Date: Wed, 1 Jan 1997 20:29:46 -0500

From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM

Subject: Hoosiers

"....or, as we say in Indiana,...."

--David Letterman

Many poems are written at the beginning of the year. On 1 January 1833,

in the Indianapolis Journal, there appeared a Carrier's Address (you'd

hopefully tip your newspaper carrier for giving it to you) by John Finley

called "The Hoosier's Nest," that would help name the state forever:

...Blest Indiana! In whose soil

Men seek the sure rewards of toil,

Amd honest poverty and worth

Find here the best retreat on earth,

While hosts of Preachers, Doctors, Lawyers,

All independent as wood-sawyers,

With men of every hue and fashion,

Flock to this rising "Hoosher" nation.

Men who can legislate or plow,

Wage politics or milk a cow--

So plastic are their various parts,

Within the circle of their arts,

With equal tact the "Hoosher" loons,

Hunt offices or hunt raccoons. (...)

I would not have the world suppose

Our public men are all like those,

For even in this infant State

Some may be wise, and good, and great.

But, having gone so far, 'twould seem

(Since "hoosher" manners is theme)

That I, lest strangers take exception,

Should give a more minute description,

And if my strains be not seraphic

I trust you'll find them somewhat graphic.

Suppose in riding somewhere West

A stranger found a "Hoosher's" nest,

In other words, a buckeye cabin

Just big enough to hold Queen Mab in,

Its situation low but airy

Was on the borders of a prairie,

And fearing he might be benighted

He hailed the house and then alighted

The "Hoosher" met him at the door,

Their salutations soon were o'er;

He took the stranger's horse aside

And to a sturdy sapling tied;

Then, having stripped the saddle off,

He fed him in a sugar trough.

The stranger stooped to enter in,

The entrance closing with a pin,

And manifested strong desire

To seat him by the log heap fire

Where half a dozen Hoosheroons,

With mush and milk, tincups and spoons,

White heads, bare feet and dirty faces,

Seemed much inclined to keep their places,

But Madam, anxious to display

Her rough and undisputed sway,

Her offspring to the ladder led

And cuffed the youngsters up to bed.

Invited shortly to partake

Of venison, milk and johnny-cake

The stranger made a hearty meal

And glances round the room would steal;

One side was lined with skins of "varments"

The other spread with divers garments,

Dried pumpkins overhead were strung

Where venison hams in plenty hung,

Two rifles placed above the door,

Three dogs lay stretched upon the floor,

In short, the domicile was rife,

With specimens of "Hoosher" life.

The host who centered his affections,

On game, and range, and quarter sections

Discoursed his weary guest for hours,

Till Somnus' ever potent powers

Of sublunary cares bereft them

And then I came away and left them.

No matter how the story ended

The application I intended

Is from the famous Scottish poet

Who seemed to feel as well as know it

"That buirdly chiels and clever hizzies

Are bred in sic a way as this is."

One more subject I'll barely mention

To which I ask your kind attention

My pockets are so shrunk of late

I can not nibble "Hoosher bait."

With this carrier's address, "Hoosier" was launched upon the nation.

Poet John Finley didn't invent the word, but he certainly popularized it.

Although the poem was printed January 1, 1833, it was written in 1830 as

"The Hoosher's Nest." (Of course, the poem is not cited in OED.)

I have several new cites for "Hoosier" that pre-date the poem. The key

to solving "Hoosier" will be found at the poem's end. I began the month with

"johnny-cake"; "Hoosher bait" will begin the next one.

A handout called "The Word 'HOOSIER'" by the Indiana Historical Bureau

and distributed by the Indiana Historical Society gives the following


1. 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.

2. That 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," eventually Hoosiers.

3. That 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


4. A theory attributed to Governor Joseph Wright was to the effect that

Hoosier derived 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.

5. Quite as plausible as these was the facetious explanation offered by

James Whitcomb Riley. He claimed that it 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?"

The distinguished Hoosier writer, Meredith Nicholson (The Hoosiers) and

many others have inquired into the problem. But by all odds the most serious

student of the matter was Jacob Piatt Dunn, Indiana historian and long-time

secretary of the Indiana Historical Society. 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 word "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.

Jacob Piatt Dunn's THE WORD HOOSIER (Indiana Historical Society

Publications, Vol. IV, No. 2, 1907, 37 pages) is outdated, but it is still

the most comprehensive treatment. (See also Dunn's query "Hoosier," NOTES &

QUERIES, 10th S. II, 20 August 1904, pg. 147.) It must be examined in


On January 8, 1833, a toast was given to "The Hooshier State of

Indiana." On August 3, 1833, a prospectus was published for a new newspaper

to be called "The Hoosier."

