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Why Is Ohio Called the Buckeye State?

Dan Harkins
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ohio's decision to call itself the "Buckeye State" is a natural choice. The hardy tree with the distinctive seeds used to dot much of the landscape during the colonial acquisition of this territory, and it still does. Adding to the symbolic weight of the name, the Indian word for buckeye nuts, hetuk or "buck eye," was once applied by the local Indians to an early pioneer as a seemingly sincere term of endearment.

Colonists began to settle the Northwest Territories in the late 18th century, landing at the first outpost in what is now Marietta, Ohio. One of that city's founders, Ebenezer Sproat, reportedly became known as Hetuck to the natives. Some historians believe this is the first connection of Ohio to the nickname "Buckeye State." Though historians often note that this was due to Sproat's tall stature and popularity with the Indians, it is perhaps important to note that the buckeye tree's other nickname is "fetid buckeye" for the rotting smell it emits when its twigs or leaves are broken, despite all pleasant appearances. Also, the tree's eye-like nuts are toxic to livestock and humans alike.

Just before the Civil War, the "Buckeye State" nickname stuck to the national conscience when presidential candidate William Henry Harrison used the tree for symbolic gain. Harrison, a retired general from the War of 1812, was born in Virginia but settled in Ohio after the war, becoming a U.S. Congressman. On his second run for president in 1940, Harrison countered criticism from incumbent Martin Van Buren that he was too provincial by embracing the image. His supporters used a buckeye log cabin, festooned with strings of distinctive buckeye nuts, to install the candidate as a "log cabin candidate." Harrison became the nation's ninth president, then died on his 32nd day of service from pneumonia. The "Buckeye State" nickname stuck.

The Ohio State University has used the buckeye as its mascot and nickname since 1950. It is also the name of a popular confection. Made by dipping peanut butter fudge into milk chocolate, the chef leaves just a small pale pupil of fudge showing to mimic the buckeye seed's exposed basal scar, said to resemble a "buck's eye."

Though the buckeye tree, or Aesculus glabra used to proliferate throughout the state, farming and development has reduced its numbers. It remains the official state tree though. The nuts can still be found littering much of the landscape in the fall. Ohio parents often tell their children not to put them in their mouths.

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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By stl156 — On Jan 28, 2012

Although I can see that the buckeye tree is very distinctive the question I have is how did it become so appealing to people that chose to call Ohio home early on?

Most of the people who moved to Ohio were farmers and the buckeye tree provides nothing available to their livestock or to humans except maybe sturdy wood, but even then the buckeye tree is no different than any other tree that could be found and used for the same purpose.

Also, the buckeye tree emits such a foul odor that I do not understand what makes the tree so appealing to people and how it became known as the the Buckeye state.

Although this article does say that William Henry Harrison used the buckeye to his advantage to become President, he was more known for what he did in Indiana and is seen as more of a symbol of that state. Also, this was a very small portion of his campaign strategy so I just wonder how the Buckeye state came to be with all this considered, like how did it catch on?

By jcraig — On Jan 27, 2012

@JimmyT - You are absolutely correct. Think back to other historical figures that had nicknames coined after trees. Former President Andrew Jackson was named "Old Hickory" for his rough and tough personality and the fact that he never back down and stayed strong like a mighty hickory tree.

Historically people associate trees with being strong and mighty and that is why it makes sense that someone would pick a tree, or in Ohio's case part of a tree, to associate their state with.

The buckeye tree is distinctive enough that it is something that no other state can call their own and not only do they select it as the state tree they selected it to define their state.

This creates a sense of pride among Ohioans concerning their state symbol and makes them stand out when compared to other states.

By JimmyT — On Jan 26, 2012

@cardsfan27 - To be totally honest it is a strange name for a mascot of a University to have, but it also makes perfect sense when someone takes into context the symbol of the Buckeye in the state of Ohio.

The Ohio State University is located in the capitol, which is in Columbus and since the state of Ohio is called the "Buckeye State" it only makes sense that the major college that is located in the capitol pick a symbol by which they can associate themselves with as Ohioans.

I also think that there is more to the buckeye that people think as the trees are seen as mighty and powerful and are distinctive when compared to the rest of trees.

The buckeye tree has enormous historical significance in the state of Ohio and I feel that it only makes sense that the Ohio State University picked it as their mascot with all things considered.

By cardsfan27 — On Jan 26, 2012

I find it very strange that a powerhouse college in sports would pick their team name after not just a tree, but something that comes from the tree that is considered very undesirable and provides little use for humans.

I know Ohio State University was a powerhouse even back before they had a mascot and I just find it strange that they would pick something such as a Buckeye to become the symbol of their University as well as the mascot by which all athletes and students of the University associate themselves by.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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