A log cabin with an awning near Spirit Lake.
Origin: Čhaŋbdáska Otȟúŋwahe (Tokio, ND)
Tókhiya (Where Is It) Is Where Its At
By Louie Garcia
SPIRIT LAKE, N.D. - The town of Tokio began in 1906 when Victor Ruth built a general store in anticipation of the Great Northern Railroads arrival. The story begins with the construction of the store building in the middle of nowhere. An unidentified elderly Indian observed the carpenters at work and asked Alex DuMarce, the local interpreter, what these crazy men were building. Mr. DuMarce or GuGu (Burnt) informed him a store was being built, where he could buy or trade for general merchandise. The elderly Indian only half understanding kept repeating “Tókhiya (Where)?" The carpenters remembered part of the word, and when it was time to pick a name for the new town, suggested Toki. Everyone agreed and the name was sent to J.J. Hill the President and Owner of the Great Northern Railroad. He disapproved, “we will just add an ‘o’, and call this place Tokio”. Unfortunately and incorrectly Mary Ann Williams in her book, Origins of North Dakota Place Names was informed the term "To-ki" means "a gracious gift." This error as continued on to this very day.
A hundred years ago when the Dakota language was used on a daily basis, Indian people had their own name for most of the local towns. The rational for this is obvious; the town names selected was foreign and difficult to pronounce for Native people. The official Indian name for Tokio is Čhaŋbdáska Otȟúŋwahe. Čhaŋ (Chahn) means wood; bdáska (b'DAH skah) means flat; and Otȟúŋwahe (oh-TOON-wah-hay) means a town. The name was used because Tokio was the only place in the area where you could buy ‘flat wood’ or lumber.
Tokio officially became a town when Victor Ruth became the first postmaster on January 26, 1907. The town is located in Section 2, T.151, R.64W, Woodlake Township, Benson County. Originally the town was to be located two miles north of the Doyle homestead, and named Revere, the railroad however changed the location. Today the postal Zip Code is 58379. The largest number of residents recorded was 112 in the 1930 and 1940 censuses. Today about 35 people live in the old townsite, but south, across the road over 200 people live in the Tribal Housing circle.
On August 29, 1907 the first train arrived in Tokio on the Great Northern Aneta line. In 1908 there was only the Ruth Store and Post Office. By the 1920’s Tokio reached its height. There were two stores, two poolrooms, one café, one beer hall, one restaurant, a bank, lumberyard, butcher shop, school, Catholic Church, three-grain elevators, and a blacksmith shop. The depression of 1929 killed the town, and people began to move away.
Origins of North Dakota Place Names: Benson, Cavalier, Pembina, Ramsey, and Walsh Counties. By Mary Ann Barnes Williams. Bismarck Tribune 1976, Page 14.
North Dakota Place Names by Douglas A. Wick. Prairie House, Fargo, ND 1989, Page 194.