A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from January 23, 2016
Origin of “Gopher” (Minnesota nickname)

Minnesota officially became a state on May 11, 1858. Slightly before 1858, Minnesota had been called the “Gopher State” and its residents called “Gophers.” A widely reprinted 1845 newspaper list of state nicknames had included “Arkansas, Gophers,” but the Arkansas association with the “Gopher” nickname had only infrequent use. In 1851, “Beaver” had been suggested for Minnesota—Oregon became the “Beaver State” by the 1880s—but St. Paul’s Minnesota Pioneer wasn’t receptive to more animal nicknames at that time.

A September 1856 Illinois newspaper reported:

“A NEW STATE.—It is proposed by some of the Minnesota press to call her the ‘Gopher State,’ after her admission into the Union. Others prefer to call her the ‘North Star.’”

An August 1852 Prairie Farmer article about Minnesota had mentioned gophers—a big problem for farmers in the state. “Gopher State” (for Minnesota) was also cited by the Dubuque North West on October 22, 1857.

A popular 1857 (or 1858) cartoon by R. O. Sweeny had long been thought to have been the origin of Minnesota’s “Gopher” symbol. 

Minnesota does not have an official state animal. The gopher has been a symbol of the University of Minnesota since at least 1887, and its mascot is called Goldy Gopher.

Minnesota is also called the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and the “North Star State.”


Wikipedia: Minnesota
Minnesota (/mɪnᵻˈsoʊtə/; locally About this sound [ˌmɪnəˈso̞ɾə]) is a state in the Midwestern United States. Minnesota was admitted as the 32nd state on May 11, 1858, created from the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory. Its name comes from the Dakota word for “clear blue water”.

Wikipedia: Goldy Gopher
Goldy Gopher is the mascot for the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus and the associated sports teams, known as the Golden Gophers, as well as the defending UCA Mascot National Champion. During the year, Goldy makes over 1000 appearances and is at virtually all home games for University teams, usually wearing the appropriate sporting attire.

History
Minnesota became known as the “Gopher State” in 1857, the result of a political cartoon ridiculing the $5 million Railroad Loan which helped open up the West. The cartoon portrayed shifty railroad barons as striped gophers pulling a railroad car carrying the Territorial Legislature toward the “Slough of Despond”. The first U of M yearbook bearing the name “Gopher Annual” appeared in 1887.

Minnesota’s athletic teams became widely known as the “Gophers” by the 1920s but it was not until 1934 that the immortal Halsey Hall, great Minnesota sportswriter and broadcaster, dubbed Bernie Bierman’s all-gold uniformed team “The Golden Gophers” (Bierman chose the gold color because the football blended in with the uniforms!).

(Oxford English Dictionary)
gopher, n.
A native or inhabitant of Arkansas or Minnesota.
1845 in C. Cist Cincinnati Misc. 240 The inhabitants of..Arkansas [are called] Gophers.
1872 Harper’s Mag. Jan. 317/2 The various nicknames given to the States and people of this republic..Minnesota, Gophers.

Google Books
24 March 1838, Fort Madison (IA) Patriot, pg. 2:
If a division of the Territory (Wisconsin—ed.) be effected, we propose that Iowans take the cognomen of Hawk-eyes. Our etymology can thus be more definitely traced than that of the Wolverines, Suckers, Gophers &c., and we shall rescue from oblivion a memento, at least, of the name of the old chief (Black Hawk—ed.). Who seconds the motion?
("Gophers" probably refers to Arkansas, not Minnesota.—ed.)

Google Books
April 1845, Cincinnati Miscellany (Cincinnati, OH), pg. 240, col. 1:
Ohio, Buckeyes.
Indiana, Hoosiers.
Illinois, Suckers.
Missouri, Pewks.
Mississippi, Tadpoles
Arkansas, Gophers.
Michigan, Wolverines.
Florida, Fly up the Creeks.
Wisconsin, Badgers.
Iowa, Hawkeyes.
N. W. Territory, Prairie Dogs.
Oregon, Hard Cases.

