When I started this series, I said it was out of boredom due to the lack of college sports, but there was a secondary reason as well. Growing up an Iowa fan and going to road games I would hear a “What’s a Hawkeye chant?” This got worse in school at Wisconsin when it was chanted anytime my hometown Hawks came to Madison. Being from Iowa City, I knew the answer but evidently no one else did. So where did this unique moniker come from?
It all traces to great American author James Feinimore Cooper’s epic novel, The Last of the Mohicans (also a Daniel Day Lewis film). The main character in the book was Hawkeye who went around doing a lot of bad ass things. Written in 1826, the book was hugely popular. At about the same time, folks first started to move to the area that would become known as the state of Iowa. In fact, the territory was formed in 1838 (after Wisconsin became a state) and just 8 years after that Iowa itself became a part of the union.
From book to Iowa happened in 1832/1833 when a Burlington newspaper was promoting the area to live in and used the character from the popular novel. In fact, the paper even changed its name to the Hawk-Eye. This was in honor of the natives who lived in Iowa and fought bravely in the Black Hawk War as well as the book’s lasting popularity in the nation. The name stuck and people in Iowa were called Hawkeyes, as well as the Territory getting the nickname attached. When Iowa became a state, they were called the Hawkeye state. There’s even a town of Hawkeye, Iowa. It was only natural for the state’s first, largest and flagship university to adopt the nickname.
It is pretty fitting that the university would be in Iowa City and named after a literary character, considering it is one of just five Cities of Literature as well as home to the nation’s best writers workshop. It is also safe to say that no other school’s nickname has its roots in a book. This is a prime example of how this league has some of the most unique origin stories of the team names. Also, this just proves that if you do the “What’s a Hawkeye chant,” you are illiterate…okay, maybe that is going a little too far.
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More Behind the Nickname:
- Behind The Nickname: Illinois Fighting Illini
- Behind The Nickname: Indiana Hoosiers
- Behind The Nickname: Iowa Hawkeyes
- Behind The Nickname: Michigan Wolverines
- Behind The Nickname: Michigan State Spartans