Mequon – What’s in a name?

UPDATED, April 20, 2021 to include another historic misspelling of “Mequon,” this one from the 1837 first official map of Wisconsin.


Mequon is the home of the Jonathan M. Clark House. Mequon is a unique name, and its source, pronunciation, spelling—and, occasionally, location—are the source of a fair amount of confusion and error. So I thought I would gather a few pertinent facts about the name that might help readers avoid some of the pitfalls in Mequon research.

As a reminder:

Baldwin, Thomas and J. Thomas, M.D., A New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States […], Philadelphia, 1854, p. 687. Via GoogleBooks.

That’s a pretty accurate, “just the facts,” description of Mequon in 1854. (Although it looks like Gazetteer editors Baldwin and Thomas didn’t get the news that on March 7, 1853, the east part of Washington county—including the Town of Mequon—had split from its parent county to form the new Ozaukee county. And the town vs. township distinction could be more precise, too.)

Where are we?

The Jonathan M. Clark farm has been located in the same place in Section 3, Town 9-North, Range 21-East of the 4th Principal Meridian (1831 MN/WI), since Jonathan purchased his first government land in December, 1839. In the years since 1839 the Clark’s Washington county land was part of the Territory and then State of Wisconsin. Washington county was originally “attached to” Milwaukee county. It split from Milwaukee county completely in 1845 and—following another county division in 1853—the eastern part of old Washington county, including Mequon, was finally established as part of the new Ozaukee County. Confused? See my 2016 post, Where are we? and all will be made clear. (I hope.)

County government, 1839-1846

Even after government land sales began in 1839, Town 9-N, Range 21-E would not be officially known as the “Town of Mequon” for several years. From 1840 to early 1846, all the townships of old Washington county were governed as a single, county-wide political entity. There were three elected county commissioners and they were responsible for all county affairs. In these early years that usually meant providing for schools, roads, land transactions—and the taxes to support them—as well as approving the occasional petition to build a bridge, dam a river, or obtain a permit to sell liquor. But county government was not yet totally independent; for all judicial matters, old Washington county was still attached to Milwaukee’s county and federal courts.

Meanwhile, the official government maps still showed the county divided into about twenty 36-square mile townships, but these were not yet units of government and were not named. The county government would apportion funds to support schools and build roads serving a growing number of loosely-defined population centers in the county, called settlements or districts. Some district names that remain in use are Bonniwell (the Clark House neighborhood), Freistadt, Port Washington and West Bend. Other early district names seem to have fallen out of use, such as Shamrock, Darmstadt and Smith.

Town Government, 1846

Old Washington county became fully independent from Milwaukee county when its courts were fully organized by an act of the Wisconsin territorial legislature on February 20, 1845. At this time it also became clear that the county commissioner system of government was not able to keep up with the area’s rapid growth and need for new roads and other county services.

It was impossible to lay out new roads as rapidly as they were demanded, or to establish schools, while anything like a full or just valuation of the property, or the levying of a just tax, was impracticable. The different settlements designated the points of densest population, as the Bonniwell District, Darmstadt, Farrell District, which as they increased with such rapidity threw things into general confusion.Accordingly, it was decided by vote of the inhabitants of the county in the fall of 1845, to adopt the town system of government. By this system, each town took the management of local affairs under its own supervision, the county business proper being in the hands of a delegate board, made up of the Chairman of each town and vil­lage Board of Supervisors. The change was made by act of the Territorial Legislature. Janu­ary 20, 1846, and the first board met under the new law at Hamburg, in the town of Grafton, April 15, 1846.

History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, p. 3201

As far as I can determine, the names of the Washington (and later Ozaukee) county towns date to early 1846, when local government changed from the county commissioner system to the town system. Sometime around 1846, Town 9-North, Range 21-East and its adjacent (fractional) Town 9-North, 22-East were joined together to become the Town of Mequon.

What’s a Mequon?

So where did the name come from? That’s a matter of some debate. The general consensus among the white settlers was that it was derived from a Native American word. Historically, eastern Wisconsin had been home to a number of native peoples, including the Menominee, Potawatomi, Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Ho-Chunk (called Winnebago by others) as well as the Meskwaki (Sac/Sauk and Fox).

Various historical sources declare that Mequon is transliteration of a native word meaning either ladle, pigeon, or feather. This is probably correct, but it’s complicated. For example, page 545 of the 1881 History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties records this assumed connection between the native word transcribed as Mequon, and the English word pigeon:

The territory at that time was one dense wilderness. the only thoroughfares, if such they could be called, were the Indian trails, leading in different directions through the vast country which lies north and west of the village. The pioneers followed one of these trails north until they came to Mequonsippi or Pigeon Creek, where they proceeded to erect for themselves rude shanties out of such material as could be found until they could replace them with more substantial log structures.

Mequon’s possible derivation from a native word for ladle or feather appear in later sources and dictionaries of local Native American languages. From a historical perspective, it appears that the early white settlers thought that Mequon derived from pigeon. This may or may not have been precisely correct, but many of the early settlers and historians believed it to be true. I’m going to save a full discussion of the linguistic sources of the word Mequon for another post. (Spoiler alert: it does seem to have roots in one or more of the Potawatomi, Menominee or Ojibwe languages. It does not seem to come from the Ho-Chunk language.)