On October 26, 1833, the Indiana Democrat reprinted this:


The appellation of Hooshier has been used in many of the Western States,

for several years, to designate, in a good natural way, an inhabitant of our

sister state of Indiana. Ex-Governor Ray has lately started a newspaper in

Indiana, which he names "The Hoshier" (sic). Many of our ingenious native

philologists have attempted, though very unsatisfactorily, to explain this

somewhat singular term. Mordechai M. Noah, in the late number of his Evening

Star, undertakes to account for it upon the faith of a rather apocryphal

story of a recruiting officer, who was engaged during the last war, in

enlisting a company of HUSSARS, whom by mistake he unfortunately denominated

as Hooshiers. Another etymologist tells us that when the state of Indiana

was being surveyed, the surveyors, on finding the residence of a squatter,

would exclaim _"Who's here,"_ --that exclamation, abbreviated to _Hooshier_

was, in process of time, applied as a distinctive appellation to the original

settlers of that state, and, finally to its inhabitants generally. Neither

of these hypotheses are deserving any attention. The word Hooshier is

indebted for its existence to that once numerous and unique, but now extinct

class of mortals called the Ohio Boatsman.--In its original acceptation it

was equivalent to "Ripstaver," "Scrouger," "Screamer," "Bulger,"

"Ring-tailroarer," and a hundred others, equally expressive, but which have

never attained to such a respectable standing as itself. By some caprice

which can never be explained, the appellation Hooshier became confined solely

to such boatsmen as had their homes upon the Indiana shore, and from them it

was gradually applied to all Indianians, who acknowledge it as good naturedly

as the appellation of Yankee--Whatever may have been the original acceptation

of Hooshier this we know, that the people to whom it is now applied, are

amongst the bravest, most intelligent, most enterprising, most magnanimous,

and most democratic of the Great West, and should we ever feel disposed to

quit the state in which we are now sojourning, our own noble Ohio, it will be

to enroll ourselves as adopted citizens in the land of the

"HOOSHIER."--Cincinnati Republican.

Dunn, on page 11, gives a statement from Jere Smith that appeared in the

Indianapolis Journal of 20 January 1860: "My recollection is that the word

began to be used in this country in the fall of 1824, but it might have been

as late as 1826 or 1827, when the Louisville & Portland canal was being made.

I first heard it at a corn-husking. It was used in the sense of

"rip-roaring," "half horse" and "half alligator," and such like backwoods

coinages. It was then, and for some years afterwards, spoken as if spelled

"husher," the "u" having the sound it has in "bush," "push," etc. In 1829,

1830 and 1831 its sound glided into "hoosher," till finally Mr. Finley's

"Hoosier's Nest" made the present orthography and pronunciation classical,

and it has remained so since."

It is interesting that Jere Smith heard it at a corn-husking, but

Hooshier did NOT apply to the corn. "Hoosa" meaning "corn" can be ruled out;

it's not in any Indian dictionary.

From HOOSIER: VARIATIONS ON A THEME by James Lamar Weygand (1950), he

states on page 7 that "husher" was started by riverboat men on the Ohio

River. Supposedly, it was slang for a "rough fellow."

The Indiana Magazine of History, volume 1, 1905, pages 86-96, ran

"Origin of the Word Hoosier" before Dunn's monograph came out. One woman

thought it came from "Huzza." "Yahoo" is mentioned on page 94. In regards to

"Hoosier bait," page 92 states that people didn't know "the last four lines

of Finley's poem, in which this same term 'hoosier-bait' occurs, they being

omitted in all the ordinary froms of the poem. The derivation of this term

is obvious, whether 'bait' be taken in its sense of a lure or its sense of

food. It was simply something that 'hoosiers' were fond of, and its

application was natural at a time when the ideal of happiness was 'a country

boy with a hunk of gingerbread.'"

Dunn's mongraph contains, on page 23, the following statement on

hoosier-bait by the Reverend T. A. Goodwin:

In the summer of 1830 I went with my father, Samuel Goodwin, from our

home at Brookville to Cincinnati. We traveled in an old-fashioned one-horse

Dearborn wagon. I was a boy of twelve years and it was a great occasion for

me. At cincinnati I had a fip for a treat, and at that time there was

nothing I relished so much as one of those big pieces of gingerbread that

were served as refreshment on muster days, Fourth of July and other gala

occasions, in connection with cider. I went into a baker's shop and asked

for "a fip's worth of gingerbread." The man said, "I guess you want

hoosier-bait," and when he produced it I found that he had the right idea.

That was the first time I ever heard the word "hoosier," but in a few years

it became quite commonly applied to Indiana people. The gingerbread referred

to was cooked in square pans--about fifteen inches across, I should

think--and with furrows marked across the top, dividing it into

guarter-sections. A quarter-section sold for a fip, which was 6 1/4 cents.

... The word "Hoosier" always had the sense of roughness or uncouthness in

its early use.

Dunn published an addendum to his mongraph in the Indiana Magazine of

History, volume 7, 1911, pages 61-63. An article in the 4 April 1832

Northwestern Pioneer and St. Joseph's Intelligencer stated: "A Real

Hoosier.--A sturgeon...was found to weigh 83 pounds."

