Why Ohio Is Called The Buckeye State?
By William M. Farrar.
The name Buckeye as applied to the State of Ohio is an accepted sobriquet, so well recognized and so generally understood throughout the United States, that its use requires no explanation, although the origin of the term and its significance are not without question, and therefore become proper subjects of consideration during this centennial year.
The usual and most commonly accepted solution is, that it originates from the buckeye tree which is indigenous to the State of Ohio and is not found elsewhere. This, however, is not altogether correct, as it is also found both in Kentucky and Indiana, and in some few localities in Western Virginia, and perhaps elsewhere.
But while such is the fact, its natural locality appears to be in the State of Ohio, and its native soil in the rich valleys of the Muskingum, Hocking, Scioto, Miamis and Ohio, where in the early settlement of the State it was found growing in great abundance, and because of the luxuriance of its foliage, the richly colored dyes of its fruit, and its ready adaptation to the wants and convenience of the pioneers it was highly prized by them for many useful purposes.
It was also well known to and much prized by the Indians from whose rude language comes its name “Hetuck,” meaning the eye of the buck, because of the striking resemblance in color and shape between the brown nut and the eye of that animal, the peculiar spot upon the one corresponding to the iris in the other. In its application, however, we have reversed the term and call the person or thing to which it is applied a buckeye.
In a very interesting after dinner speech made by Dr. Daniel Drake, the eminent botanist and historian of the Ohio valley, at a banquet given at the city of Cincinnati on the occasion of the forty-fourth anniversary of the State, the buckeye was very ably discussed, its botanical classification given, its peculiar characteristics and distinctive properties referred to, and the opinion expressed that the name was at first applied as a nickname or term of derision, but has since been raised into a title of honor.
This conclusion does not seem to be altogether warranted, for the name is not only of Indian origin as stated, but the first application of it ever made to a white man was made by the Indians themselves, and intended by them as an expression of their highest sense of admiration.
S.P. Hildreth, the pioneer historian of Marietta, to whom we are indebted for so many interesting events relating to the settlement at the mouth of the Muskingum, tells us that upon the opening of the first court in the Northwest territory, to wit on the 2d day of September, 1788, a procession was formed at the point where most of the settlers resided, and marched up a path that had been cut and cleared through the forest to Campus Martius Hall, in the following order:
1st. The high sheriff with drawn sword.
2d. The citizens.
3d Officers of the garrison at Fort Harmar.
4th. Members of the bar.
5th. Supreme judges.
6th. The governor and clergymen.
7th. The newly appointed judges of the Court of Common Pleas, General Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper.
There the whole countermarched, and the judges, Putnam and Tupper, took their seats; the clergyman. Rev. Dr. Cutler, invoked the divine blessing, and the sheriff, Col. Ebenezer Sproat, proclaimed with his solemn O yes ! that a court is opened for the administration of even-handed justice, to the poor as well as to the rich, to the guilty and the innocent, without respect of persons, none to be punished without a trial by their peers, and then in pursuance of law; and that although this scene was exhibited thus early in the settlement of the State few ever equaled it in the dignity and exalted character of the actors; and that among the spectators who witnessed the ceremony and were deeply impressed by its solemnity and seeming significance was a large body of Indians collected from some of the most powerful tribes of the northwest, for the purpose of making a treaty with the whites. Always fond of ceremony among themselves they witnessed the parade of which they little suspected the import with the greatest interest, and were especially impressed with the high sheriff who led the procession with drawn sword; we are told that he was over six feet in height, well proportioned and of commanding presence, and that his fine physical proportions and dignified bearing excited their highest admiration, which they expressed by the word “Hetuck,” or in their language “big buckeye.” It was not spoken in derision, but was the expression of their greatest admiration, and was afterwards often jocularly applied to Colonel Sproat, and became a sort of nickname by which he was familiarly known among his associates. That was certainly its first known application to an individual in the sense now used, but there is no evidence that the name continued to be so used and applied from that time forward, or that it became a fixed and accepted sobriquet of the State and people until more that half a century afterwards; during all of which time the buckeye continued to be an object of more or less interest, and as immigration made its way across the State, and the settlements extended into the rich valleys where it was found by travelers and explorers, and was by them carried back to the east and shown as a rare curiosity from what was then known as the “far west,” possessing certain medicinal properties for which it was highly prized. But the name never became fully crystallized until 1840, when in the crucible of what is known as the “bitterest, longest and most extraordinary political contest ever waged in the United States,” the name Buckeye became a fixed sobriquet of the State of Ohio and its people, known and understood wherever either is spoken of, and likely to continue as long as either shall be remembered or the English language endures.