Chronicling America
23 August 1845, Ripley (MS) Advertiser, pg. 1, cols. 4-5:
NATIONAL NICKNAMES.—It will be seen by the following from an exchange paper that the people of every state have nicknames, and some very curious and ludicrous ones:

The inhabitants of Maine, are called Foxes; New Hampshire, Granite Boys; Massachusetts, Bay Staters; Vermont, Green Mountain Boys; Rhode Island, Gun Flints; Connecticut, Wooden Nutmegs; New York, Knickerbockers; New Jersey, Clamcatchers; Pennsylvania, Leatherheads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Craw-Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizzards; Kentucky, Corn crackers; Tennessee, Cottonmanics; Ohio, Buckeyes; Indiana, Hoosiers; Illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pewks; Mississippi, Tadpoles; Arkansas, Gophers; Michigan, Wolverines; Florida, Fly-up-the-Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; N. W. Territory, Prairie Dogs; Oregon, Hard Cases.

August 1851, Prairie Farmer, “Minnesota,” pp. 366-367:
One thing I have observed which contradicts your oft repeated assertion that the Gopher is not seen north of the Illinois river. North of the Wisconsin and east of the Mississippi his works are as plenty as need be. Not the striped squirrel but the real bona fide gopher, as named by the French. A friend who resides near St. Anthony told me they were very destructive in his garden, and he has frequently shot them.
O. E. GARRISON

We have before noted that the Gopher is found north of the Wisconsin and east of the Mississippi.

27 November 1851, Minnesota Pioneer (St. Paul, MN), pg. 2, cols. 4-5:
WHY SHOULD MINNESOTA BE AMBITIOUS TO BE CALLED A BEAST?—Some people aim at one distinction and some at another. We know one man, who is content in achieving the reputation of being the greatest liar in the Territory. Another, thinks to gain immortality, by christening Minnesota, with some beastly soubriquet. This candidate for the immortality of giving a nick-name to the Territory, writes the following letter to the Mo. Republican; and received from that journal the reply that follows the letter:

GENTLEMEN:—As an old citizen of the country which now constitutes the Territory of Minnesota, I am very solicitous that the name (nick-name, I mean,) by which we are to be known by our neighbors of the Badger, Sucker, Hoosier, and other States, should be appropriate. That of Beaver seems to me singularly appropriate. The fur of the Beaver first attracted the Europeans to these Northern wilds; its habits strikingly correspond with those of a larger class of our citizens—lumbermen. It is the only animal which cuts down trees. The talents and propensities of the Beaver for hydraulics afford a correspondence too, to the application of water power which is so abundant, and destined to be a great source of wealth to the State. I think any one will see at a glance the fitness of the appellation of Beavers to Minnesotians. Some stupid fellow has suggested the name of “Elks,” and some other equally stupid one, that of “Woodpeckers.” I hope the only proper name will circulate, and be universally applied to us.

Our correspondent, a citizen of Minnesota, we think, makes a good suggestion as to the “Nick-name” of the Territory. We confess our hostility to all such names, whether applied to individual or States, but if they must have it, let it be appropriate. Our correspondent gives good reasons in favor of “Beaver.”


What a felicity of invention! Minnesota must be classed amongst the beasts; the writer is “very solicitous,” that our Territory should be written down a beast. Wisconsin is dubbed the Badger State, and as there ought to be a regular classification of animals, why Minnesota should come next in the ascending zoological chain, and ought to be the Beaver State. Some other original genius may arise in time, learned in Buffon and in Natural History, to make his own name immortal, by proving that Nebraska ought, by analogy, to be the Otter State. Then Beaver, contains such an ingenious allusion to the fur trade! What a fertile invention that old Citizen must have! What a lively perception of analogies! Certainly the name Beaver is worth an experiment, since beasts we must be; and we recommend, by way of trial, that the name be first applied to the man who suggested it, in honor of his astonishing powers of invention.

Chronicling America
27 December 1852, New-York (NY) Daily Tribune, pg. 6, col. 5:
MINNESOTA.
(...)
The greatest enemy the farmer will find here is the gopher; the ground is literally ploughed by them, so much so, that in many places their excavations made it difficult for us to proceed on horseback, as we were constantly breaking through, even where the ground appeared smoothest.

May 1854, Prairie Farmer, “Gophers,” pp. 190-191:
He dwells in Illinois, south of the Illinois river; in Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota, west of the Mississippi, and in Wisconsin north and west of the WIsconsin river.

Chronicling America
9 February 1856, Red-Wing (MN) Sentinel, pg. 1, col. 3:
From the Minnesota Republican.
MINNESOTA AS IT IS.
AGRICULTURE—GRAZING—MARKETS.
(...)
The gopher is an underground rascal, shy as a weasel, and just as spry. He is of the same species with the rat, about as large, wears tremendous whiskers, and lives like a gentleman—by stealing. Potatoes are his special delight; but other roots are not refused.

