Shake Rag Street
Legend has it that at mealtime, the Cornish miners would be signaled that it was time to eat by their wives, leaning out of the windows and waving rags above their heads.
The population of southwestern Wisconsin swelled in the 1820s and 1830s as miners came to the area to dig for lead. After the lead petered out, many miners headed west for new diggings, some lured to California by the discovery of gold in 1849.
(Marlys Millhiser wrote about Cornish miners in Colorado in her novel, The Mirror.)
Photo taken by J.R. Manning in May 2012
Wisconsin is known as "The Badger State" and the University of Wisconsin adopted the Badger as the team mascot/nickname in the 1880s. The term grew out of the lead mining in southwestern Wisconsin in the early 19th Century.
At first, many of the miners came up from southern Illinois to work in the mines, during the mild summer months. When the weather got cold, they went back to southern Illinois, only to return again in the spring. The migrating miners were called "Suckers" because of a fish, a member of the carp family, that was also known to migrate. The area became known in those days as "The Sucker State."
When the miners from out east, many of them Cornish immigrants, came to the area to work the lead mines, they could not return home for the winter months and began to build more substantial dwellings. At first, many of them simply dug out a borrow in the side of the hill and built some sort of a covering for the entry. The talk was that the miners "…live like badgers…" and before long, the name stuck. Like the term "sucker" the term was really a pejorative at first, but soon gave way to a more positive connotation.
(Sound familiar? A similar Wisconsin nickname phenomenon repeated itself in the 1990s with the name "Cheesehead". "Cheesehead" started as an insult from south of the border but was soon turned into a positive by an enterprising manufacturer of foam hats, shaped like wedges of cheese. At first, the term "Cheesehead" referred mostly to fans of the Green Bay Packers but today it is applied to anyone from Wisconsin, also known as "America's Dairyland".)
The name "Badger" did not come into popular use until Byron Kilbourn, one of the founders of Milwaukee, named a steam ship Badger in 1837 and a newspaper, published in Platteville, used the name "Badger" on the masthead.
The University of Wisconsin began using the "Badger" nickname in the 1880s and even tried using a live badger as a mascot. The live badger turned out to be a rather ill-tempered fellow that was uncontrollable, and he was retired to the Henry Vilas Zoo. In 1940, a commercial artist named Art Evans drew the first rendition of Bucky Badger, and with a minor upgrade in 2003, has appeared the same way ever since. In 1949, a contest was held and UW student Bill Sachse submitted the winning name, Buckingham U. Badger.
But even Bucky owes his origins to the Cornish lead miners, who loved like badgers, so many years ago.