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    INDIANA'S POPULAR HISTORY :: hoosier facts  
 

On Dec. 11, 1816, President James Madison signed a congressional resolution admitting Indiana to the Union as the nineteenth state. The young state established its capital at Corydon, where it remained until 1825 when Indianapolis took over that distinction. Jonathan Jennings had become the state's first governor by defeating Thomas Posey in elections held in August 1816.

The following are some frequently asked questions about Indiana, "The Crossroads of America." The Society would like to thank the Indiana Historical Bureau for providing information on these questions.

 


The Word "Hoosier"

For well over a century and a half the people of Indiana have been called Hoosiers. It is one of the oldest of state nicknames and has had a wider acceptance than most. True, there are Buckeyes of Ohio, the Suckers of Illinois and the Tarheels of North Carolina -- but none of these has had the popular usage accorded Hoosier.

But where did Hoosier come from? What is its origin? We know that it came into general usage in the 1830s. John Finley of Richmond wrote a poem, "The Hoosier's Nest," which was used as the "Carrier's Address" of the Indianapolis Journal, Jan. 1, 1833. It was widely copied throughout the country and even abroad. Finley originally wrote Hoosier as "Hoosher." Apparently the poet felt that it was sufficiently familiar to be understandable to his readers. A few days later, on Jan. 8, 1833, at the Jackson Day dinner in Indianapolis, John W. Davis offered "The Hoosher State of Indiana" as a toast. And in August, former Indiana Gov. James B. Ray announced that he intended to publish a newspaper, The Hoosier, at Greencastle, Indiana.

A few instances of the earlier written use of Hoosier have been found. The word appears in the "Carrier's Address" of the Indiana Democrat on Jan. 3, 1832. G. L. Murdock wrote on Feb. 11, 1831, in a letter to Gen. John Tipton, "Our Boat will [be] named the Indiana Hoosier." In a publication printed in 1860, Recollections . . . of the Wabash Valley, Sanford Cox quotes a diary which he dates July 14, 1827, "There is a Yankee trick for you -- done up by a Hoosier." One can only wonder how long before this Hoosier was used orally.

As soon as the nickname came into general use, speculation began as to its origin. Among the more popular theories:

  • When a visitor hailed a pioneer cabin in Indiana or knocked upon its door, the settler would respond, "Who's yere?" And from this frequent response Indiana became the "Who's yere" or Hoosier state. No one ever explained why this was more typical of Indiana than of Illinois or Ohio.

  • Indiana rivermen were so spectacularly successful in trouncing or "hushing" their adversaries in the brawling that was then common that they became known as "hushers," and eventually Hoosiers.

  • There was once a contractor named Hoosier employed on the Louisville and Portland Canal who preferred to hire laborers from Indiana. They were called "Hoosier's men" and eventually all Indianans were called Hoosiers.

  • A theory attributed to Gov. Joseph Wright derived Hoosier from an Indian word for corn, "hoosa." Indiana flatboatmen taking corn or maize to New Orleans came to be known as "hoosa men" or Hoosiers. Unfortunately for this theory, a search of Indian vocabularies by a careful student of linguistics failed to reveal any such word for corn.

  • Quite as possible is a facetious explanation offered by "The Hoosier Poet," James Whitcomb Riley. He claimed that Hoosier originated in the pugnacious habits of our early settlers. They were enthusiastic and vicious fighters who gouged, scratched and bit off noses and ears. This was so common an occurrence that a settler coming into a tavern the morning after a fight and seeing an ear on the floor would touch it with his toe and casually ask, "Whose ear?"

Many have inquired into the origin of Hoosier. But by all odds the most serious student of the matter was Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., Indiana historian and longtime secretary of the IHS. Dunn noted that "hoosier" was frequently used in many parts of the South in the 19th century for woodsmen or rough hill people. He traced the word back to "hoozer," in the Cumberland dialect of England. This derives from the Anglo-Saxon word "hoo" meaning high or hill. In the Cumberland dialect, the world "hoozer" meant anything unusually large, presumably like a hill. It is not hard to see how this word was attached to a hill dweller or highlander. Immigrants from Cumberland, England, settled in the southern mountains (Cumberland Mountains, Cumberland River, Cumberland Gap, etc.). Their descendents brought the name with them when they settled in the hills of southern Indiana.

As Indiana writer Meredith Nicholson observed: "The origin of the term 'Hoosier' is not known with certainty. But certain it is that . . . Hoosiers bear their nickname proudly."

Reproduced with permission from the Indiana Historical Bureau

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Indiana State Flag

The state banner was adopted by the 1917 Indiana General Assembly as part of the celebration of the state's 1916 centennial, after a competition sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The prize-winning design was submitted by Paul Hadley of Mooresville, Indiana, a respected Hoosier artist.

