What Indians Called White People

I found something unexpected in the January 1912 edition of The Red Man when I turned a page and saw an article titled “How the American Indian Named the White Man” by Alexander F. Chamberlain, Professor of Anthropology at Clark University. I was curious at first because I didn’t understand what was meant by the title. However, the first sentence made things very clear: “‘Paleface’ is not the only name by which the ‘white man’ is known to the ‘red.’” The author’s premise was quite reasonable. It makes perfect sense that Indians would coin names for us that described white people as they saw them. It also reminded me of the punchline in that Tonto and the Lone Ranger joke we told as kids: “What do you mean we, paleface?” But I digress. The author explained that different tribes coined different names and had different names for some of the European nationalities.


Many of the names, as expected, had to do with skin color. Several tribes called us “white,” “white person,” “white skin,” etc. In addition to these the Algonkian Arapahos referred to us as “yellow-hided.” Whether it had to do with skin or hair color or courage is unknown. Kiowas used a term that meant “hairy mouth” and the Zunis referred to the early Spaniards as “moustached people.” “They of the hairy chest” was used by Algonkian Miamis.


Ears also played a role. Kiowas used the same word for white men that they used for donkeys and mules. It meant “ears sticking out” because Indians’ ears were partially covered by their hair. Crows and Upsarokas called white men “yellow eyes.” Our voices were not altogether pleasing to theKiowas as they also called white men “growlers.”


Clothing also played a role in the naming. Mohawks of the Lake of the Two Mountains in Quebec thought the tam o’shanters worn by early Scot settlers looked like cow patties and called them “ota,” their word for cow droppings. Englishmen would agree with the Objibwa who described Scots as “he who speaks differently.”


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8 Responses to “What Indians Called White People”

  1. Brianna.V.B. Says:

    Have you ever heard of the Native Indians calling white people The Square People (because they built and lived in square houses)? I read that a long time back probably in a library book, but can’t find anything about it on the internet.

  2. Luanna scott Says:

    The term for “white” people in my tribes language translates to “knife wielder”
    It refers to an action not a color . Very offensive term where I am from .

  3. Realguy Says:

    WHY didn’t they just call them devils for their actions

  4. Ray Says:

    In early “Westerns” the native Anerican would call white men, “White eyes” or “Wide eyes”. Which is it and is it true?

    • tombenjey Says:

      Since talkies didn’t come about until 1927, any dialog in early westerns would have been on subtitles. It would seem that any words on them would have been written by the people who created the film and would not likely have been authentic language in most cases.

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