Discover Why Iowa Is Called the Hawkeye State

Written by Patrick MacFarland
Updated: October 3, 2023
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From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters, the United States is a majestic country. While most people only know about California and New York, there are also gorgeous states in the middle. People consider these states flyover country, but the reality is, each state has its charm. Apart from their charm, each state also has a nickname. California, for example, is the Golden State. New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment. When it comes to Iowa, it is a wondrous state filled with fields, farms, and a rich indigenous history. That’s why its nickname is the Hawkeye State. 

But the question you may find yourself with is why? Why is Iowa called the Hawkeye State? Well, we’ll answer all your questions! We’ll also explore Iowa’s other symbols, a little history and geography of the state, along with some fun facts about the state. Let’s take a look! 

Why Is Iowa Called the Hawkeye State?

Des Moines, Iowa during winter

Several famous people were born in Iowa like John Wayne, Ashton Kutcher, President Herbert Hoover, and Cloris Leachman.


Located in the Midwest, Iowa is called the Hawkeye State. However, how the state got its nickname is debated by historians. No one really knows the exact stories. There are various theories we’ll give you, though.

The story goes, as is listed on the State of Iowa’s website, that two men who lived in Burlington, Iowa, came up with the nickname in 1838 after a judge was concerned about people coming up with a bad nickname for the state. Now, here is where people get a bit hazy on what actually happened. One theory is that they decided to pay tribute to Chief Black Hawk of the American Suak tribe. Others have theorized that it came from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans and there was a character named Hawkeye, who belonged to the Mohican tribe.

We may never know the truth of how Iowa got its nickname, but the story and theories are fascinating!

Iowa State Capitol Building

The Iowa State Capitol was built between 1871 and 1886.

©pabradyphoto/iStock via Getty Images

Iowa’s State Symbols

Like every state in the nation, Iowa has many state symbols — the state flower, state animal, state flag, state bird, and many more. The list below is a detailed list of all of Iowa’s state symbols.

  • State Bird: Eastern goldfinch (Spinus tristis)
  • State Flower: Wild rose (no specification, but most probably: Rosa pratincola)
  • State Motto: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”
  • State Rock: Geode
  • State Soil: Tama soil
  • State Song: “The Song of Iowa” by S.M.H. Byers
  • State Tree: Oak (no species established; most likely: Quercus)

History of Iowa

Like every state in the US, Iowa was inhabited by Indigenous tribes for thousands of years before the Europeans came to settle in America. The Native American tribes that lived in Iowa were the Ioway, the Missouria, the Otoe, the Illini, and the Dakota Sioux. They are an important part of the history and culture of the state.

When the French arrived, France claimed the lands as theirs and established roots. However, Spain and France fought for many years trying to take control of the land. The French won, but in 1803, the US purchased a big chunk of land that included Iowa. This became known as the Louisiana Purchase.

For the last fifty years, Iowa has become an important presence in American politics. Presidential candidates campaign in Iowa every four years and the state has been the first state to vote in caucuses in the presidential primaries since 1972.

Geography of Iowa

Stormy sky over corn field in American countryside

Sabula is an island located on the Mississippi River in Iowa and about 500 people are living there.

©Maksymowicz/iStock via Getty Images

Iowa is mostly a flat state with plains covering most of the state. These plains are extremely fertile, which makes them perfect for agriculture and farming. The northeastern part of the state is covered in cliffs and forested hills. The Mississippi River runs through Iowa, providing more irrigation and water for the state.

Wildlife in the Hawkeye State

Iowa is a geographically diverse state and because of the fertile land, it is home to an abundance of species of both plants and animals. Besides the farm animals you can find, there is also wildlife. You can find red foxes, white-tailed deer, and squirrels. Up in the sky, you can spot cerulean warblers and even scarlet tanagers. Because Iowa has many swamps, the state is home to yellow mud turtles and western hognose snakes, as well as Great Plains toads.

When it comes to the state’s flora, you will definitely be able to spot oak trees, since they are the state tree. There are also sycamore trees and sugar maple trees in Iowa. As for wildflowers that can make a perfect bouquet, look for morning glories, dalmatian toadflax, and maybe Indian blanket flowers.

Fun Activities in the Hawkeye State

There are cornfields galore in Iowa and if that’s your thing, then have at it. You can visit farms and spend a day in the life of a farmer. If you want to do more tourist activities, start in the biggest city in the state, Des Moines. In terms of learning about Iowa’s history, culture, and art, head to the State Historical Museum of Iowa and afterward, go to the Des Moines Art Center. Make sure you visit the Des Moines Farmers Market and the city’s botanical garden.

If you need more nature, there are several wildlife refuges or nature centers you can go to. Take walks along the many lakes Iowa has like Clear Lake or Okoboji Lake. There’s an opportunity to fish at these lakes, too.

Surrounding States

Iowa borders six states — Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Let’s take a look at some fast facts about Iowa’s six neighboring states.


Capital: Madison

Population: 5.8 million

Admitted to the Union: May 29, 1848 (30th)

Nickname: The Badger State


Capital: Springfield

Population: 12.8 million

Admitted to the Union: December 3, 1818 (21st)

Nickname: Land of Lincoln


Capital: Jefferson City

Population: 6.1 million
Admitted to the Union: August 10, 1821 (24th)

Nickname: The Show Me State


Capital: Lincoln

Population: 1.9 million
Admitted to the Union: March 1, 1867 (37th)

Nickname: The Cornhusker State

South Dakota

Capital: Pierre

Population: 909,824
Admitted to the Union: November 2, 1889 (40th)

Nickname: The Mount Rushmore State


Capital: Saint Paul

Population: 5.7 million
Admitted to the Union: May 11, 1858 (32th)

Nickname: Land of 10,000 Lakes

Fast Facts About Iowa

Women of Achievement Bridge at Sunset

There are more than 12 million hogs in Iowa, which means they outnumber humans in the state.

©dangarneau/iStock via Getty Images

  • Population: 3.1 million
  • Capital: Des Moines
  • Admitted to the Union: December 28, 1846 (29th state)
  • Governor: Kim Reynolds (R)
  • Senators: Chuck Grassley (R) and Joni Ernst (R)
  • Representatives: Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R), Ashley Hinson (R), Zach Nunn (R), and Randy Feenstra (R)


And there you have it, you learned the why and the how about Iowa’s nickname. When you drive through the state, you will notice the rolling hills or the endless plains. You will notice where the green meets the blue. It is a beauty like no other. The Indigenous culture that is deeply rooted in the state makes Iowa unique, as well.

The Hawkeye State has it all — from nature-oriented activities to city walks. If you live in a big city like New York or Los Angeles, you will experience something completely different, but an experience that is equally American. And while you’re at it, pick up a corn on the cob and have a fun Iowan time!

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tudoran Andrei/

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About the Author

Patrick Macfarland is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering travel, geography, and history. Patrick has been writing for more than 10 years. In the past, he has been a teacher and a political candidate. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from SDSU and a Master's Degree in European Union Studies from CIFE. From San Diego, California, Patrick loves to travel and try new recipes to cook.

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