Tea N. Crumpet, in a comment on my last post, asked, "What's a Hoosier?" That got me musing about state nicknames. The 1860 campaign song, "Lincoln and Liberty" mentions not only Hoosiers, but an Illinois nickname that's rarely heard now.
We'll go for the son of Kentucky,
The hero of Hoosierdom through;
The pride of the Suckers so lucky
For Lincoln and Liberty too!
-"Lincoln and Liberty"
The second stanza tells us that Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, lived for a time in Indiana, and was the pride of Illinois. That's right--Illinoisans were once known as Suckers. The Dictionary of Wisconsin History explains the nickname, by way of its definition of "badger:"
The name 'Badger' state for Wisconsin had its origin in the lead mining districts of southwestern Wisconsin. Miners from the south (Illinois) in the early days were in the habit of working in the lead mines during the summer and returning south for the winter, migrating like suckers [a species of fish], hence the name 'Sucker" state. Those who came from the east, however, could not return to their homes in the winter and made for themselves 'dugouts' in the sides of the bluffs and hills, burrowing like badgers, hence 'Badgers' or permanent residents of the Wisconsin country." From Wisconsin: comprising sketches of counties, towns, events, institutions, and persons, arranged in cyclopedic form, ed. by Ex-Gov. Geo. W. Peck (Madison, Wis., Western Historical Association, 1906).
Perhaps the Suckers were lucky, as they weren't called Pukes. Netstate also traces the origin of the Missouri Puke to the Galena lead mines:
The Puke State: This distasteful name is said to refer to the large gathering of Missourians in 1827 at the Galena Lead Mines. According to George Earlie Shankle, PhD, in State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols, 1938, "...so many Missourians had assembled, that those already there declared the State of Missouri had taken a 'puke.'
Iowans adopted "Hawkeye" before they could be tagged with something more insulting. Here's part of the Netstate entry:
The Hawkeye State: This popular nickname for the state of Iowa is said to have come from the scout, Hawkeye, in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826. According to the Iowa State web site, "Two Iowa promoters from Burlington are believed to have popularized the name." The nickname was given approval by "territorial officials" in 1838, twelve years after the book was published and eight years before Iowa became a state.
There also seems to be a reference to the Sauk warrior Black Hawk, who died in Iowa. In any case, the Hawkeye nickname seems to have been an effort to pre-empt the adoption of an offensive nickname, such as Puke or Sucker.
Or, perhaps Hoosier. While many Indiana residents, especially in the southern and central parts of the state, take pride in the label, a lot of us in the northern part of the state aren't comfortable with it. The article, "What's a Hoosier?" in the Indiana University Alumni Magazine gives a good overall summary of the term, along with a mention of Senator Dan Quayle's battle with Merriam-Webster to remove the negative definitions of "hoosier" (lower case) from the dictionary. But unlike the Suckers and Pukes, Hoosiers have stood by their nickname, even if it does mean a hick or rube.