Chronicling America
6 September 1856, Ottawa (IL), Free Trader, pg. 2, col. 7:
A NEW STATE.—It is proposed by some of the Minnesota press to call her the “Gopher State,” after her admission into the Union. Others prefer to call her the “North Star.”

24 October 1857, Cleveland (OH) Daily Plain Dealer, “Minnesota All Democratic!,” pg. 2, col. 2:
Thus, as informant says, “will the Gopher State swing off under the Democratic banner, taking her position in the American Union as the 32d sister.” Huzzah for Minnesota!

Old Fulton NY Post Cards
28 October 1857, Oswego (NY) Daily Palladium, “Minnesota Election—All Democratic,” pg. 2, col. 4:
Thus, as informant says, “will the Gopher State swing off under the Democratic banner, taking her position in the American Union as the 32d sister.” Huzzah for Minnesota! Her Democracy have done nobly in this canvass. God bless them.—Dubuque North West, Oct. 22.

11 November 1857, Daily Iowa State Democrat (Davenport, IA), pg. 1, col. 3:
THE GOPHERS AWAKE!!
(...)
We congratulate the Democracy of the Union! We congratulate the democracy of Minnesota!

6 February 1858, The Weekly Minnesotian (St. Paul, MN), pg. 2, col. 7:
The Monster Bill—$5,000,000 of Debt and Half a Million of Annual Taxation!
(This is the subject of the “gopher” cartoon.—ed.)

2 March 1858, Milwaukee (WI) Daily Sentinel, “Winona, Its Past, Present and Future,” pg. 2, col. 2:
WINONA, M. T., Feb 23, ‘58.
Messrs. Editors:—Public attention, of late, has been so much occupied with the affairs of Kansas, that I fear that we, of the “Gopher State,” will be lost sight of altogether, ...

13 April 1858, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, “Minnesota,” pg. 2, col. 2:
An active contest is going on in Minnesota on the subject of the $5,000,000 loan bill submitted to the popular vote by the late Legislature.
(This is the subject of the “gopher” cartoon.—ed.)

25 July 1864, Indianapolis (IN) Daily Journal, “National Nick-Names,” pg. 4, col. 2:
Minnesota...Gophers

22 March 1866, Louisville (KY) Daily Journal, “Nicknames,” pg. 1, col. 4: 
Minnesota, Gopher or North Star State.
(...)
The natives of these States are:
... Minnesota, gophers; ...

Google Books
June 1865, The Wisconsin Journal of Education, pg. 328:
The following are the “nicknames” of the native inhabitants of the different States:
... Minnesota, Gophers; ...

1 December 1865, The Rescue (Sacramento, CA), “National Nicknames,” pg. 3, col. 3:
... Minnesota, Gophers; ...

7 April 1866, The Daily Cleveland Herald (Cleveland, OH), “Geographical Nicknames,” pg. 2, col. 2:
... Minnesota, Gopher or North Star State; ...

OCLC WorldCat record
Gopher mirror.
Publisher: Minneapolis, Minn. ; St. Paul, Minn. : Ed. A. Stevens, -1874.
Edition/Format: Newspaper : English : Semi-weekly ed

Google Books
Annual Statistician—1876
Compiled by John P. Mains
San Francisco, CA: L. P. McCarty, Publisher
1876
Pg. 90:
NICKNAMES OF STATES AND THEIR INHABITANTS.
(...)
MINNESOTA—New England of the West. Gophers.

OCLC WorldCat record
The Gopher
Author: Minnesota Institution for the Deaf and Dumb.; Gallaudet University.
Publisher: Faribault, Minn. : The Institute, 1876-
Edition/Format: Journal, magazine : Periodical : English

OCLC WorldCat record
Gopher
Author: University of Minnesota. Junior Class.; University of Minnesota. Senior Class.
Publisher: Minneapolis, Minn. : Frank S. Lewis, 1888-
Edition/Format: Journal, magazine : English

Google Books
U. S.
An Index to the United States of America

Compiled by Malcolm Townsend
Boston, MA: D. Lothrop Company
1890
Pg. 70:
NICKNAMES OF THE STATES.
(...)
Minnesota...Gopher...Applied on account of the “honeycombed” condition of the State, incident to its numerous lakes. [Applied by the French to a species of gray squirrel (S. Richardsonii) native of this section, whose peculiarity was the “honeycombing” of the earth, probably the ground mole. The word “gopher” being an anglicized spelling of the pronunciation of the French word gaufre, honeycombed.]

