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 22, 2016
Origin of “Sucker” (Illinois nickname)

People from Illinois were called “Suckers” in the 1800s, and Illinois was called the “Sucker State.” As explained in an 1845 issue of the Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle by someone “who was at the christening,” people from southern Illinois went to work at the lead mines in Galena, Illinois, in 1827—traveling upstream just like suckers (fish). The first “Sucker” citation is from the article “The Lead Mines of Upper Missouri” in 1831:

“The Suckers were from Illinois, and so called because most of them, like the fish of the same name, came up the river in the spring and returned in autumn.”

Illinois was called the “Sucker State” by at least 1834. The nickname “Sucker” is mostly of historical interest today. 


Google Books
September 1831, New-England Magazine, “The Lead Mines of Upper Missouri,” pg. 224:
About one-fourth of the settlers were foreigners, principally Irish. The rest, as classified by themselves, were Missourians, Suckers, and Pukes;—the latter name implying natives of Kentucky. The Suckers were from Illinois, and so called because most of them, like the fish of the same name, came up the river in the spring and returned in autumn.

5 April 1832, Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), “Song,” pg. 3, col. 3:
Young Illinois never tire!
Illinois Suckers, young and raw,
Were strung along the Sangamo!

25 June 1833, Portland Advertiser and Gazette of Maine (Portland, ME), “Excursion To Bangor—The East,” pg. 2, col. 4:
Some thirty years ago I was inquiring in Cincinnati for the West, and they said it was among “the Hoosiers” of Indiana, of “the Suckers” of Illinois—cant names given the residents of these States.

Google Books
22 February 1834, New-York (NY) American, “Review of the Week,” pg. 2, col. 1:
There was a long-haired “hooshier” from Indiana, a couple of smart-looking “suckers” from the southern part of Illinois, a keen-eyed leather-belted “badger” from the mines of Ouisconsin, and a sturdy yeomanlike fellow, whose white capote, Indian mockasons, and red sash proclaimed, while he boasted a three years residence, the genuine wolverine, or naturalized Michiganian. Could one refuse a drink with such a company? The spokesman was evidently a “red-horse” from Kentucky, and nothing was wanting but a “buckeye” from Ohio, to render the assemblage as complete as it was select.

Google Books
14 June 1834, New-York (NY) Mirror, “A Peep at Washington,” pg. 398, col. 3:
They smiled at my inquiry, and said it was among the ‘stoosiers’ of Indiana, or ‘the suckers’ of Illinois.

19 July 1834, Sangamo Journal (Springfield, IL), ‘Volunteer Toasts,” pg. 2, col. 3:
By Julius Simmons: The Sucker State: May this “Sucker,” ere long, become a lofty and magnificent tree.

19 August 1834, New York (NY) American, pg. 2, col. 2:
NAMES. A writer in the Illinois Pioneer says: that, the following nick-names have been adopted to distinguish the citizens of the following states: --

In Kentucky they’re call’d Corn-Crackers,
Ohio, ....................Buckeyes,
Indiana .................Hoosiers,
Illinois ..................Suckers,
Missouri, ...............Pukes,
Michigan, T. ..........Woolverines.
The Yankees are called Eels.

Google Books
A Winter in the West
Volume 1

By Charles Fenno Hoffman
New-York, NY: Published by Harper & Brothers
1835
(Note to “sucker.” The rest of the text is identical to the February 22, 1834 citation, above.—ed.)
*So called after the fish of that name, from his going up the river to the mines, and returning at the season when the sucker makes its migrations.

Google Books
Trip to the West and Texas
By Amos Andrew Parker
Concord, NH: Printed and Published by White & Fisher
1835
Pp. 86-87:
Those of Michigan are called wolverines; of Indiana, hooshers; of Illinois, suckers; of Ohio, buckeyes; of Kentucky, corn-crackers; of Missouri, pukes; &c.