Variant spellings

As with many non-English words, Mequon has inspired a number of variant spellings over the years. If you are doing Mequon research, you’ll want to try searching with these and other variants. Sometimes—because the original author or the modern indexer has mangled the word in a way that is completely unpredictable—you’ll just want to search at the county level and omit Mequon as a search term entirely. Here’s a short list of variants that I’ve run across:

• Miquan (with a Q)
• Mikwan
• Micwan (this is on Wisconsin’s first official map, 1837)
• Mignon (you’ll need this odd spelling to locate Mequon’s 1850 census returns on
• and how about…Mequanigo?

Mequon is not Mequanigo!

Don’t fall into the trap! Mequon (however you spell it) is not the same place as Mequanigo (or, as on the map below, Mequanego). They are two separate towns in two different counties. The Town and Post Office of Mequon is 18 miles north of Milwaukee. The Town and P.O. of Mequanigo (now Mukwanago) is 25 miles west of Milwaukee.

Colton, J. H. , Cartographer, and Millard Fillmore. Colton’s township map of the State of Wisconsin. New York: published by J.H. Colton, 1851. Detail highlighting Town and P.O. of Mequon, Washington County and Town and P.O. of Mequanego [sic], Waukesha County. Click image to open larger map in new window

Baldwin, Thomas and J. Thomas, M.D., A New and Complete Gazetteer of the United States […], Philadelphia, 1854, p. 687. Via GoogleBooks.

How easy is it to confuse the two town names? On June 18, 1862, when the body of Peter Turck’s first wife, “Turck, Mrs Rachel,” [sic] was moved from its original burial location in Mequon to its final resting place in Lot 2, Block 22, Section 16 of Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, the cemetery clerk mistook one place for the other, when he noted that the body had been “Removed from Moquango” [sic] in the interment record book.3

The confusingly similar sounds of Mequon and Mequanigo became apparent in early days. According to one source, to avoid mix-ups, the spelling of the Waukesha county town was officially changed to Mukwanago in 1844. If 1844 is the correct date for the spelling change, it appears that not everyone got the memo; see the above 1851 map, 1854 Gazetteeer excerpt, and 1862 Forest Home interment register annotation, for for examples.

And for what it’s worth, on March 3, 1843, one “Cyrus Clark” obtained 3 federal land patents in Waukesha County, Wisconsin, all in Sec. 34 of T7N-R20E, patent nos. 7716, 7717, 8145. This land was located a bit east of the Town of Mequanigo, in Waukesha county; it may have been owned by the same Cyrus Clark as our Mequon Cyrus, but more research is needed to confirm this. See Sarah and Cyrus: part 3 for more context.

How do you pronounce Mequon?

I’ll have more on this when we look at the Native American origins of the word. I suspect Mequon historian Walter Corrigan was correct when he firmly declared that the name should be pronounced Mee-kwon (with the stress, presumably, on the first syllable).4

But if you’re in southeast Wisconsin and want to visit the Clark House, you’ll need to ask: How do I get to MEK-won?5

Any questions? (Mequon friends: did I get it right?)

Be well. See you next time.



  1. For much more information, and some interesting details, on the years of county government and the transition to town government, see The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […] Illustrated, Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881, especially pages 315-322. Of course, The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties (1881) is a secondary source, but of all the various published Washington and/or Ozaukee County and Mequon histories, it is the oldest (not including some earlier Milwaukee county histories), and the editors appear to have consulted a number of primary sources, some of which may no longer exist or are diffiicult to access.

    If you are at all interested in Clark House history, you’ll really want to have a copy of this book. I recommend the free (yep!), downloadable pdf version, available at several sites including Google Books and (click the links for direct access). Close reading of this 1881 volume will show that it is clearly the main source of some of the subsequent histories, so this is the place to start your Washington and Ozaukee county researches.

  2. Speaking of Ancestry’s mis-indexing of Washington county place names on the 1850 census: if you are searching for 1850 ancestors in Hartford, Washington county, at Ancestry you’ll need to search for Heartford. Go figure.

    And for what it’s worth, I asked Ancestry to change Mignon, to Mequon on this 1850 census index over a decade ago. I’m sure others have as well. But it’s still only findable as Mignon. Alas.

  3. Forest Home Cemetery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Family Search film 7,899,281, Item 1, Interment Record, lots and single graves, v. 1, 1-222, 1850-1878. Image 29 of 573.

    Of course, it’s also possible that the clerk just couldn’t hear the difference in the two town names or, if he did, he just wasn’t much of a speller.

    It seems probable that Rachael (Gay) Turck’s body was originally buried (1842? 1844?) in the family burying ground that Peter Turck officially deeded “to His Natural Heirs” on January 21, 1848. The burying ground was set aside in perpetuity on a portion of his property in sections 9 and 10, town of Mequon, totaling 16 square rods (one tenth of an acre) in all. After the deaths of his second wife, Christina (Kohler or Kaehler) Turck and their daughter Lucinda in 1861, Peter Turck bought the new family lot at Forest Home; he had Rachael’s body transferred there in 1862.

  4. Corrigan, Walter D., Sr., History of the town of Mequon, Ozaukee County, Wisconsin brought down to about 1870. [Mequon, Wisconsin?]: Mequon Club, [1950], p. 5-6. Available online at

  5. If you need assistance interpreting other local idioms, I recommend Charlie Berens’s Midwest Voice Translator

UPDATED, April 14 and April 16, 2021 to make a few clarifications and typo corrections.