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Why Is Iowa Called the Hawkeye State?

Amanda Holland
Updated May 22, 2024
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Most sources say that Iowa’s Hawkeye State nickname was inspired by a Native American warrior named Black Hawk and/or the character of Hawkeye in James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans. Though the exact history of the name is debated, most Iowans proudly refer to themselves as Hawkeyes.

Fun Facts About the Hawkeye State

  • Territorial officials in Iowa approved the Hawkeye nickname in 1838, nearly a decade before statehood.
  • Des Moines is the state capital.
  • Iowa was the 29th state to be admitted into the Union.
  • The mascot for the University of Iowa’s athletic teams is Herky the Hawk.
  • The grave of Sergeant Charles Floyd is in Sioux City. He was the only casualty of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
  • Iowa has other nicknames: the Corn State, Land of the Rolling Prairie, and Land Where the Tall Corn Grows.

What Does Hawkeye State Mean?

hawkeye state mean

The story of how the Hawkeye State got its name changes slightly depending on who is telling it. However, most sources agree on the basic underlying facts. There are two men largely responsible for the adoption of the Hawkeye nickname: David Rorer (a judge) and James G. Edwards (a newspaperman).

As (one version of) the story goes, in the early 1830s, Rorer was concerned that Iowa would be given an unflattering label by its regional neighbors. He thought it would be better if Iowa created its own nickname. He was determined to support the process, and he enlisted his friend James Edwards to help popularize a good state nickname.

It’s thought that Rorer had two inspirations for his chosen name. He loved literature, and it’s almost certain he knew of the character Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (one of the most popular novels at the time). However, Rorer probably also chose the name to honor a well-known Iowan historical figure: Black Hawk (Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak). This Native American warrior of the Sauk tribe was famous in the region for participating in the Black Hawk War of 1832. Siding with the British, Black Hawk fought against the U.S. to push American settlers away from Sauk territory.

Many sources say that Rorer and Edwards agreed that choosing “Hawkeye” as the state’s nickname would honor Black Hawk and be an easy sell thanks to The Last of the Mohicans. Both men worked hard to get Iowa’s citizens to adopt the name. Edwards moved to Burlington and renamed his newspaper The Hawk-Eye.

Rorer may have done even more; some sources say he was the ghostwriter of several anonymous letters widely published in Iowa newspapers. Collectively called “A Wolverine Among the Hawkeyes,” these letters were supposedly from a Michigan traveler visiting Iowa. While it’s not certain that Rorer was the true author, there’s little doubt that the letters helped secure support for the Hawkeye nickname.

Is Iowa an Indian Name?

The name Iowa is derived from a Native American Siouan tribe called the Ioway people. This name probably came from the Sioux word ayuhwa, which means “the sleepy ones.” However, the name is not itself an Ioway word; it was probably the term that other tribes called the Ioway. The name is thought to have started with the Dakotan word ayuxbe, which the French rendered as aiouez, and which then became ioway.

The Ioway people referred to themselves as Bah-Kho-Je in their own language of Chiwere. The name Bah-Kho-Je means “grey snow.” An alternate spelling is Báxoje.

What Are Other Iowa State Symbols?

iowa state symbol

Along with its Hawkeye moniker, Iowa has several other emblems. The state tree is the oak, and the wild rose is the official flower. While Iowa doesn’t have a state animal, it does have an official bird: the Eastern Goldfinch. The state’s motto is “ Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.” Its apropos song is The Song of Iowa.

What Is Iowa Famous For?

Along with its storied nickname, Iowa is famous for many other interesting things. The state has a history of progressivism; it desegregated schools in 1868, gave married women property rights in 1851, and legalized women practicing law in 1869. Iowa is the largest producer of pork, corn, and beef in the U.S.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Amanda Holland
By Amanda Holland
With career experiences that have used both math and grammar, Amanda Holland is a freelance writer and America Explained contributor. She spent several years as a signals analyst for the Defense Department, creating and editing reports for the intelligence community. After having two children, Amanda transitioned to freelance writing, allowing her to balance her passion for crafting content with her family life. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and playing video games.
Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Oct 01, 2014

Regardless of the origin of the name of The Hawkeye State, I think most people associate the term with the bird nowadays. The University of Iowa sports teams are called the Hawkeyes, and they use a hawk as their mascot. For this reason, most people simply assume the name Hawkeye State has something to do with the bird, and not a man named Black Hawk.

This is one of many examples of how things get confused over the years, and how something that once referred to one thing now means something totally different.

By Sporkasia — On Sep 30, 2014

@Feryll - I guess it does seem strange that the state of Iowa would be called The Hawkeye State after Black Hawk, but I have found that many people in the Midwest are proud of the history of the Indians who lived in the area. Even many people with no Indian ancestors take pride in the culture, traditions, and history of the Indians who lived in the area.

I think it is telling that James Edwards felt strongly enough about Black Hawk that he went to so much trouble to honor this man, who was an Indian. I think many prejudices are washed away when people get to know one another as individuals and don't depend on stereotypes to shape their opinions.

By Feryll — On Sep 29, 2014

I have read about Black Hawk and know a good bit about what has been written about his life, but I didn't know the name the Hawkeye State had anything to do with him.

The naming of the state after an Indian seems a bit strange because Black Hawk and his followers were treated so badly by the settlers and the military while he was alive. And as this article mentions, even his death was not enough for some people. They continued to disrespect him after his death.

Amanda Holland
Amanda Holland
With career experiences that have used both math and grammar, Amanda Holland is a freelance writer and America Explained...
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