Date: Wed, 1 Jan 1997 20:29:46 -0500
From: "Barry A. Popik" Bapopik[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM
"....or, as we say in Indiana,...."
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,
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
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 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
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.