The truth about the Badger State

by Harry on February 14, 2020

The Badger State does, in fact, have a state animal. It is the badger.[1] (We also have a state bird, a state tree, a state flower, and many other state things – in fact, a former student of mine is responsible for us having a state pastry which he says, with a mixture of bemusement and regret, was the legislative achievement for which he received the most plaudits from his constituents).

The badger is not a significant part of our local fauna. There’s one in the local zoo, called Buckingham (when one Buckingham dies, another takes its place, forever. Why Buckingham? I haven’t looked that one up, maybe there is some link with the Palace). And through googling I learned to my surprise that there are some in the wild, though nobody’s ever seen them (unlike possums, raccoons, chipmunks, opposums (whatever they are) and bloody squirrels that my UK visitors think are cute, but are in fact, like the other buggers I’ve mentioned, bloody pests). It is natural, but wrong, to assume that the Badger State is so-named after the badger. On the contrary, the badger got the honour of becoming our state animal because we were already the Badger State (and nobody had the imagination to think it would be funnier to have a different animal, like the chipmunk, or the cockroach, as its state animal). It was the Cornish miners who gave our state its nickname. When they came to the Western part of the state to mine tin, or lead, or something (they named town which they used as the base for mining “Mineral Point”, and if you go to Mineral Point it is still full of people with names straight out of a Daphne Du Maurier novel) were forced to live in holes dug into the hills which they recognized as being like badger setts. The nickname originates in the exploitation of workers, or the dignity of labour, depending on your preference.

You can see below (if I’ve managed to load the images correctly) the Wisconsin coat of arms (Yes, we have a coat of arms, as well as a bird, an animal, a flower, etc) followed by the Cornish coat of arms.

This was a public service announcement for the benefit of the President of the United States of America. And, to be fair, nearly everyone who lives in Wisconsin.

[1] Not, unfortunately, a cricket badger. That’s me.

{ 30 comments }

1

Kate Norlock 02.14.20 at 3:22 pm

Enlighten those of us who missed it: Did the president say something that indicated not knowing Wisconsin is the “Badger State”?

2

Harry 02.14.20 at 3:38 pm

No! But there’s this:
https://www.gq.com/story/trump-has-badger-questions

I’ve sympathy with his, what appears to be pathological, suspicion of badgers. They aren’t nice, and I’d advise him to steer well clear. (To be clear, I’m talking about the animal, not Wisconsinites, who are terrific).

3

Peter Belenky 02.14.20 at 3:45 pm

They do have badgers in California (where they consort with coyotes):
https://openspacetrust.org/blog/wildlife/

4

J-D 02.14.20 at 3:53 pm

Somebody should have told him that badgers are a polyphyletic grouping and do not form a valid clade.

5

Donald A. Coffin 02.14.20 at 4:11 pm

“Possums” and “opossums”–two names for the same animals.

And, as people around here (Indiana) like to point out, these critters eat a huge quantity of ticks. And, whether this is a consequence of eating ticks, I do not know, an inordinate number of possums get run over by cars.

6

J-D 02.14.20 at 5:31 pm

The badger is not a significant part of our local fauna. There’s one in the local zoo, called Buckingham (when one Buckingham dies, another takes its place, forever. Why Buckingham? I haven’t looked that one up, maybe there is some link with the Palace).

The website of the University of Wisconsin at Madison reports that the badger mascot of the football team was referred to ‘by names such as Benny, Buddy, Bernie, Bobby, and Bouncey’ until the Pep Committee held a naming contest, which was won by student Bill Sachse, with the name ‘Buckingham U. Badger, or Bucky’, ‘apparently’ because of a song with lyrics ‘that encouraged the football team to “buck right through that line.”‘

It also records that the original unnamed live badger mascot, from the 1890s, ‘had to be retired to the Madison Zoo’. So far my searches have revealed only one Madison zoo, the Henry Vilas Zoo, whose website reports that the zoo hasn’t always had badgers, but currently has two named Kaminsky and Dekker.

7

Harry 02.14.20 at 5:40 pm

Shows how long it has been since I visited the local zoo!

8

Tim Worstall 02.14.20 at 6:14 pm

“When they came to the Western part of the state to mine tin, or lead, or something (they named town which they used as the base for mining “Mineral Point”,”

The original ore exploited is called “galena” and is for lead (and in some deposits, silver as well). The Cornish turned up when the original surface deposits were running out and more skill and expertise needed – not uncommon for the Cornish to turn up at that point.

