How the communities of the Driftless were named

Randomly. Seriously, there was no system for naming counties, communities or townships. Some were named by the railroads, who created communities out of fields to meet their needs. Others were named by settlers for where they came from or for a family. There are Native names badly transliterated and French named badly pronounced. This is fair enough, since the Driftless defies organization.

The Counties

The counties are a good example of just how random names can be.

  • Grant county is not named for the general and president who lived in nearby Galena, but after an Indian trader; his first name, origins, and eventual fate are all unknown.

  • Lafayette County, sometimes spelled La Fayette County, was named for the French general who served in the Revolutionary War and sang in Hamilton. One of Hamilton's sons was an early investor in the area lead mines.

  • Iowa County was named for the Iowa tribe, who once live in the area as part of the Ho-Chunk group. This is not what they call themselves, but the name other tribes called them. The territory / state of Iowa are a later invention.

  • Richland County was named for the supposed richness of the soil.

  • Crawford County is one of the original counties, established in 1818 by the Michigan territorial legislature. It is named after William H. Crawford, James Monroe's Treasurer at the time. Mr. Crawford was a native of Virginia who later moved to Georgia.

  • Jackson County was named for former President Andrew Jackson.

  • Monroe County was named for President James Monroe. Like Crawford and Jackson, he never visited.

  • Vernon County was originally Bad Ax County, after the Bad Axe River. The origins of the river's name is unknown. The name Vernon was chosen to reflect the county's green fields of wheat and to evoke Mount Vernon. Wheat farming quickly faded and the area is best known for dairy farming.

  • La Crosse is named in a roundabout way for a bishop's crozier. French traders saw the local Natives playing a game with curved sticks, which resembled a crozier. The Native name for the game varied, but the French name stuck.

  • Trempealeau County was also named by the French. At the mouth of the Trempealeau River at its confluence with the Mississippi River, they found a bluff surrounded by water and called it La Montagne qui trempe à l’eau ("mountain steeped in water"). The county name is part of a phrase that skips the most important part.

  • Buffalo County escaped a terrible fate. It is named for the Buffalo River, which was also called Beef River, Beef Slough, River of Wild Bulls and Riviere de Beeufs.

Railroad names

As the railroads expanded into the Driftless, they needed a station with a reliable clean water supply about every six miles. This also set up a reasonable catchment area for commerce, since farmers could only transport crops a few miles by wagons on the rudimentary roads. As they moved into an area, the railroads would select a site, buy the land cheap, plat a community and make money selling lots. Since the sites were often unpopulated or farm fields, the railroads named the stations, often on a whim. When the railroads before in the 1960s, some of them started to fade from existence, being maintained only because the highways also followed the tracks.

Milwaukee & Mississippi Railroad did indeed run from Milwaukee to Prairie du Chien. From Madison, it enters the Driftless by following the Black Creek and then runs down the Wisconsin River Valley. Along the way it created and named most of the cities on its route.

  • Black Earth - Originally the village and town were named Farmersville, but adopted Black Earth before the railroads arrived.

  • Mazomanie - Named by railroad executive Edward Brodhead after a Ho-Chunk chief whose name could be translated "Iron Walker". He considered this an appropriate name for a railroad city.

  • Arena

  • Spring Green

  • Lone Rock - At one time a massive piece of sandstone stood a short distance from the north bank of the Wisconsin River. The rock became a landmark for early river raftsmen and was known as 'Lone Rock'. The community didn't exist until the railroad came.

  • Avoca -

  • Muscoda - The word Muscoda may be a corruption of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) word mashkode, meaning "prairie" or it may have been taken from Longfellow's Hiawatha, in which it is mentioned several times. In either case, it is not a Ho-Chunk word. It is the bane of all newscasters and could have remained English Prairie.

  • Blue River

  • Boscobel - Named by the railroad, from the Italian for beautiful grove.

  • Woodman - Named for Captain E. E. Woodman, a railroad official.

  • Wauzeka - Named after a Native American leader whose Ho-Chunk name, Waaziga, means Pine Tree.