Why are the people of Ohio known as buckeyes? It once was an insult

The distinctive "eye" marks out the nuts from an Ohio buckeye tree.

Ohio is known as the Buckeye State because buckeye trees were prevalent in the area when the territory was settled in the late 18th century. The buckeye gets its name from its distinctive nutlike seed that, when dried, appears a rich, dark brown color with a single lighter brown spot that resembles the eye of a deer.

The Ohio buckeye, Aesculus glabra, was adopted as the state tree in 1953. Ohio State University took Buckeyes as their mascot in 1950.

But why are the people of Ohio called buckeyes?

Historian S.P. Hildreth reported the story of the first use of the buckeye nickname in 1788 when Col. Ebenezer Sproat arrived at Marietta, Ohio, the first permanent settlement in the Northwest Territory. Sproat appeared in his spruced up military uniform and cocked hat, impressing the Native American traders who called him “hetuck,” the Shawnee word for “eye of the buck deer” or “Big Buckeye.”

Dr. Daniel Drake was a pioneering physician as well as historian and writer in Cincinnati's early days.

Early pioneers in the Ohio Valley were already known as buckeyes when Dr. Daniel Drake, a physician and historian in Cincinnati, presented a speech on Dec. 26, 1833, extolling the virtues of the buckeye tree and advocating it to be the symbol of Ohio.

The buckeye tree was found naturally in the Midwest and its soft wood was ideal for  building log cabins or gouging out troughs to create spoons, bowls and cradles.

This plaque identifies an Ohio buckeye tree on the campus of Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio.

But, as Drake recounted, settlers who arrived later were dismissive of the native-born Ohioans, finding them “untaught, awkward,” and likened them to the buckeyes – native and soft.

“Buckeye was, therefore, at first, a nickname – a term of derision,” Drake said in his speech. “Those very children, have, however, raised it into a title of honor!”

After spelling out the metaphor – buckeyes were valuable as resources, pleasing to the eye and difficult to kill – Drake concluded that the buckeye was a suitable symbol, saying:

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