Galena IL is in the same field of deposits and the name of the town comes from the obvious source – galena the ore was named in Roman times.

And galena is the state mineral of Wisconsin….

9

Tm 02.14.20 at 6:16 pm

10

TheSophist 02.14.20 at 7:22 pm

(Frank) Kaminsky and (Sam) Dekker are both former Wisconsin basketball players now in the NBA. Cue snarky comment about either what a shame it is that they’re named after athletes rather than alums who have contributions in other areas or the dearth of alums who have such contributions. If we decided to (re)name them after faculty members who have made significant contributions, what would the one not named Brighouse be called?

11

marcel proust 02.14.20 at 9:57 pm

NB to the moderator: I screwed the html tag in the first version of this comment. Perhaps you can delete that one.

buck right through that line,”‘ sounds so much “almost but not quite, “close but no cigar” to a line of the Wisconsin fight song, “On Wisconsin” that I am skeptical of that story. The line in that song is

Plunge right through that line!

12

Alan White 02.14.20 at 10:56 pm

Thanks for this Harry! Not long after I had moved here decades ago for my UW job I heard about the miners/badgers tale, though not that there was a Cornwall connection. Nice.

Too bad that this is still probably too complicated for a stable genius.

13

Greg Koos 02.15.20 at 1:31 am

Badgers are like weasels, just bigger and meaner. Having been run off by one, from an old homestead, I write from experience, Illinois boy experience.

14

Dr. Hilarius 02.15.20 at 1:37 am

Badgers and opossums are both wonderful creatures. I’ve never had the pleasure of caring for a badger but have provided hospice care to a number of elderly opossums (they age faster than any other mammal of comparable size). https://www.flickr.com/photos/143137002@N06/29172060815/in/dateposted-public/

Tm at 9: what is being done to badgers in England is horrific. The European badger is a species distinct from the North American badger and is reputed to be a much more sociable creature than the North American species.

OP: No mention of skunks? You do have them in Wisconsin and they too are remarkable little creatures.

15

Chris Bertram 02.15.20 at 8:45 am

I’m surprised that nobody has so far commented on one surprising aspect of badger behaviour, they move goalposts.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-24459424

16

Neville Morley 02.15.20 at 8:49 am

@Tm #9: US badgers and UK badgers are only distantly related – different sub-families within the Mustelidae.

17

Matt 02.15.20 at 12:16 pm

I’m glad to learn the origin of the nickname for Wisconsin, though I’m sorry to learn that it’s not called that for being rich in badger life. That said, as noted, American badgers are pretty vicious beasts, unlike their much more sociable European (distant) relatives. I have had American badgers try to attack a truck I was driving, for example. Not fun!

I do want to stand up for opossums here, though. They are not pests at all. The only N. American marsupial, they are, while a big ugly, very useful beasts, eating many ticks and other unpleasant bugs while doing no harm at all. They should be encouraged at every opportunity. I gather that Australian possums are not closely related (and were supposedly named “possums” by Europeans who thought they looked like N. American opossums, though I’m not sure on that.) The Australian variety is much cuter, but is seen by many as a pest for making homes in people’s roofs, and not bothering to eat dangerous bugs. They are also much noisier than the N. American variety. Still, they are very cute.

18

SusanC 02.15.20 at 2:43 pm

My University has a resident (European) badger. It’s not a mascot or anything – it just lives in a small wood on campus and comes out to forage after dark.

This side of the Atlantic, the culling of badgers is a hot political topic … it would not be totally out of line for questions to be asked in Parliament about them. (I’m too lazy to search Hansard for the most recent reference).

19

SusanC 02.15.20 at 2:54 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the badger cull.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, in a debate on this very important issue, because I know that you take a close interest in it.

However, I am amazed that five years after the badger cull started we are still debating it. ….

20

Harry 02.15.20 at 6:21 pm

American badgers don’t move goalposts, to be fair. They move touchdown lines, which requires considerably more sophistication, but shows just how ruthless they are.

21

J-D 02.16.20 at 1:13 am

This side of the Atlantic, the culling of badgers is a hot political topic … it would not be totally out of line for questions to be asked in Parliament about them.