7 November 1835, Gloucester (MA) Telegraph, pg. 2, col. 5:
The Editor of the Louisville Journal, speaking of Mr. Van Buren, asks: “Is it not well understood that he aims to be thought a ‘Buckeye’ in Ohio, a ‘Wolverine’ in Michigan, a “Hooshier” in Indiana, a ‘Corncracker’ in Kentucky, a “Sucker’ in Illinois, and a ‘Puke’ in Missouri? We think he is well entitled to be called a puke in every State.

30 July 1836, Chicago (IL) American, pg. 2, col. 5:
The ladies of Wisconsin have determined and decreed, that now and ever hereafter they will be known as “Hawk Eyes.” Look out for your “Chickens” neighbor “Wolverines.” The “Suckers,” “Hoozers” and “Buckeyes” must also be on the alert.

23 August 1836, American Traveller (Boston, MA), pg. 2, col. 3:
The ‘Gothamites,’ ‘Pukes,’ “Bay State boys,’ ‘Granite boys,’ ‘Green Mountain boys,’ ‘Chickens,’ ‘Buckeyes,’ ‘Wolverines,’ ‘Suckhers,’ ‘Hooziers,’ ‘&c. &c. &c.’ will hereafter be compelled to yield the palm to the ladies of Wisconsin, who now and henceforth are determined to be known as the Hawk Eyes.

Google Books
Recollections of Europe
Volumes 1

By James Fenimore Cooper
London: Richard Bentley
1837
Pg. 289:
Your Wolverines, and Suckers, and Buckeyes, and Hooziers would look amazed to hear an executive styled the White Fish of Michigan, or the Sturgeon of Wisconsin; and yet there is nothing more absurd in it, in the abstract, than the titles that were formerly given in Europe, some of which have descended to our times.

Google Books
The Clockmaker; or The Sayings and Doings of Samuel Slick, of Slickville
By Thomas Chandler Haliburton
London: Richard Bentley
1838
Pg. 289:
These last have all nicknames. There’s the hoosiers of Indiana, the suckers of Illinoy, the pukes of Missuri, the buckeys of Ohio, the red horses of Kentucky, the mud- heads of Tenessee, the wolverines of Michigan, the eels of New England, and the corn-crackers of Virginia.

Google Books
8 September 1838, New-York (NY) Mirror (New York, NY), pg. 86, col. 2:
These last have all nicknames. There’s the Hoosiers of Indiana, the Suckers of Illinoy, the Pukes of Missouri, the Buckeyes of Ohio, the Red Horses of Kentucky, the Mud-heads of Tennessee, the Wolverines of Michigan, the Eels of New-England and the Corn-crackers of Virginia.

Google Books
The Attaché:
Or Sam Slick in England

By Thomas Chandler Haliburton
Paris: Baudry’s European Library
1843
Pg. 130:
Why, as I am a livin’ sinner that’s the Hoosier of Indiana, or the Sucker of Illinois, or the Puke of Missouri, or the Bucky of Ohio, or the Red Horse of Kentucky, or the Mudhead of Tennesee, or the Wolverine of Michigan, or the Eel of New England, or the Corn Cracker of Virginia?

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.

Brooklyn Newsstand
16 September 1845, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, pg. 2, col. 1:
ORIGIN OF THE TERMS “SUCKERS” AND “PUKES.”—It is generally known throughout Yankeedom, that the citizens of Illinois pride themselves in the euphonious soubriquet of “Suckers,” and the Missourians in that of “Pukes,” by the origin of those nicknames is little known. Now to relieve some future antiquarian from the complexity and labor of investigating their origin, we would state that we met a gentleman the other day who was at the christening, and that therefore, there can be no dispute about what we are going to state. If, however, any one should have the temerity to call our statement in question, we pledge ourselves to produce living testimony, to their utter confusion, and a triumphant vindication of our statement. Let nobody dare to contradict us, then. The gentleman alluded to, gave the following as the origin of the above soubriquets. Soon after the discovery of the led mines on the upper Mississippi, the people of South Illinois, who had been mining in the less productive mines of South Illinois, would go to the upper mines in the spring, and as the Galena country had the reputation of horrid cold winters, they would return to the south in the fall. These migratory movements, as the corresponded in time with the ascent and descent of the suckers in the river, suggested to the miners who were fast anchored at Galena the soubriquet of wuckers, which they applied to these transient persons, and as they were all Illinoisians, the term soon became applied indiscriminately to the people of Illinois. So much for the term “Sucker.”