Google Books
Universal Dictionary of the English Language
Edited by Robert Hunter and Charles Morris
New York, NY: Peter Fenelon Collier, Publisher
1898
Pg. 5343:
Minnesota. The North Star State (from its motto: “The Star of the North"). The Gopher State (from its numerous lakes, which make it seem as if honeycombed with “gopher” holes).

Minnesota Territorial Pioneers, Inc.
Origin of the name “Gopher State”
From The History of Minnesota and Tales of the Frontier by Charles E. Flandrau
Published by E W Porter, St. Paul MN 1900 and made available on-line through Project Gutenberg


Most of the states in the Union have a popular name. New York is called the “Empire State,” Pennsylvania the “Keystone State,” etc. As you come west they seem to have taken the names of animals. Michigan is called the “Wolverine State,” Wisconsin the “Badger State,” and it is not at all singular that Minnesota should have been christened the “Gopher State.” These names never originate by any recognized authority. They arise from some event that suggests them, or from some important utterance that makes an impression on the public mind. In the very early days of the territory--say, as early as 1854 or 1855,—the question was discussed among the settlers as to what name should be adopted by Minnesota, and for a time it was called by some the “Beaver State.” That name seemed to have the greatest number of advocates, but it was always met with the objection that the beaver, although quite numerous in some of our streams, was not sufficiently so to entitle him to characterize the territory by giving it his name. While this debate was in progress the advocates of the beaver spoke of the territory as the beaver territory, but it never reached a point of universal adoption. It was well known that the gopher abounded, and his name was introduced as a competitor with the beaver; but being a rather insignificant animal, and his nature being destructive, and in no way useful, he was objected to by many, as too useless and undignified to become an emblem of the coming great state,--for we all had, at that early day, full confidence that Minnesota was destined to be a great and prominent state. Nothing was ever settled on this subject until after the year 1857.
(...)
This cartoon, coming just at the time the name of the state was under consideration, fastened upon it the nickname of “Gopher,” which it has ever since retained. The name is not at all inappropriate, as the animal has always abounded in the state. In a work on the mammals of Minnesota, by C. L. Herrick, 1892, he gives the scientific name of our most common species of gopher, ”Spermophilus Tridecemlineatus,” or thirteen-striped gopher, and says: “The species ranges from the Saskatchawan to Texas, and from Ohio to Utah. Minnesota is the peculiar home of the typical form, and thus deserves the name of the ‘Gopher State.’”

Minnesota Daily
Is Goldie really a Gopher?
The University’s mascot could be facing an identity crisis. And the employees at the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History know why. “He’s actually a chipmunk,” said Sarah Compton, a student worker at the University’s Bell Museum of Natural History. “Have a look for yourself,” she said, pointing to a display mounted on the wall of the museum’s Touch and See Room.
By July 21, 2003
By Thomas David Guidera
(...)
The mischaracterization of the gopher began with a political cartoon by R.O. Sweeny, according to a 1997 Star Tribune article. The 1857 cartoon depicted humanized gophers - which were actually 13-striped ground squirrels, according to an article in the 1964-65 Moccasin. The Moccasin is the publication of the League of Minnesota Poets. At the time, no one noticed the gaffe.

When Minnesotan made the gopher an unofficial state animal, they also adopted the inaccurate image, according to the Moccasin article. At the same time, the University adopted the gopher, and the inaccurate depiction as its official mascot.

Minnesota Historical Society
March 28, 2012
WHY IS MINNESOTA THE GOPHER STATE?
Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Lori Williamson @ 9:29 am
One of my favorite things in the Collection is this political cartoon from 1858. I’m sure I don’t get all the points (155 years is a long time and well, one probably just had to be there) but it is a beautiful, large drawing containing many funny details, such as the devil as pied piper, the gin barrel, and the small figure reminding people that they “develop the resources of the state.” This cartoon answers the age-old (okay, actually 155 year old) question – why are we the Gopher state? This very cartoon started it all.
(...)
The artist is R. O. Sweeny from Saint Paul, and it was originally published as a broadside when the issue was being debated. So, from the messy ordeal of state development we got both the railroads and our nickname.  The original drawing of this cartoon is currently on display in the Library Lobby during Library open hours.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of "Gopher" (Minnesota nickname) • Saturday, January 23, 2016 • Permalink