There was an episode of Yes, Minister in which Jim Hacker’s department was implicated in a planning decision which was reported to threaten a spinney inhabited by badgers. His daughter threatened to hold a nude protest in the spinney, with her boyfriend, but was discouraged from doing so when Humphrey Appleby informed her that he’d found documentation in the file which suggested that the reports of badger inhabitation were out of date and the only wildlife now inhabiting the spinney took the form of rats. Jim started to ask Humphrey whether there were any truth in this story, and Humphrey used it as a case study to demonstrate that there are some things it is better for a Minister not to know.

22

Anand Manikutty (and his A.I.) 02.16.20 at 5:23 am

I kinda “knew” that.

But then with the help of my A.I., I “know” virtually everything. But the fact is that this is one of those things that are in the far recesses of my memory. I may not be able to immediately recall the fact, but if I were prompted with a subset of the facts, for instance, in a trivia contest, I would probably come up with the right answer.

Funny how memory works.

(Note: This blog comment has been prepared with the help of an A.I. The trouble with A.I.’s systems is that although my A.I. can come up with some writings, and so can a lot of other NLP projects, it is hard for anyone to know whether what the A.I. is saying is correct and, if so, come up with a way to fix it. Thus, one can easily build an NLP system that says all sorts of stuff – say, that astrology makes sense or that global warming is a hoax – but it is only from wetare (human understanding) that correctness paired with consistency flows.) If I am wrong about anything, I would probably want to be informed that I am wrong. But I also wouldn’t appreciate it if my comments were moderated to such an extent that only my wrong arguments remained on this website. So, if you moderate out my comments like that, I will just blame the whole thing on the A.I. being wrong. In other words, I don’t know whether this is an equal opportunity forum. If you moderate my comments and provide explanations for the same, maybe I will continue to participate.)

23

Collin Street 02.16.20 at 6:20 am

After careful consideration I realised that my mental model of badgerness is pretty vague; “some sort of vaguely wombat-like creature that swims” is about the limit of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a zoo and I can’t recall even seeing one in a documentary. I grew up reading books that … weren’t all about them, but did mention them from time to time, but they’re less real to me than unicorns.

Them and foxes. Squirrels were the same until I went to the states and saw them in the wild. Is this how they filled medieval bestiaries?

24

bad Jim 02.16.20 at 8:17 am

So many obvious links are lacking! Here, for the sake of posterity and general hilarity, are two which come to mind: The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger and MrWeebl. A relentless honey badger has a key role in “The Gods Must Be Crazy 2”, but a perfunctory search didn’t serve up the clip I wanted.

25

bad Jim 02.16.20 at 9:57 am

And, opossums having been mentioned, I would not be Bad Jim if I didn’t tell the story about my attempt to introduce a stray cat, to whom I’d taken a fancy, to one of our dogs, a shepherd mix perhaps instinctively hostile. The scene takes place in the garage, dark and chilly, the cat feeding on top of the clothes dryer, my hand gripping the collar of the snarling dog …

and then noticing the possum sitting complacently on an adjacent shelf, taking as little notice of these carnivores as they did of it. Okay. Bad idea.

26

SusanC 02.16.20 at 2:01 pm

27

DaveL 02.17.20 at 12:52 am

Honey badgers have become internet-famous via the original “Honey Badger Don’t Give a Sh*t” video, and many subsequent short videos of badgers taking on all sorts of creatures. Currently highly featured is one that can be found by searching for “honey badger vs. snake vs. jackals”. Spoiler: the honey badger wins.

North American badgers are feisty but not in the same league as the African honey badger.

Opossums should be prized in New England, where they are expanding their range, because they will eat as many ticks as they can get. Ticks carry many nasty diseases. (Wild turkeys eat ticks as well.)

28

Raven 02.17.20 at 9:12 am

Along with the Cornish, Wisconsin also received a dose of the Welsh, as indicated by its still-existing village-names like Wales (SE WI, one county west of me) and Cambria (central WI, near the state capital), and the name of its famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright; there are still cymanfaoedd canu held in Wisconsin (and see the historical video at that link).

As with the trans-Atlantic badgers, these are a different subspecies, yes, but you can throw a lowercase-c celt across the Severn (where it’s narrow) between the two.

29

Harry 02.17.20 at 1:50 pm

The Welsh are, indeed, a heavy though slightly ghostly presence. For many years “He has gone to Wales” had sinister undertones, due to the presence, there, of a reform school for boys.

30

SusanC 02.17.20 at 5:09 pm

@28: I have relatives in Wisconsin, because some of my family emigrated from Wales a couple of generations back.

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