Indiana Hoosier state history
|December 17, 2001||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Tidbits of American History
Why is Indiana Called the Hoosier State?
Indiana was part of the Northwest Territory taken from the British by George Rogers Clark’s Virginia forces during the Revolution, and most of the early (European-descended) settlers in Indiana were from Kentucky and other parts of the Old Dominion. Hoosier, variously spelled, seems to have been used previously in parts of the South in the sense of a green, gawky and uncouth countryman or mountaineer, and to have been first applied in ridicule to the early settlers in southern Indiana. In time the term lost its contemptuous connotation and became the accepted nickname of the State and its inhabitants.
This, at least, appears to be the most probable theory of the origin of Hoosier as applied to Indiana, and it is supported by early usage. The earliest recorded use of the term that has thus far come to attention occurs in a letter that James Curtis, of Oregon, Holt County, Missouri, wrote to his uncle, Joseph Beeler, in Indianapolis on February 8, 1826.
Curtis wrote: “The Indiana hoesiers that came out last fall is settled 2 to 4 miles from us.” On July 14, 1827, a schoolteacher in Fountain County, Indiana, wrote in his diary: “There is a Yankee trick for you — done up by a Hoosier.”
Many curious theories, some of them ludicrous, were advanced and still comprise part of the literature on the subject. The term was variously derived from husher, a bully who hushes or stills his opponent; from the surname of Samuel Hoosier, a contractor on the Louisville and Portland canal from 1826 to 1831, who hired Indiana laborers who came to be called “Hoosier’s men”; from the name of the Reverend Harry Hoosier, a Negro Methodist evangelist who roamed that region in the early 1800s; from Who’s yare, the gruff inquiry with which the settlers are said to have replied to a knock on the door; from French houssieres, “bushy places”; from hoosher, said to represent the peculiar noise made by Indiana woodchoppers as they expelled the air from their lungs with each stroke of the axe; from hoosa, a nonexistent Indian word meaning maize; from Huzza, the exclamation uttered by settlers when they scored a point or won a victory; from huzar, a Hindu word used as a respectful form of address to superiors, and from hussar, a term alleged to have been introduced into the region by a Polish recruiting officer.
James Whitcomb Riley, “the Hoosier Poet,” ridiculed these theories in the following manner:
- These stories commonly told about the origin of the word Hoosier are all nonsense. The real origin is found in the pugnacious habits of the early settlers. They were very vicious fighters, and not only gouged and scratched, but frequently bit off noses and ears. This was so ordinary an affair that a settler’s coming in to a bar on a morning after a fight, and seeing an ear on the floor, would merely push it aside with his foot and carelessly ask, Who’s ear?
Some people took that joking bit of foolishness seriously and actually accepted it as the true origiin of the term!
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