The list of theories on the origin of our state nickname below is from the 2nd floor mural of the Indiana Historical Society. The page numbers in parenthesis refer to JP Dunn’s 1907 work The Word “Hoosier” where he addresses and debunks just about all of them with the exception of Harry Hoosier:
Hoosa (American Indian maize)
From the Indiana Historical Bureau we read: A theory attributed to Governor Joseph Wright derived Hoosier from an Indian word for corn, “hoosa”. Indiana flat boatmen 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.
This theory is debunked also on (page 18) of Dunn’s work.
Hoosier’s bread or bait (Cincinnati or Louisville baker’s bread sold to Indianans)
(Page 17) Dunn debunks the legend of a baker with the family name Hoosier from Louisville based on his research. Hoosier bait was referenced by Finley in his poem and it was sold in Cincinnati in the early 1800’s as a ginger bread item but not by a baker with the last name Hoosier.
Dunn states multiple times the term Hoosier arrived in Indiana from the south. The south is where Harry Hoosier spent time preaching in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Since Cincinnati is on the Ohio River Hoosier bait was probably enjoyed by river boatmen and travelers.
Hoosier’s Men (Indiana employees of canal contractor named Hoosier)
(Pages 16-17) Dunn did extensive research for a person named Hoosier associated with canal works in the early 1800’s and came up with no-one. In addition the Army Corps of Engineers have no record of anyone named Hoosier or Hosier associated with canal construction.
Indiana US Senator Hartke in 1975 had the story of a man named Sam Hoosier who allegedly built canals along the Ohio River in the early 1800’s placed in the congressional record as the reason for our state’s nickname but we have found no computer based genealogical record of a Sam Hoosier from that era corroborating Dunn’s research.
Harry Hoosier *
Dunn does not debunk Harry Hoosier and never mentions him. He does bring up on (page 17) the case of a Methodist named Hosier J Durbin who was placed in the minutes of the Methodist conference as Hoosier J Durbin. Dunn states the secretary misspelled the man’s first name.
Could that have been because Harry Hoosier who was an illiterate Methodist black preacher often spelled his name Hosier and the church secretary associated the famous preacher and Mr. Durbin with the common term Hoosier used throughout Indiana after Finley’s poem was published?
Was the first name given to him by his parents in honor of the great Methodist circuit riding preacher?
Hoosieroon (Finley made this up for his poem as a fictitious Spanish origin)
(Pages 4, 24-25) John Finley’s 1833 poem ‘The Hoosier’s Nest’ according to JP Dunn was unquestionably the chief cause of the widespread adoption of the term Hoosier in Indiana. John Finley’s daughter Sarah Wrigley told Dunn her father had no knowledge of the origin of the word (page 8) but people knew of the term Hoosier before he wrote the poem.
Houssieres (from French settlers)
(Page 25) Dunn states there is no French word approaching Hoosier. Our French to English research on Houssieres doesn’t come up with any hits although it may refer to a region in France. The word Hoosier came from the southern states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia which were not heavily settled by the French.
Husher (an intimidating rustic, probably the phonetic “Hoosher” pronunciation of Hoosier)
(Pages 12, 16) Dunn states, Nobody has ever produced any evidence of the use of the word “husher” as here indicated. It’s not found in any dictionary of any kind—not even in Bartlett’s. I have never found any indication of its former use or its present survival.
Hussar (European light cavalryman who arrived after Finley’s poem)
(Pages 13-14) From Colonel Lehmanowsky who served under Napolean. Dunn argues he was not in our state when the term Hoosier began to be used and the use of a term by a foreigner could not spring up and be adopted so quickly as our state nickname.
Huzar (from India by way of England)
(Page 27) means person of rank or superiority in India. This is 180 degrees opposite of the common meaning of Hoosier as the term was associated with someone uncouth, illiterate and back woodsy.
Huzzah (Revolutionary War exclamation)
(Page 18) Dunn debunks this theory and adds on this page numerous theories like this are derived from the south and the word was first applied to a rough, boisterous, uncouth, illiterate class of people.
Who’s ear (James Whitcomb Riley’s satiric reference to the rough nature of early Indiana settlers who fought in taverns and left various body parts on the floor)
Riley was born in 1849 and wrote this reference sometime after the word Hoosier was used and adopted but his writings and poems will live on through the ages.
Who’s yer / here (Indiana pioneers response to strangers knocking at cabin doors)
(Page 12-13) Dunn notes early pioneers didn’t ask who’s yer / here when approaching a cabin door. It was not in their vernacular.
“Who’s your [relative]?” and more
This is a modern day slang phrase and doesn’t date back to the original use of the word Hoosier.