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Term: badger [origin of name]


"The name 'Badger' state for Wisconsin had its origin in the lead mining districts of southwestern Wisconsin. Miners from the south (Illinois) in the early days were in the habit of working in the lead mines during the summer and returning south for the winter, migrating like suckers [a species of fish], hence the name 'Sucker" state. Those who came from the east, however, could not return to their homes in the winter and made for themselves 'dugouts' in the sides of the bluffs and hills, burrowing like badgers, hence 'Badgers' or permanent residents of the Wisconsin country."  From Wisconsin: comprising sketches of counties, towns, events, institutions, and persons, arranged in cyclopedic form, ed. by Ex-Gov. Geo. W. Peck (Madison, Wis., Western Historical Association, 1906).

This explanation is confirmed in a letter by Moses M. Strong (1810-1894) printed in the Wisconsin State Journal on Dec. 10, 1879. Strong came to the lead region in 1836 and had direct personal knowledge of both the speech and the habits of early lead miners and other pioneers:

"It was the custom of the earlier itinerant adventurers of the lead mines to go -- two together as 'pards' -- to 'prospect' in new and unexplored parts of the country, where neither food nor shelter could be obtained. Taking with them the few tools necessary to sink a 'prospect hole,' and the necessary supply of food; having fixed upon the site, the first effort made was to secure a shelter. Their limited means and the uncertainty of the duration of its occupancy forbade that any time or expense not absolutely indispensable should be devoted to providing their precarious abode.

"The result in general was an imitation of the habits of the badger by digging a hole into a side-hill; extemporizing for a roof rocks or sods, or both, of such dimensions as would suffice for two to sleep in, and to cook their frugal meals. If the miner did not succeed in finding good 'diggings' near the site thus selected, it was abandoned. But in many instances the 'prospect' proved to be a 'lead' and the 'Badger-hole' was occupied as a residence for a long time, and often replaced by a comfortable house, and was sometimes the nucleus of a hamlet or village.

"The term 'Badger' -- according to tradition -- was first applied to the occupants of these temporary subterranean residences, in derision; -- as the term 'Sucker' was applied to the migratory inhabitants of Southern Illinois, who, like the fish of the carp family, came to the 'mines' in the spring, and returned on the approach of winter; -- and afterward to all the inhabitants of the lead-mine regions, and by a not unnatural adaptation, has been applied to the people of the State and to the State itself."

The first recorded use of the term to designate Wisconsin apparently occurs in a letter from surveyor George W. Harrison to his colleague Lucius Lyon (Lyon Papers, Feb. 25, 1834), when he asks, "Will the 'Badger boys' have the pleasure of seeing you during the ensuing summer?" Harrison's use quotation marks may suggest that in 1834 it was still an uncommon usage. But in 1837, Milwaukee developer Byron Kilbourn (1801-1870) christened a steamboat the "Badger" and in 1840 a newspaper published in Platteville was named the Northern Badger --  indications that "badger" had quickly become a symbol for Wisconsin.

The University of Wisconsin in Madison began to use the badger name in the 1880s and by 1949 had adopted an upright, barrel-chested mascot named Bucky who since has become the most famous badger of all. View more information elsewhere at

View pictures relating to mining at Wisconsin Historical Images.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

[Source: Icon Wisconsin, an online exhibit at; and the works cited above.]

154 records found

B.P. (time)
Babe (logging)
backstay (maritime)
Bad Ax Tigers (Civil War military unit)
Bad Axe (county)
Bad Axe, Battle of
Bad River Reservation
Badger Army Ammunition Plant
Badger Battery (Civil War military unit)
Badger Guards (Civil War military unit)
Badger State Flying Artillery (Civil War military
badger [origin of name]
Ball-hammer (logging)
ballast (maritime)
ballast (railroads)
balloon frame (architecture)
Banick (logging)
bank (railroads)
Bank Riot (1861)
bannerstone (archaeology)
Barber-chair (logging)
barge (maritime)
barker (logging)
Barn-boss (logging)
barque; also bark (maritime)
Barstow-Bashford Affair (1856)
basalt (mining)
bast (farming)
Battalion (Civil War)
batteau (Fr.)
batten (farming)
Battery (Civil War)
bay (farming)
Bay View Tragedy
Baye, la
bayonet (Civil War)
beam (maritime)
Bean-hole (logging)
Beaux Arts (architecture)
Beaver Dam Rifles (Civil War military unit)
Beef Slough War
beekeeping and honey production
beer in Wisconsin
Bell-ox (logging)
Belle City Rifles (Civil War military unit)
Belly-robber (logging)
Beloit & Madison Railroad Co.
Beloit City Guard (Civil War military unit)
Bennett Law
berdache (Fr.)
Berdan's Sharpshooters (Civil War military unit)
bere (farming)
Berlin Light Guard (Civil War military unit)
Berlin Light Guard (Civil War)
Berliner (food)
big (farming)
Big Boy (restaurant)
Big-wheels (logging)
bilge (maritime)
Bindle (logging)
bird's-eye view
Birl (logging)
bivouac (Civil War)
black gang (maritime)
Black Hawk War (1832)
black history in Wisconsin
Black River pinery
Black River Rangers (Civil War military unit)
Black River Tigers (Civil War military unit)
Black soldiers in the Civil War
Black Thursday (November 21, 1968)
Black Thursday (October 24, 1929)
Black Yagers (Civil War military unit)
Blind-punk (logging)
Blizzard of 1881
block (maritime)
Blowhard (Civil War)
board feet (logging)
board foot (maritime)
boarding schools
boatswain (maritime)
bobber (railroads)
bobstay (maritime)
Bohunk (logging)
Boiler (logging)
boiler (railroads)
Boiling-up (logging)
Bolt (logging)
Bond Law (temperance)
boom (logging)
boom (maritime)
Boomage (logging)
Boomer (logging)
Boot-jack (logging)
booya (food)
bosun (maritime)
bourgeois (Fr.)
bow (maritime)
bowsprit (maritime)
boxcar (railroads)
brain drain
brakeman (railroads)
branch line (railroads)
Break out (logging)
breastworks (Civil War)
breeches buoy (maritime)
Brentwood, Battle of
brevet (Civil War)
brewing industry in Wisconsin
brick (architecture)
bridge (maritime)
Bridge War (Milwaukee)
bridges in Wisconsin
Brigadier General (Civil War)
brindle (farming)
broad gauge (railroads)
Broad-ax (logging)
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Browning Ruling (1896)
Brush a road (logging)
Brush-snow-fence (logging)
Bubble-cuffer (logging)
Bucking-board (logging)
Buena Vista Artillery (Civil War military unit)
bulkhead (maritime)
Bull (logging)
Bull Run, First Battle of
Bull Run, Second Battle of
Bull-cook (logging)
Bull-of-the woods (logging)
Bull-skinner (logging)
bulwark (maritime)
Bunching (logging)
bungalow (architecture)
Bunk (logging)
bunker (maritime)
Bunko (logging)
Burlington Rifles (Civil War military unit)
Burton Guards (Civil War military unit)
Bush a road (logging)
bushel (maritime)
Butt (logging)
butte (Fr.)
butternut (Civil War)
By-the-piece (logging)

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