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Kansas Nicknames

The state of Kansas has been known by a number of different nicknames, most popular is the Sunflower state. The native wild sunflower grows around the state was was named the official flower in 1903.

Jayhawker is a common nickname, but historians disagree on its origin. William E. Connelly, author of History of Kansas (1928), explained a possible source for the nickname. "The term Jayhawker was applied along the border at the beginning of the (Civil) war to irregular troops and pillaging bands on both sides. It was accepted by some of the Kansas soldiers, and soon came to be the name by which all of them were known. It now includes all Kansas people. The origin of the name is unknown, that given by Wilder and Ingalls being erroneous. The name was in use in Texas and the West many years before Kansas was a territory."

D. W. Wilder, in his Annals of Kansas (1886), said "One morning, in this year (1856), Pat. Devlin, a Free-State Irishman, rode into Osawatomie on a horse heavily laden with many kind of goods. 'Have you been foraging, Pat?' 'Yes, I've been out jayhawking. We have a bird in Ireland, we call the jayhawk; it worries its prey before devouring it' and jayhawking is a good name for the business I've been in.' This is the only known origin of this word. Colonel Jennison, early in the war, called himself and his soldiers Jayhawkers, and the name soon came to be applied to all Kansans."

Professor Frank W. Blackmar, University of Kansas, wrote in his Kansas Facts (1931), "The Jayhawk is a myth . . . The myth had its rise in the characters of two birds that frequent the Missouri Valley, namely the blue jay, a noisy, quarrelsome robber . . . and the Sparrow hawk, a genteel killer of birds, rats, mice and rabbits and, when necessary, a courageous and cautious fighter. Just when, where and by whom the names of the two birds were joined in 'Jayhawk,' and applied to human beings, no one knows. However, it is known that the term 'Jayhawk' originated in the home territory of these birds somewhere between Texas and Nebraska. It is known that it was applied to an overland company of gold seekers on their way through Nebraska to California. It was applied to Jennison's band of freebooters, to Montgomery's rangers, to Missouri guerilla bands of border ruffians, and finally, in a general way, to the free-soilers of Kansas. . . . It is not known how the name gradually became applied to all residents of Kansas.  . . . The Jayhawk myth has become a spirit of progress and power . . . Only the spirit of comradeship and the courageous fighting qualities to make and keep Kansas free, remain."

Kansas earned the nickname wheat state and breadbasket in the early 20th century when it became a leader in wheat production.

Entry: Kansas Nicknames

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 2013

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.