Let's look at the early cites one-by-one:

24 February 1826

This letter is cited in the 2 June 1949 Chicago Tribune, pg. 20, col. 3,

and is in the OED. "The Indiana hoosiers that came out last fall is settled

from a 2 to 4 milds of us."

The Chicago Tribune disagreed with the Cumberland, England theory,

thinking that "it was a word invented with humorous intention, similar to the

American 'wowser.' There is an obsolete exclamation, 'hoo,' expressing

surprise, admiration, delight. Any uncouth, illiterate person who exclaimed

'hoo' whenever he encountered traces of civilzation, such as well made

clothing, pocket watches, silk stockings, and other articles of personal

adornment, would be called a 'hoozer.'"

14 July 1827

A journal of a Black Creek school master stated "There is a Yankee trick

for you--done up by a Hoosier." The journal wasn't printed until 1860,

however. See EARLY SETTLEMENT OF THE WABASH VALLEY by Sanford C. Cox (who

admitted to making a few changes), pages 51-53.

11 February 1831

A letter from G. S. Murdock of Cincinnati to General John Tipton at

Logansport offered to deliver sundry supplies by steamboat "the first rise of

water (aboard) our boat the Indiana Hoosier." The Weygand monograph cites

this on pg. 11, from "the Indiana State Library."

3 January 1832

The carrier's address to the Indiana Democrat--a year before Finley's

"Hoosier's Nest," has, on page 3, col. 3, "Ask for our 'hoosiers' good


30 July 1836, Chicago American, pg. 2, col. 5:

The ladies of Wisconsin have determined and decreed, that now and ever

hereafter they will be known as _"Hawk Eyes."_ Look out for your

_"Chickens"_ neighbor _"Wolverines."_ The _"Suckers,"_ _"Hoozers"_ and

_"Buckeyes"_ must also be on the alert.

3 June 1838, New Orleans Picayune, pg. 2, col. 4.

The Picayune made much fun of the Hoosier (from Kentucky as well as

Indiana) for a good twenty years. This item was much reprinted:

_The Great West._--A Yankee traveller lately wrote home, thus:

"_My dear Mother_--The West is the place for promotion and to get

acquainted with the world. Yesterday I arrived here, and, two hours

afterwards, was made judge of a _horse race_, and to-day I saw a _live


1839, Davy Crockett Almanac

"A Hoosier" is shown, along with "a Puke" (from Missouri) and "a

Sucker" (from Illinois).

1 September 1841, New Orleans Picayune, pg. 2, col. 4.

An item on the Hossier is reprinted from the New Hampshire Gazette.

"_Hoosiers._--Particularly the people of Indiana, and generally the

emigrants from the southern States who settle in any of the free States of

the north-west. The Hoosiers are as peculiar in their habits and customs as

the Yankees...."

The Library of Congress has a poor selection of early Indiana newspapers.

My time in Indiana in 1994 was brief--about two days--and I had plenty of

other things to research. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the number of

early newspapers the state library had on microfilm. (Anyone want to fund me

to go back?) And in that short span--a few hours, really--I found five

pre-1833 "hooisers." All are from the Cass County Times of Logansport,


19 May 1832, pg. 2, col. 4:

...These Editors may succeed in getting some of _their_ readers to take

the _bait_; but their brethern (sic) in the West will find, if they have not

already, that it is not genuine "_Hoosier bait_." We have seen in tried,

and we have found but one noble man who was any way disposed to "_nibble_."

2 June 1832, pg. 2, col.5.

"MY OWN, MY HOOSHIER LAND."--We have before number, a concise sketch of

the house of Representatives, and to-day we give a similar notice of the

Senate, from the pen of a correspondent of the Portland Advertiser, which,

like every thing from his pen, is full of interest. (...)

(That would be "Major Jack Downing" by the humorist Seba Smith in the

Portland, Me. Advertiser.--ed.)

16 June 1832

All are from a speech by John Scott, Esq., given 4 June 1832.

Pg. 2, col. 4: This remark, I presume was thrown out by your honor, rather

as a kind of "Hoosier bait" ....

Pg. 2, col. 5: In charity to yourself judge, indulge me in the opinion,

that, in as much as you "assure" the people you wish to be elected, this cant

of yours about the "poor man" is also "Hoosier bait," a sort of

Ex-governor-like maneuver.

Pg. 3, col. 1: "Hoosier state."


"Hoosier" clearly means "something large." It does not come from

"Hussar," nor from "Who's here?" It does not come from the song "Hosier's

Ghost," which I have did not reprint here.

It might come from "husher"--a large fellow who "hushes" those around


It is clear that a "Hoosier" was at one time a large fish (a really big

Sucker), and "Hoosier bait" was used to catch it. Bartlett (1859) has

"Hoosier Cake, a Western name for a sort of coarse gingerbread, which, say

the Kentuckians, is the best bait to catch a hoosier with, the biped being

fond of it."

Dunn favors the explanation given in the English Dialect Dictionary.

I think it would be wise at this time to accept it, without any evidence to

throw it out.