The Hoosier State


In 1848, Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms defined “Hoosier” as: “A nickname given at the west, to natives of Indiana.  So, how did Indiana become The Hoosier State and how did its people become known as the Hoosiers?

The earliest known use of the term Hoosiers is found in an 1827 letter: “There is a yankee trick for you – done up by a Hoosier.”  In 1831, General John Tipton received a proposal from a businessman offering to name his boat the “Indiana Hoosier” if  General Tipton would give him business in the area.  Sarah Harvey, a Quaker from Richmond, explained in a letter to her relatives: “old settlers in Indiana are called ‘Hooshers’ and the cabins they live in ‘Hoosher nests’.  By the 1830’s, the term Hoosier was widely used.  John Finley of Richmond wrote a poem called The Hoosier’s Nest.  “With men of every hue and fashion, Flock to this rising ‘Hoosher’ nation.”  He wrote the word as hoosher and did not think it necessary to explain its meaning which led historians to believe he felt his readers were aware of and understood the term.  In his poem, Finley refers less to the pioneers of Indiana and more to the self-reliance and bravery they possessed.

No one seems to know how the word “Hoosier” came to be.  A few seem to think it was meant to mock Indiana and others feel the early settlers used the term to describe themselves as hearty and courageous.  Jacob Platt Dunn, a historian, suggested the term “Hoosier” referred to boatman who lived on the Indiana shore.  We may never know for sure but research is likely to continue concerning this mysterious term.

The following theories are known to be false:

  • It is derived from the word Hoosa, which means American Indian maize or corn.
  • Hoosier’s Men was a term used for Indiana employees of a canal contractor named Hoosier.
  • “Who’s ear?” – James Whitcomb Riley joked that this question, posed by early Indiana settlers following a tavern fight which had resulted in someone’s ear being cut off and left on the floor, which became the word “Hoosier.”
  • “Who’s yer/here?” – This was the way early Indiana settlers responded to a knock on their doors.  The story goes that it was shortened to “Hoosier.”
  • “Who’s your relative?” – Legend has it that this question was eventually shortened to “Hoosier?”

Indiana became the 19th state on December 11, 1816 when President James Madison signed the congressional resolution admitting Indiana to the Union.  The original capital of Indiana was Corydon.  Corydon remained the capital until 1825 when the capital was moved to Indianapolis.  Today, Indiana is the 38th largest state by area (36, 418 sq. mi.) and the 16th by population, with an estimated 6,619,680 Hoosiers residing in our great state.

We, Hoosiers, have celebrated Indiana’s 200th birthday with many different celebrations throughout the year.  To end the year long celebration, grab a fellow Hoosier and celebrate Indiana’s true birth date with a slice of Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie.