“Runs as the crazy man walks.” That’s what Grandma Daisy Walker Shurr said the word “Kanaranzi” meant. This is what the Creek looked like back in the early Seventies below the hill where our house is located. A friend of brother Bob’s took the photo as a tribute. The image seems to re-enforce the interpretation that Grandma Shurr shared.
She was raised on a farm homesteaded by a Civil War veteran located about six miles up the Kanaranzi Creek from Lone Tree Farm. When she was a girl, Native Americans traveled along the Creek, so maybe she heard a translation from them?
Other Euro-American settlers in the area claimed that “Kanaranzi” meant “Crazy Woman”. The cabinet delegated to Kanaranzi in the Rock County History Center has a placard that says that very thing. A handwritten history for the village of Kanaranzi in the Historical Society’s files also refers to the “Crazy Woman” translation. In addition, that history describes letters from school children sent to the township board of supervisors. The kids had an assignment to get information on a place name that they found interesting. “Kanaranzi” is clearly a unique word.
An early, published history of Rock County (Rose, 1911, p. 63) says Joseph N. Nicollet’s map of 1843 spells the creek name as “Karanzi”. You can see that in this screen shot taken from the online image the map available from the Library of Congress.
There is more detail on the word’s origin in Nicollet’s journals that have been translated from the original French (Bray and Bray, 1976, p. 69): “Kanrhanzi witcha ktepi [Kanaranzi Creek] or the river where the Kansas were killed.” Although there are several alternative spellings, “Kanrhanzi” refers to the Kansas or Kansa tribe.
The Kansa were linguistically related to the Dakota, but were usually located much farther south along the Missouri River. The Dakota people who lived in our area did fight with the Kansa, but Nicollet’s journal is the only known reference to a battle this far north (Bray and Bray, 1976, p.70). It seems like Euro-American histories always emphasize the battles with Native Americans.
The Kansa are linked culturally to the Omaha, Ioway, and Ponca traditions (Thiessen, 2004, p. 365-367). Over the past three or four decades my career took me all over the Great Plains and I have discussed translation of the word “Kanaranzi” with enrolled members of the Omaha, Ioway, Lakota, and Dakota tribes. Most did not recognize the word as part of their language.
However, I recently visited with educators who are teaching the Dakota language in Flandreau, South Dakota. They confirm (Avery Jones, personal communication, 2019) that Nicollet’s translation as “river where the Kansa were killed” is correct. They also made no mention of crazy people—man or woman. So, “Kanaranzi” does carry implications of violence, but at least it’s gender neutral.
This is the first in a series of posts commemorating the one hundred fifty years that four generations of the Shurr family have lived along Kanaranzi Creek. So, things will be heavy on the history for the next several months. BUT, it is spring and Nature will not be denied. There’ll continue to be some science posts interspersed with the history.
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