the crevice which rises to the tops of the trees.”

The most exciting, if least plausible, origin story for the falls’ name comes from David Henry Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister born in Canjoharie, NY in 1813. Hamilton wrote that Taughannock was a chief’s title in the Delaware Nation.

The Delaware tribe lived in the region of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers at the time of European colonization. Being so close to Iroquois territory, the Delaware were frequent victims of Iroquois raids, in which Iroquois warriors captured members of other tribes and adopted them into their own families in order to increase their numbers. According to Hamilton, a young Taughannock–a chief–was captured, but too strong-willed to be adopted into the Cayuga tribe. The chief gathered a group of followers and camped near the falls, only to be defeated in a dramatic last stand. The story ends with his body being tossed over the falls.

We can’t be sure how these writers came to their conclusions, and so we can’t ever be sure how the name Taughannock attached itself to falls or what this word really means. In the end, Taughannock remains as mysterious and beautiful as the falls themselves.

Source: Halsey. 1872. The Falls of Taughannock. New York: Cutter, Tower & Co., Printers and Stationers.

featured image from Taughannock Falls State Park, by Lilly Schelling. Post by Paris Harper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s