You guys seen any little pink houses around here? I think there might be enough for you AND me.
We hope you will join us as a part of the group who will gather Tuesday evening at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center (450 W. Ohio Street, Indianapolis) to engage in a discussion of whether or not it is “good to be a hoosier?”
What is a “Hoosier?” Where did Hoosier traits and notions come from and how has Indiana been shaped by them? Noted Indiana historian James Madison, will facilitate a conversation on traditional Hoosier viewpoints and, through the lens of history, explore whether these traits are an asset or challenge to Indiana in the 21st century.
It is organized by the good folks at the Indiana Historical Society and you can find out more by contacting public programs coordinator Erin Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 234-3161.
Now we are certain the good Professor James Madison will have plenty better sources from whence to start than this, but it is always fun to begin research with wikipedia. We at hoosierphile have turned several times to these stories in search of some interesting tidbits about the moniker hoosier:
The exact etymology of the word is unknown, but it has been in use since at least 1830. According to Bill Bryson, there are many suggestions for the derivation of the word “Hoosier,” but none is universally accepted. Historian Jacob Piatt Dunn, Indiana historian and longtime secretary of the Indiana Historical Society, 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 hillbilly or redneck. 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.
Research published in 2007 by Hanover College professor Jonathan Clark Smith offers different conclusions. Smith found that the 1826 letter by James Curtis cited by Dunn and others as the first known use of the term was actually written in 1846, and a 1827 diary entry by Sandford Cox (published in a newspaper in 1859) was likely an editorial comment and not from the original diary. Smith theorizes that the word originated in the Ohio River Commerce Culture as a term for Indiana farmer flat-boatmen, and did not become an insult until 1836.
The term came into general usage in the 1830s. John Finley of Richmond, Indiana wrote a poem, The Hoosier’s Nest, which was published in 1833 and was used as the “Carrier’s Address” of the Indianapolis Journal, January 1, 1833. It was generally accepted as a term for Indiana residents by the 1840s, and as it came into common usage, the debates about the term’s origin began..
In 1900, author Meredith Nicholson wrote The Hoosiers, an early attempt to study the origins of the word as applied to Indiana residents. Jacob Piatt Dunn published The Word Hoosier in 1907, a serious study into the origin of the term “Hoosier” as a term used to describe the citizens of Indiana.see below). Nicholson, however, had also defended against an explanation that the word “Hoosier” was applied to Indiana because it referred to uncouth country folk. Dunn, by contrast, concluded that Indiana settlers adopted the word as a humorous nickname, and that the negative connotation had already faded when John Finley wrote his poem. Nicholson and Dunn both chronicled some of the popular, satirical origins of the word (
This idea suggests the term was a greeting. When approaching a man’s home in those early frontier days, you shouted from afar, “Hello, the cabin!” to avoid being shot. The inhabitants would then shout back “Who’sh ‘ere?” (who’s here). As it became slurred together over time, the country folk came to be called Hoosiers.
A variant of this story combines “Who’s” and “your”, such as in “Who’sh yer ‘pa?”. Additionally, the poet James Whitcomb Riley facetiously suggested that the fierce brawling that took place in Indiana involved enough ear biting that the expression “Whose ear?” was common enough to be notable.
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.”
Mr. Hoosier’s men
A contractor reportedly named Samuel Hoosier preferred to hire workers from Indiana during the construction of the Louisville and Portland Canal (1826–1831) in Louisville. His employees became known as “Hoosier’s men” and finally just “Hoosiers”.
This story is reported by Dunn (1907:16-17) as being told in 1901 by a man who heard this story from a Hoosier family member while traveling in southern Tennessee. However, Dunn’s research could find no-one in southern Tennessee who had heard the story, nor could he find any family of that name in any directory in the region. In spite of Dunn’s skepticism, this version has been accepted by Evan Bayh, who has served as Indiana governor and senator, and by Senator Vance Hartke, who introduced this story into the Congressional Record (1975), according to Graf.
A similar story involves the National Road, which began in Cumberland, Maryland, and slowly extended westward, reaching Indiana in 1829-1834. As plans were made to extend the highway to Richmond, Indiana, the call went out for laborers. Knowing that the federal government would pay “top dollar”, the employees of a contractor in the Indiana TerritoryOhio. Mr. Hoosier gave his consent, asking them to return to work for him when this section of the road was done. reportedly named Robert Hoosier asked their boss if they could go work for this higher wage in the neighboring state of
Just as in the Sam Hoosier story, the crew of Indiana workers proved to be industrious, conscientious, and efficient. The federal foreman referred to the group as “Hoosiers” meaning they were workers that Robert Hoosier had allowed to join the national work crew. It wasn’t long before people along the National Road used the term to describe the folks living in the territory to the west.
This story is not mentioned in Dunn’s or Mencken’s research, but if there were such a contractor and such events, they would have taken place after the term “Hoosier” was already well established in Appalachia and was becoming attached to Indiana.
In this story, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Col. John Jacob Lehmanowsky, settled in Indiana later in life and gave lectures on the “Wars of Europe” in which he extolled the virtues of the hussars, which his audience heard as “hoosiers”. Young men wishing to identify with these virtues called themselves Hoosiers, enough of them that eventually all people of Indiana were called Hoosiers.
Weaknesses of this story include the unlikely mispronunciation of hussar as Hoosier and the fact that Lehmanowsky did not come to Indiana until 1833, by which time the term was already well established.
Elsewhere on the Indiana Historical Society’s site they affer this piece from an issue of their quarterly publication Traces Magazine:
It’s safe to conclude the Hoosher and Hoosier nickname adopted by Indiana residents and for them by their nearby neighbors was derived from the dialect term (probably traceable from England) not uncommon among southern immigrants to Indiana and the Ohio Valley several years before [John] Finley arrived and penned his famous poem [The Hoosier’s Nest].
Although the term implied a frontier roughness just beyond the most recently settled and “civilized” regions (which of course were always moving west), its subsequent widespread acceptance in the 1830s and 1840s was definitely good-natured, if not independent-minded, in meaning then and thereafter. It is also safe to discount several factually unsupported theories, thoughts of local immaculate conceptions, and variations thereof as folklore or urban legends: Hoosa; Hoose; Hoosier’s men, food, or customers; Houssieres, Husher (probably the phonetic “Hoosher” pronunciation of Hoosier); Hussar; Huzur; Huzzah; Who’s yer/here; Who’s ear; etc.
Although the old double-sense meaning still occasionally surfaces (usually among newcomers or visitors, linguistic researchers, or those who may enjoy making fun of Indiana residents), it remains embraced in its modern appellation as primarily positive. Moreover, the word is a regional nickname, like many others whose precise origins do not necessarily burden the modern, continued appellations.
Perhaps one of the more eloquent conclusions was offered by Walter Havinghurst in The Heartland (1962) when he observed: “Whatever its origin, the name of Hoosier has had a lasting appeal for Indiana people and has acquired a quite enviable aura. For more than 100 years, it has continued to mean friendliness, neighborliness, an idyllic contentment with Indiana landscape and life.” It appears that [researcher] George Blakey’s observation still holds that Finley’s creative effort “helped define Indiana identity” and contributed to a “stereotype that the state has accepted affectionately, if not realistically – that of a rustic, rugged, individualistic land.”
That all said, we hope you will join the discussion Tuesday night at the Indiana History Center.