Webster’s Third International Dictionary (1971) defines Hoosier as “(n.) an awkward, unhandy, or unskilled person, especially an ignorant rustic”; “(capitalized) a nickname for an Indianan”; “(adj.) of or relating to Indiana or its people”; “(slang, v.) to loaf on or botch a job.” A Hoosierism is defined as “a turn of speech typical of or peculiar to natives of a geographic area centered on Indiana.” Dictionary definitions, as we know, can be rather flat, and those above are poor capitulations to the enthusiasm and complexity of the “Hoosier spirit” that defined Indiana’s involvement in the Civil War after Morgan’s Raid.
In 1863, John Morgan and his mounted infantry raided Indiana with the intent to rouse Confederate sympathies that presumably lay hidden in the “Copperhead” mindset, thought to be prevalent in Southern Indiana at the time. (A Copperhead was a northerner who harbored secret favor for the Confederacy—their disloyalty was compared to the poisonous snake by the same name, lying in wait, ready to strike out and bite at any moment.) Instead of stirring the snakes, Morgan’s raid had the opposite effect of galvanizing Indiana’s loyalty to the Union, spurring military involvement, homefront support, and a unifying shift in attitudes—especially for Southern Indiana. Families there had to make life-altering decisions, and they overwhelmingly rose to the occasion, forming militia, chasing after Morgan, and standing up for the cause of the Union.
This historic moment allowed Hoosiers to literally redefine themselves, individually and as a community. The 1863 Hoosier spirit was one of innovation, tenacity, and patriotism, and yet it was, and remains, adaptable to any challenge. You might say that a Hoosier is definitively undefinable, and certainly inimitable.