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 [the Great Miami and the Little Miami] 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 appeared 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 Martis 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, reclaimed 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 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 admirer 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 than 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 travellers 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 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 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 time 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 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 song:
“Oh, where, tell me where
Was your buckeye cabin made?
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
‘Twas built among the merry boys
Who wield the 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 there 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 meeting. 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 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 ant 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 travellers, 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 meetings 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 he 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 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 tomorrow we propose to celebrate a Buckeye centennial.
To the foregoing valuable article of Mr. Farrar we here append entire the speech of Dr. Drake to which he alludes:
“But why are the natives of our valley called Buckeyes, and to whom are they indebted for the epithet? Mr. President, the memory that can travel a few years into the last century, and it only, can supply the answer. As the buckeye has a soft wood and is peculiar to the valley of the Ohio, later emigrants to both banks of the river thought it a fit emblem for the native children, whom they found untaught and awkward, amusing themselves in the shade of its luxuriant foliage, or admiring the beautiful dyes of its ripening nuts, and Buckeye was, therefore, at first, a nickname—a term of derision. Those very children have, however, raised it into a title of honor! They can have no higher eulogy.
The tree which you have toasted, Mr. President, has the distinction of being one of a family of plants, but a few species of which exist on the earth. They constitute the genus Æsulus [sic] of the botanist, which belongs to the class Heptandria. Now the latter, a Greek phrase, signifies seven men; and there happens to be exactly seven species of the genus—thus they constitute the seven wise men of the woods; in proof of which, I may mention that there is not another family on the whole earth that possesses these talismanic attributes of wisdom. But this is not all. Of the seven species our emblem-tree was discovered last—it is the youngest of the family, the seventh son! and who does not know the manifold virtues of a seventh son!
Neither Europe nor Africa has a single native species of Æsculus and Asia but one. This is Hippocastimum, or horse-chestnut. Nearly 300 years since, a minister from one of the courts of Western Europe to that of Russia found this tree growing in Moscow, whither it had been brought from Siberia. He was struck with its beauty, and naturalized it in his own country. It spread with astonishing rapidity over that part of the continent, and crossing the channel, became one of the favorite shade-trees of our English ancestors.
Such is the power of the buckeye wand; and its influence has not been limited to the West. We may fearlessly assert that it has been felt over the whole of our common country. Till the time when the buckeye tree was discovered, slow, indeed, had been the progress of society in the new world. With the exception of the Revolution, but little had been achieved and but little was in prospect. Since that era society has been progressive, higher destinies have been unfolded, and a reactive Buckeye influence, perceptible to all acute observers, must assist in elevating our beloved country among the nations of the earth.
From the very beginning of emigration it has been a friend to the ‘new-comers.’ Delighting in the richest soils, they soon learned to take counsel from it in the selection of their lands; and it never yet proved faithless to any one who confided in it.
When the first ‘log-cabin’ was to be hastily put up, the softness and lightness of its wood made it precious: for in those times laborers were few and axes once broken in hard timber could not be repaired. It was, moreover, of all the trees of the forest, that which best arrested the rifle-bullets of the Indian.
When the infant Buckeyes came forth, to render these solitary cabins vocal, and make them instinct with life, cradles were necessary, and they could not be so easily dug out of any other tree. Thousands of men and women, who are now active and respectable performers on the great theatre of Western society, were once rocked in Buckeye troughs.
Every native of the valley of the Ohio should feel proud of the appellation, which, from the infancy of our settlements, has been conferred upon him; for the Buckeye has many qualities which may be regarded as typical of a noble character.
It is not merely a native of the West, but peculiar to it; has received from the botanists the specific name of Ohioensis, from its abundance in our beautiful valley; and is the only tree of our whole forest that does not grow else- where. What other tree could be so fit an emblem of our native population?
In those early days, when a boundless and lofty wilderness overshadowed every habitation, to destroy the trees and make way for the growth of corn was the great object—hic labor, hic opus erat. Now, the lands where the buckeye abounded were, from the special softness of its wood, the easiest of all others to clear, and in this way it afforded valuable though negative assistance to the ‘first settlers.’
Foreign sugar was then unknown in these regions, and our reliancé for this article, as for many others, was on the abounding woods. In reference to this sweet and indispensable acquisition, the buckeye lent us positive aid; for it was not only the best wood of the forest for trough, but everywhere grew side by side with the graceful and delicious sugar maple.
In a period of trying deprivation, to what quarter did these ‘first settlers’ turn their inquiring and anxious eyes? The buckeye—yes gentlemen, to the buckeye tree, and it proved a friend indeed, because, in the simple and expressive language of those early times it was a ‘friend in need.’ Hats were manufactured of its fibres—the tray for the delicious ‘pone’ and ‘Johnny-cake,’ the venison trencher, the noggin, the spoon, and the huge white family bowl for mush and milk, were carved from its willing trunk and the finest ‘boughten’ vessels could not have imparted a more delicious flavor or left an impression so enduring. He who has ever been concerned in the petty brawls, the frolic and fun of a family of young Buckeyes around the great wooden bowl, overflowing with the ‘milk of human kindness,’ will carry the sweet remembrance to the grave.