The manner in which this was brought about is one of the singular events of that political epoch.
General William Henry Harrison having become the candidate of his party for President, an opposition newspaper said “that he was better fitted to sit in a log cabin and drink hard cider, than rule in the White House.” The remark was at once taken up by his friends and became a party slogan of that ever memorable canvass. Harrison became the log-cabin candidate, and was pictured as sitting by the door of a rude log-cabin through which could be seen a barrel of hard cider, while the walls were hung with coon-skins and decorated with strings of buckeyes.
Political excitement spread with wonderful rapidity; there was music in the air, and on the 22d of February, 1840, a State convention was held at the city of Columbus to nominate a candidate for governor. That was before the day of railroads, yet from most of the counties of the State large delegations in wagons and on horseback made their way to the capital to participate in the convention. Among the many curious devices resorted to give expression to the ideas embodied in the canvass there appeared in the procession a veritable log-cabin, from Union county, built of buckeye logs, upon a wagon and drawn in the procession by horses, while from the roof and inside of the cabin was sung this sung:
“Oh where, tell me where
Was your buckeye cabin made?
“Twas built among the merry boys
Who wield and plough and spade,
Where the log-cabins stand,
In the bonnie buckeye shade.”
“Oh what, tell me what, is to be your cabin’s fate?
We’ll wheel it to the capital and place it thee elate.
For a token and a sign of the bonnie Buckeye State.”
From that time forward the buckeye became an important factor in the canvass; cabins were multiplied and drawn in processions at all the leading meetings.
The name was applied to General Harrison as
“Hurrah for the father of the Great West,
For the Buckeye who follows the plough.”
. . . . . . . . . . . .
The name was also applied to Mr. Corwin, the candidate for governor, as—
“Tom Corwin is a Buckeye Boy,
Who stands not for the pay.”
. . . . . . . . .
And generally as
“Come all ye jolly Buckeye boys,
And listen to my song.
See what a host of lumber,
And buckeye poles are here—
And Buckeye boys without number,
Aloft the logs to rear.”
But the buckeye was not only thus woven into song and sung and shouted from every log-cabin, but it became a popular emblem of the party and an article of commerce more especially along the Old National Road over which the public travel of the country was carried at that day in stage coaches, and men are yet living who, in 1840, resided at Zanesville and can remember seeing crowds of men and boys going to the woods in the morning and returning later in the day carrying great bundles of buckeye sticks to be converted into canes and sold to travelers, or sent to adjoining States to be used for campaign purposes.
At a mass meeting held in Western Pennsylvania in 1840 delegations were organized by townships, and at a preliminary meeting held to appoint officers to marshal the procession and make other necessary arrangements, it was resolved that each officer so appointed should provide himself with a buckeye cane as a badge of authority, and thereupon committees were sent to Ohio to procure a supply of canes for the occasion, with what success can be judged from the fact that while a procession extending over two miles in length and numbering more than 1,500 people, halted on one of the Chartiers creek hills until the one in front moved out of its way, an inventory taken showed the number of buckeye canes carried in the delegation to be 1,432, and in addition over 100 strings of buckeye beads were worn by a crew of young ladies dressed in white, who rode in an immense canoe, and carried banners representing the several States of the Union.
These may seem to be rather trivial affairs to be referred to on such an occasion as the present, but they serve to show the extent of the sentiment that prevailed at the time, and the molding process going on, so that when the long and heated canvass finally closed with a sweeping victory the crystallization was complete, and the name “Buckeye” was irrevocably fixed upon the State and people of Ohio, and continues to the present day one of the most popular and familiar sobriquets in use.
So early as 1841, the president of an Eastern college established for the education of young women, showing a friend over the establishment said: “There is a young lady from New York, that one is from Virginia, and this,” pointing to another, “is one of our new Buckeye girls.” A few years later, the Hon. S. S. Cox, a native Buckeye, and then a resident of Ohio, made a tour of Europe, and wrote home a series of bright and interesting letters over the nom de plume of “A Buckeye Abroad,” which were extensively read, and helped still further to fix the name and give it character. The Buckeye State has now a population of more than 3,000,000 live Buckeyes, Buckeye coal and mining companies, Buckeye manufactories of every kind and description, Buckeye reapers and mowers, Buckeye stock, farms, houses, hotels, furnaces, rolling-mills, gas- and oil-wells, fairs, conventions, etc., and on to-morrow we propose to celebrate a Buckeye centennial.