Des Moines is an important city in U.S. presidential politics; as the state's capital, it is the site of the first caucuses of the presidential primary cycle. Many presidential candidates set up campaign headquarters in Des Moines. A 2007 article in The New York Times said, "If you have any desire to witness presidential candidates in the most close-up and intimate of settings, there is arguably no better place to go than Des Moines."
Des Moines takes its name from Fort Des Moines (1843–46), which was named for the Des Moines River. This was adopted from the name given by French colonists. "Des Moines" (pronounced [de.mwan](listen), formerly French pronunciation: [de.mwɛn]) translates literally to either "from the monks" or "of the monks".
The historian Virgil Vogel claimed that the name was derived from Moingona, an Algonquianclan name, which means "Loon".
Some historians and researchers lacking linguistic or Algonquianist training concluded that Moingona meant "people by the portage" or something similar, a reference to the Des Moines Rapids. This was where the earliest known encounters between the Moingona and European explorers took place.
One popular interpretation of "Des Moines" ignores Vogel's research, and concludes that it refers to a group of French Trappist monks, who in the 17th century lived in huts built on top of what is now known as the ancient Monks Mound at Cahokia, the major center of Mississippian culture, which developed in what is present-day Illinois, east of the Mississippi River and the city of St. Louis. This was some 200 miles (320 km) from the Des Moines River.