Why Is Iowa Called the Hawkeye State?

Britt Archer

One story that explains Iowa’s nickname, the Hawkeye State, says it is a reference to an Indian warrior named Black Hawk, or Black Sparrow Hawk. James Edwards, a newspaperman, selected the nickname to honor the memory of Black Hawk, who was his friend. James Edwards lived in the town of Burlington, founded in 1833, and that was where the Indian skirmish that was named for the Indian warrior, the Black Hawk War, was fought in 1832.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Another story explains the Hawkeye State moniker a little differently, but in a related way. It says that a judge who also lived in Burlington, David Rorer, liked the nickname because it called to mind a character from the book The Last of the Mohicans. The judge, too, thought it would also serve to honor Black Hawk’s name this way.

The newspaperman and the judge together promoted the Hawkeye State as Iowa’s nickname. James Edwards even went so far as to rename the newspaper he published, incorporating “Hawk Eye” into the name. Officials of the Iowa Territory agreed with the two promoters and gave their blessing to the nickname in 1838, making it official. Iowa became a state in 1846, the 29th to join the union. Thanks to James Edwards and David Rorer, today Iowans are sometimes called Hawkeyes.

Black Hawk’s name in his native tongue was Makataimeshekiakiak. Black Hawk fought against United States soldiers who tried to move him and his people from Illinois to Iowa in what became known as the Black Hawk War. After the 15-week war ended in defeat for the Indians, the government brought him to Washington, D.C., where he was displayed before crowds of onlookers like a circus attraction. Death did not end this disgrace; his skeleton was displayed in Iowa’s governor’s residence. The skeleton later traveled to a museum in Burlington, the site of the war that bears his name, but fire consumed the remains and the rest of the museum in 1855, 17 years after the warrior’s death from a respiratory disease.

In addition to its nickname of Hawkeye State, Iowa has a few other nicknames based on its thriving agriculture. Land Where the Tall Corn Grows and The Corn State both refer to Iowa’s dominance as a prime producer of corn. Another nickname, Land of the Rolling Prairie, refers to the state’s topography.

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Discussion Comments


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.


@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.


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.

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