Just How Did Yellowstone Get The Name Yellowstone

Lower Yellowstone Falls closeup. Yellowstone N...

Lower Yellowstone Falls closeup. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The name Yellowstone originates back to the Minnetaree Indians and what they called the Yellowstone River. They named it “Mi tse a-da-zi”, which apparently translates to Yellow Rock River. The French trappers called the river “Roche Jaune” or “Pierre Jaune” (“jaune” is French for yellow) but they did actually come into contact with the Minnetaree Indians anyway, so could have been influenced by their name, as did the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1805, they called the Yellowstone River, the Yellowstone River . . . I guess it sort of stuck!

Okay, so that’s how theYellowstone got the name Yellowstone, but where did the Minnetaree Indians get the name from in the first place?

This is where the controversy lies. Historians, archaeologists and people who know a lot about where names came from just seemingly can’t agree!

Chittenden Theory of the Name Yellowstone

According to Chittenden, a well respected historian, the only place along the Yellowstone River which actually has yellow stones is the yellowish sandstone bluffs which are a long way downstream of the Yellowstone, or the rather bright yellow formations which are in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a part of the current Yellowstone National Park. He thinks that the name must surely have come from the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, because those stones are definitely more yellow than the sandstone bluffs. Now then, enter Aubrey Haines, another well respected historian who has an entirely different story about how Yellowstone got the name Yellowstone.

Aubrey Haines Theory of the Name Yellowstone

Aubrey Haines argues that the other theory cannot possibly be right, because the Minnetaree Indians were from an area close to Devil’s Lake in North Dakota, before they migrated towards the mouth of the Yellowstone to become agriculturalists with the Mandan Indians. This was 300 miles away from the Grand Canyon, agriculturalists didn’t travel about so much (and they didn’t have the transport infrastructure we have today!) which means that the name must have come from the sandstone bluffs on lower Yellowstone. Apparently, another tribe of native Indians, the Crow, had a completely different name for Yellowstone, they called it the Elk River . . . now you’re getting confused aren’t you?

Anyway, somewhere between the Minnataree, the French fur trappers and Lewis and Clark, the name Yellowstone stuck, and it still has.

Just How Did Jellystone Get The Name Jellystone?

I don’t believe that either Chittenden or Haines have a theory on that one!


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