One fine day in Spring, when the time had arrived for the Suckers to appear, a steamboat arrived at Galena, crowded like a pigeon rost, with men. THe shout was soon raised that the “Suckers” were coming, but on the landing of the boat the men proved to be Missourians; which, when the miners discovered, they remarked that they thought the “Suckers” had come, but instead of that it now appeared that Missouri had puked, and the nick-name of “Pukes” was ever afterward applied to Missouri miners. From this circumstance originated the name of “Pukes” which is now generally applied to the Missourians.—Missourian.

OCLC WorldCat record
The sucker state: song & chorus
Author: Frank Berry; University of Oregon. Libraries. Historic Sheet Music Collection.
Publisher: 56 Fourth St, St. Louis Balmer & Weber 1855.
Edition/Format: Downloadable musical score : English

Chronicling America
4 July 1860, The Spirit of Democracy (Woodsfield, OH), “National Nicknames,” pg. 1, col. 7:
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, Clam Catchers; Pennsylvania, Leather Heads; Delaware, Muskrats; Maryland, Claw Thumpers; Virginia, Beagles; North Carolina, Tar Boilers; South Carolina, Weasels; Georgia, Buzzards; Louisiana, Creowls; Alabama, Lizards; Kentucky, Corn Crackers; Ohio, Buckeyes; Michigan, Wolverines; Indiana, Hoosiers; illinois, Suckers; Missouri, Pukes: Mississippi, Tad-Poles; Florida, Fly up the Creeks; Wisconsin, Badgers; Iowa, Hawkeyes; Oregon, Hard Cases.

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

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.
(...)
ILLINOIS—The Prairie State, the Garden of the West, the Sucker State. Suckers.

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

Compiled by Malcolm Townsend
Boston, MA: D. Lothrop Company
1890
Pp. 67-68:
NICKNAMES OF THE STATES.
Illinois...Sucker...It is related, this word originated at the Galena mines in the fall of 1822, at a time when there was a great exodus. A large returning party while boarding a steamer at the Galena wharf was asked, “Wher’ ye goin’?” “To hum,” was the reply. “Well,” was the rejoinder of an old miner, “ye put me in mind of suckers, they do go up the river in the spring, spawn, and all return down ag’in in the fall.”
[Sucker is a fresh-water fish of the carp family, genus, Catostomus.]
The lead mines also attracted many poor whites from Virginia and Kentucky, who had torn themselves away from the wealthy slave-owners, for a prospective betterment, satirists predicted they would “perish like sprouts, or ‘suckers’ to the tobacco plant, when stripped from their parent stem.”
Another derivation notes, it arises from the fact that western prairies in many places are filled with holes, made by the craw-fish, out of which early travelers, by means of a hollow reed sucked up the water that lay beneath; when these holes were found, the discoverer would call, “a sucker, a sucker,” in asking for a reed.

OCLC WorldCat record
The Sucker state.
Publisher: Mahomet, Ill. : O.D. Stiles, [1---?]-1915.
Edition/Format: Newspaper : English

Illinois Times
Thursday, March 11, 2004 01:16 pm
The Sucker State?
By Dave Koltun
(...)
Probably the most popular explanation of how Illinois came to be known as the Sucker State involves the state’s first lead mine, which was opened in 1824 near Galena. As word of the mine spread, thousands of men descended on Galena in search of work. Most of the job-seekers, from Missouri and southern Illinois, would come to Galena in the spring and work through the fall, then return home.

Because the Illinois workers traveled up and down the Mississippi on steamboats to get to and leave Galena, their migration pattern became a matter of note. Specifically, Missourians jeeringly referred to them as “suckers” in recognition of the fish by that name that migrates upstream each spring.

Posted by Barry Popik
Other ExpressionsOrigin of "Sucker" (Illinois nickname) • Friday, January 22, 2016 • Permalink