In all our woods there is not a tree so hard to kill as the buckeye. The deepest ‘girdling’ does not ‘deaden it,’ and even after it is cut down and worked up into the side of a cabin it will send out young branches, denoting to all the world that Buckeyes are not easily conquered, and could with difficulty be destroyed.
The buckeye has generally been condemned as unfit for fuel, but its very incombustibility has been found an advantage, for no tree of the forest is equally valuable for ‘backlogs,’ which are the sine qua non of every good cabin fire. Thus treated, it may he finally, though slowly, burnt; when another of its virtues immediately appears, as no other tree of our woods affords so great a quantity of alkali; thus there is piquancy in its very ashes!
The bark of our emblem-plant has some striking properties. Under a proper method of preparation and use, it is said to be very efficacious in the cure of ague and fever, but unskillfully employed, it provides a violent emetic; which may indicate that he who tampers with a Buckeye will not do it with impunity. The fruit of the buckeye offers much to interest us. The capsule or covering of the nut is beset with sharp prickles, which, incautiously grasped, will soon compel the aggressor to let go his hold. The nut is undeniably the most beautiful of all which our teeming woods bring forth and in many parts of the country is made subservient to the military education of our sons who, assembling in the muster-field (where their fathers and elder brothers are learning to be militiamen), divide themselves into armies, and pelt each other with buckeye balls; a military exercise at least as instructive as that which their seniors perform with buckeye sticks. The inner covering of the nut is highly astringent. Its substance, when grated down, is soapy, and has been used to cleanse fine fabrics in the absence of good soap. When the powder is washed a large quantity of starch is obtained, which might, if times of scarcity could arise in a land so fertile as the native soil of this tree, be used for food. The water employed for this purpose holds in solution an active medicinal agent, which, unwarily swallowed, proves a poison; this again admonishing those who would attempt to use up a Buckeye, that they may repent of their rashness.
Who has not looked with admiration on the foliage of the buckeye in early spring, while the more sluggish tenants of the forest remain torpid in their winter quarters? And what tree in all our wild woods bears a flower which can be compared with that of our favorite? We may fearlessly challenge for it the closest comparison. Its early putting forth, and the beauty of its leaves and blossoms, are appropriate types of our native population, whose rapid and beautiful development will not be denied by those whom I now address, nor disproved by a reference to their character; while the remarkable fact that almost every attempt to transplant it into our streets has been a failure, shows that it will die in captivity, a guaranty that those who bear its name can never be enslaved.
Finally, the buckeye derives its name from the resemblance of its nut to the eye of the buck, the finest organ of noblest wild animal; while the name itself is compounded of a Welsh and a Saxon word, belonging therefore to the oldest portions of our vernacular tongue and connecting us with the primitive stocks, of which our fathers were but scions planted in the new world.”
OHIO BUCKEYE, OR AMERICAN HORSE CHESTNUT
[from “The North American Sylva” by F. Andrew Michaux. Paris: printed by C. D’Hautel, 1819.]
PAVIA OHIOENSIS. P. Foliis quinatis, inæqualiter dentatis; floribus subflavis; fruc-
“This species of horse chestnut, which is mentioned by no author that has hitherto treated of the trees and plants of North America, is unknown in the Atlantic parts of the United States. I have found it only beyond the mountains, and particularly on the banks of the Ohio for an interval of about 100 miles between Pittsburg and Marietta, where it is extremely common. It is called buckeye by the inhabitants, gut as this name has been given to the parvía luteat, I have denominated it ‘Ohio buckeye because it is most abundant on the banks of this river, and have prefixed the synonym of ‘American horse chestnut,’ because it proved to be a proper horse chestnut by its fruit, which is prickly like that of the Asiatic species instead of that of the parviæ.
The ordinary stature of the American horse chestnut is ten or twelve feet, but it sometimes equals thirty or thirty-five feet in height and twelve or fifteen inches in diameter. The leaves are palmated and consist of five leaflets parting from a common centre, unequal in size, oval-acuminate and irregularly toothed. The entire length of the leaf is nine or ten inches amid its breadth six or eight inches.
The bloom of this tree is brilliant. Its flowers appear early in the spring and are collected in numerous white bunches. The fruit is of the same color with that of the common horse chestnut and of the large buckeye, and of about half the size. It is contained in fleshy, prickly capsules, and is ripe in the beginning of autumn.
On the trunk of the largest trees the bark is blackish and the cellular integument is impregnated with a venomous and disagreeable odor. The wood is white, soft and wholly useless. The value of the Ohio buckeye, or American horse chestnut, consists chiefly in the beauty of its flowers, which, with its rapid vegetation and hardy endurance of cold, will bring it into request both in Europe and America as an ornamental tree.”
MICHAUX says he found the large buckeye, or paila luau, in its greatest profusion and expansion in the mountains of the Carolinas and Georgia. He first met with it on the Allegheny mountains in Virginia, near latitude 390 [degrees] It there towers to the height of sixty or seventy feet, with a diameter of three or four feet, and is considered as a certain proof of the richness of the land. “The wood,” he says, “from its softness and want of durability, can subserve no useful purpose. Even in beauty this species is inferior to the common horse chestnut, and can never supplant that magnificent tree.” The engraving in this article is copied from that in the superb work of Michaux.
(as written by William M. Farrar and printed by Henry Howe in volume 1 pages 200-207 of "Historical Collections of Ohio" which was printed in 1888.)