What is a Hoosier?

What exactly is a Hoosier? Simply put, a Hoosier is someone from Indiana, but what is the origin of the word? Theories abound, but I don’t believe there is a consensus about the origin. In fourth grade Indiana state history, we heard several different stories about Hoosier.

Origin theory

There’s the story about a knife fight in a tavern in the 1800’s in which a man’s ear was cut off. Upon entering, the constable asked “Who’s ear?” Then there’s the story about a late knock on the door with a reply from the occupant, “Who’s ‘ere?’ The best explanation I have heard–because it applies to me–is that a Hoosier is a Kentuckian that ran out of money on the way to Michigan.


Sadly, I didn’t understand or know about this connection to my family until just a few years ago. You see, my grandfather is a very proud person. As he tells it, we are Hoosiers through and through. I remember as a kid, we had reunions with the “wealthy” side of the family–oddly enough, almost none of them named Haines. I’m not exactly sure how these people are Haines but that’s what I grew up knowing. For my grandfather, a person’s identity is determined most heavily on their earning potential or how much they have. So, in his mind, if he admitted that we could possibly be a poor family from Kentucky then he would be reducing his own self worth.

Ironically, that’s just what happened–as I was recently told by my Dad. You see, my great-grandfather Dewey and great-grandmother Lucille were both from Kentucky. Both of those families were from Appalachia–even more hillbilly than other Kentucky folk! At some point after they were married, Dewey decided that he wanted to move the family to Michigan. I’m sure his reasoning was to get away from his in-laws as I’ll discuss later. Anyways, Dewey and the family never made it to Michigan. He ran out of money in Indianapolis and that’s where they stayed.

Shotgun wedding

In the same story where I learned about our family roots, I also learned how Dewey and Lucille came to be married. One thing that was ALWAYS clear to me was the Dewey couldn’t stand his wife. For many years they slept in separate bedrooms and later in life didn’t live together. I always questioned why two people who seemingly hated each other could or would get married. That’s when I learned about the “shotgun wedding”.

Dad recently told me that Lucille’s dad was literally holding a shotgun to Dewey’s head at the wedding. Why you ask? Well, apparently Lucille was already pregnant with my grandfather Edwin. So, it wasn’t so much a marriage of desire as necessity. A “Marry my daughter or else” kind of thing. Not surprisingly, Dewey was in a hurry to flee Kentucky!


I don’t know how much of this true but none of it would surprise me. Grandpa Edwin (PawPaw) was always a very prideful person. I always felt that he was prejudiced against my mom and her family from Alabama. Growing up, I think he held a sense of pride that he had worked at Western Electric and made good money–never mind that he hated his job. On the other hand, Dad (his son) always made decent money but nothing to make us rich. I have more pride in Dad because he made much of little. He’ll be the first to admit that he wasn’t the sharpest tack in the box, but dad did a great job supporting us. Better yet, he ALWAYS did something he loved. He fell in love with typography and printing when he was 19 and did it until he retired at 65.

When I was in high school, it was decided that I would go to Rose-Hulman and major in Chemical Engineering. I had an aptitude for math and science and although I scored highest in horticulture and Actuarial Science, I followed my family’s desires. Therefore when I left Rose-Hulman, I felt a certain level of shame–both within and without–for my failure. My hatred of engineering seemed less important than the earning potential I left on the table. It took me many years to get over this but over time, I have found myself thinking more and more like my “hillbilly” family.


I know how intelligent I am and what I can accomplish. However, I am less concerned about becoming a millionaire and more about doing what makes me happy–and encouraging others to do the same. As I get older, I yearn more for the simple life. Take away my computer and give me a field to cultivate, a hill to transform or a wood thing to build. I envy the people that can do that without the worry of how much they have. Hand it all over God we say, but that’s easier said than done–a life-long learning experience for many of us.

So, if you see me in torn, soiled pants, battered work gloves, standing over an unfinished hole withhold your judgement! I’m probably having the time of my life!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: