If you are fortunate enough to hold a twenty dollar bill, you will notice that the face looking back at you from it is a man named Andrew Jackson.
Jackson was the 7th president of the United States, and he was one of the important ones. An accomplished but back-woodsy Tennessee military man, he was the first man to be elected to the high office from outside the Virginia-New England establishment. He was elected president by popular support from the common folks, and having reached the nation’s highest post by those means, he was universally disdained by the ruling elite of his day. (I like him already.)
Jackson, more than any other person in American History, is responsible for settling the South, that is, if you view his actions from the perspective of a European immigrant. If you happened to be a Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw or any member of several other Native American groups, your impressions of Andrew Jackson will be decidedly different. Jackson may be better known today for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans, but his Indian Removal Act and his own actions with his army in the field during the Creek War, or The War of 1812, essentially eliminated all Native American presence east of the Mississippi River in the modern South.
Like many who lived in the wilds of frontier America in the early 1800’s, Jackson’s life mixed moments of altruistic greatness and achievement with acts of harsh brutality. Nonetheless, Jackson did undoubtedly achieve, and then … he ruled. And he did so successfully enough to find his way onto our twenty dollar bills, successfully enough that the inventory of all the places to have taken their name from “Old Hickory,” including major cities in Tennessee and Mississippi, is a lengthy list indeed.
“Old Hickory,” an interesting sobriquet almost as well-known as “Honest Abe,” is the fitting, trademark nickname that General Jackson picked up somewhere along the way. Recently, local Chickasaw historian Mitch Caver sent me an exciting find that may have firmly nailed down that “somewhere” as Pontotoc, Mississippi, or very near to it.
Wikipedia says Andrew Jackson was called Old Hickory because of his “toughness and aggressive personality.” Mitch Caver disputes that assertion because of an article he found in an 1865 Camden, New Jersey, newspaper. The story, an interview originating in Jackson, Mississippi, presented a very detailed description of how General Jackson had become sick while his army camped near Pontotoc. It told how brothers John and William Allen had made Jackson a shelter from hickory bark to help him keep dry and out of the weather on a rainy night. However, a jovial drunk stumbling through camp later that same evening crashed into the general’s make-shift shelter causing it to collapse. When the angry Jackson rose from the rubble, he was covered from head to toe in hickory bark. Rather than recognizing the gravity of his situation, the drunk instead loudly called out, “Hello, Old Hickory!”
The absurdity of the scene brought chuckles from the men, and even Jackson, in good humor, couldn’t help but join in. As General Jackson laughed at his midnight mishap, his men spontaneously burst out with a rousing cheer, “Hurrah for Old Hickory!” And THAT was the first time Andrew Jackson was called Old Hickory, out there on a piece of ground somewhere near Pontotoc, Mississippi. The article Mitch Caver uncovered and graciously shared with me is posted online with this story.
Check it out. It’s an historic tidbit worth at least twenty bucks … but you can see it here for free.