Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be A Hoosier?

What is a Hoosier?  The etymology is frequently disputed, but I'm not here as a pedantic, disinterested observer catalogueing categories of men he believes inferior, but rather as a native Hoosier myself and one who has somehow come to love his home dearly.  So I'm not going to bore you with endless references to dated articles about where the term originated or what it means; I'm going to apply Occam's Razor and say the term came about because someone made it up and it stuck.  In common usage, it obviously means "A person from Indiana" but that isn't the thrust of this article either.

So the question, then, is not "What is a Hoosier?" but [u]"What does it mean to be a Hoosier?"[/u] and that is the answer which I would like to attempt today.

I am a native born Hoosier, born and raised in Jefferson County on the banks of the Ohio.  You may not know this, but Madison, IN was the site of the state's very first railroad, in 1836-37, on a ludicrous incline that required a 413 foot rise over 7000+ feet of distance.  Since this is the county of my birth, I thought this might be the logical place to start.  The hills above what is now downtown Madison are mostly limestone, and the cut was accomplished with black powder and back breaking labor over a period of about five years.  At the time, Madison was a thriving river port; most of the labor was accomplished by Irish immigrants off the river under three contractors.

Why the history lesson?  Because the Hoosier (both native and adopted sons) doesn't let trivial things like limestone cliffs stop him.  Stoicism, or garden variety stubborness?  I cannot say, in truth-but my ancestors built that damn railroad and set up what was at the time the steepest train line ever built-like seriously, most steam engines of the era couldn't actually travel on it and had to be assisted by teams of clydesdales.  Ludicrous?  Sure.  But lthe old timers like to say they did it specifically because it was impossible.

Stepping back from the regional history, then, what does that say about the Hoosier mindset?

A Hoosier doesn't back down from something just because it is impossible.  A Hoosier overcomes.  A Hoosier endures.  A Hoosier digs in his heels and refuses to listen to the naysayers; you cannot, after all, tell a Hoosier what he cannot do.  A Hoosier, put simply, does what he must.  Most folks would say the incline itself was folly-it was sold off in 1852 to a private corporation who attempted to build a route around it-but to me, the incline represents the twin concepts of Hoosier practicality and pride.  Practicality, because we got it done, and Pride, because we had to do it.

Part 2 Forthcoming.

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