Rep. J.D. Prescott, R-Union City, has filed House Bill 1143 to establish “The Hoosier State” as Indiana’s official nickname. Prescott’s bill affirms that Harry Hoosier is the namesake of the state. Harry Hoosier was born into slavery before becoming a Methodist minister in the 1770s.
Prescott told Indiana Capital Chronicle, “new Methodist believers who identified with the ministry of Harry Hoosier became known as Hoosiers”. He continued that “many of Harry Hoosier’s faithful followers brought their Methodist beliefs and Hoosier nickname to Indiana in the decades before and after Indiana was granted statehood in 1816.”
Where does the term Hoosier come from?
A different idea states the nickname is because a man named Samuel Hoosier, who was contracted to build a canal along the Ohio River in the 1820s. He preferred to hire men from Indiana. These men were called “Hoosier’s Men,” which was eventually shortened to Hoosiers.
Another argument claims the word can be traced back to the American South, where it was used as a derogatory term for uneducated, uncouth people.
History.com offers that the word sprang from surveyors mapping the state. They encountered so many squatters on public land that they would call out “Who’s here?” as soon as they spotted cabins with smoke rising from them. The question echoed so frequently on the Indiana frontier that it was shortened and altered to “hooshere” and finally “hoosier.”
Jacob Piatt Dunn Jr. wrote that numerous immigrants from the Cumberland region of England settled in the southern mountains of Indiana. Dunn traced the nickname back to the word “hoozer” in the Cumbrian dialect, which derived from the Old English “hoo,” meaning “high” and “hill.”
James Whitcomb Riley claimed that “Hoosier” originated from the fighting habits of early settlers. It was a common 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?”
What is known is that the nickname “Hoosier” came into general usage in the 1830’s. It’s one of the oldest and most popular of state nicknames. The moniker appeared in print as early as 1832 and gained popularity after the publication of Indiana resident John Finley’s poem “The Hoosier’s Nest.