The torch in the center stands for liberty and enlightenment; the rays represent their far-reaching influence. The official description in the Indiana Code explains the rest of the symbolism:

"The field of the flag shall be blue with nineteen stars and a flaming torch in gold or buff. Thirteen stars shall be arranged in an outer circle, representing the thirteen original states; five stars shall be arranged in a half circle below the torch and inside the outer circle of stars, representing the states admitted prior to Indiana; and the nineteenth star, appreciably larger than the others and representing Indiana shall be placed above the flame of the torch."

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Indiana State Seal

Versions of the pioneer scene have been used on Indiana seals since territorial days. They are found on official papers as early as 1801. Both the 1816 and 1851 Constitutions provided for a seal to be kept for "official purposes." The 1963 Indiana General Assembly gave legal sanction to the design and provided an official description:

"A perfect circle, two and five eighths inches in diameter, enclosed by a plain line. Another circle within the first, two and three eighths inches in diameter enclosed by a beaded line, leaving a margin of one quarter of an inch. In the top half of this margin are the words 'Seal of the State of Indiana.'

At the bottom center, 1816, flanked on either side by a diamond, with two dots and a leaf of the tulip tree [the state tree], at both ends of the diamond. The inner circle has two trees in the left background, three hills in the center background with nearly a full sun setting behind and between the first and second hill from the left.

There are fourteen rays from the sun, starting with two short ones on the left, the third being longer and then alternating, short and long. There are two sycamore trees on the right, the larger one being nearer the center and having a notch cut nearly halfway through, from the left side, a short distance above the ground. The woodsman is wearing a hat and holding his ax nearly perpendicular on his right. The ax blade is turned away from him and is even with his hat.

The buffalo is in the foreground, facing to the left of front. His tail is up, front feet on the ground with back feet in the air -- as he jumps over a log.

The ground has shoots of bluegrass, in the area of the buffalo and woodsman."

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Indiana State Flower

The peony (Paeonia) was adopted as the state flower by the 1957 Indiana General Assembly. From 1931 to 1957, the zinnia was the state flower. The peony blooms the last of May and early June in various shades of red and pink and also in white; it occurs in single and double forms. No particular variety or color was designated by the General Assembly. The flower is cultivated widely throughout the state and is extremely popular for decorating gravesites for Memorial Day.

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Indiana State Tree

The tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), also known as yellow poplar, was adopted by the 1931 Indiana General Assembly. The tree attains great height and can be found throughout the state. The leaf is distinctive (it appears in the border of the state seal), and the lovely, bell-shaped, greenish-yellow flowers appear in May or June. The soft white wood has many uses.

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Indiana State Bird

The cardinal (Richmondena cardinalis) was adopted as the state bird by the 1933 Indiana General Assembly. The male is bright red; the female is brown with dull red crest, wings and tail. The birds remain in Indiana year round and nest in thickets of brambles or low saplings. The eggs are bluish-white with brown markings.

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Indiana State Song

"On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away," written by Terre Haute native Paul Dresser and dedicated to 14-year-old Mary E. South of Terre Haute, whom Dresser had never met, is the state song of Indiana. First published in July 1897, the song was adopted as the official state song on March 14, 1913, by the Indiana General Assembly.

Paul Dresser was the brother of noted Hoosier writer Theodore Dreiser. Paul supposedly was so scandalized by his brother's frank writings that he changed his name from Dreiser to Dresser.

The following are the lyrics to the song:

Round my Indiana homestead wave the cornfields,
In the distance loom the woodlands clear and cool.
Often times my thoughts revert to scenes of childhood.
Where I first received my lessons, nature's school.
But one thing is missing in the picture,
Without her face it seems so incomplete.
I long to see my mother in the doorway
As she stood there years ago her boy to greet.

CHORUS

Oh, the moonlight's fair tonight along the Wabash
From the fields there comes the breath of new mown hay.
Thro' the sycamores the candle lights are gleaming,
On the banks of the Wabash, far away.

Many years have passed since I strolled by the river,
Arm in arm with sweetheart Mary by my side.
It was there I tried to tell her that I loved her,
It was there I begged of her to be my bride.
Long years have passed since I strolled thro' the churchyard
She's sleeping there my angel Mary dear.
I loved her but she thought I didn't mean it.
Still I'd give my future were she only here.

CHORUS

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Other Official Items

  • Motto: "The Crossroads of America," adopted by the 1937 Indiana General Assembly

  • Poem: "Indiana," by Arthur Franklin Mapes of Kendallville, adopted by the 1963 General Assembly

  • River: Wabash River, adopted by the 1996 General Assembly

  • Stone: Limestone, adopted by the 1971 General Assembly

  • Official Language: English, adopted by the 1984 General Assembly

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