It had been a puzzle for me. Were budgers so fierce that the UW football would name themselves after them? What made them so special that Wisconsinites associated themselves with them so proudly? Why was the badger such a ubiquitous phenomenon in Madison? To satisfy my curious self, I conducted some research that included asking a few locals why Wisconsin is called the badger state. Responses included ‘because UW has the Bucky badger for a mascot’, and ‘because there are so many badgers in the state.’ One respondent told me what I later determined to be correct.
When I first heard of the badgers, long before I came to Madison, I gave it little thought. But then I moved here, and I would be transported by the badger bus or the badger cab, meet the Bucky badger or its statues or pictures in different places around town, be moved from one apartment to another by Badger Brothers Moving LLC, hang out with friends at Badger Bros Coffee, bank with the Badger Bank… my life was “badgerful!” What was this badger that everyone; individuals and companies alike wanted a piece of, I wondered.
My curiosity led me to the internet (all references are listed at the end of this post) where I found out that the badger is the state animal for Wisconsin (below, I explain how this came to be). A badger is an omnivores mammal with a somewhat short, wide body, and short legs for digging. It has an elongated, weasel-like head with small ears. A badger’s face is black with distinctive white markings, its body grey with a light-coloured stripe from head to tail, and its legs dark while the underbelly is light-coloured.
Badgers’ behavior differs by family, but all shelter underground. They reside in burrows known as setts. Some are solitary while others form clans called cetes. A cete can have from 2 to 15 badgers. They can run at 25–30 km/h (16–19 mph) for short periods of time. They are nocturnal.
Popular culture is full of the badger. Brian Jacques’ Redwall series (1986–2011) features badger characters, who often fall under the title of Badger Lord or Badger Mother. The Immortals (1992–1996) – a story about Daine, an orphan with the ability to speak with animals – by Tamora Pierce features a badger god. Moreover, “The Badger” is a comic book hero created by Mike Baron. Besides that, the badger is the emblem of the Hufflepuff house of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series (1997–2007). It is chosen as such because the badger is an animal that is often underestimated, as it lives quietly until attacked, but which, when provoked, can fight off animals much larger than itself – this resembles the Hufflepuff house in several ways. There are numerous other stories featuring badgers as characters.
Now, back to the ubiquity of the badger in Madison. Wisconsin was dubbed the “Badger State” because of the pioneer miners who settled there in the 1820s and 1830s. Without shelter in the winter, they had to “live like badgers” in tunnels burrowed into hillsides. By 1840s “the badger was steadily becoming a symbol of Wisconsin pride, with people naming newspapers and even steam ships in homage to the up-and-coming nickname” (Travel Wisconsin). The badger mascot was adopted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1889.
“American Badger – White Sands National Monument (U.S. National Park Service).” Accessed July 31, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/whsa/learn/nature/american-badger.htm.
“975_symbols.pdf.” n.d. Accessed July 31, 2018. http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/misc/lrb/blue_book/2015_2016/975_symbols.pdf.
“Explore the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Collections, Research Your Family History, Teach and Learn Wisconsin History, Preserve Historic Properties, Donate, Volunteer and More.” n.d. Wisconsin Historical Society. Accessed July 31, 2018. https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/?dsNav=N:4294963828-4294963805&dsRecordDetails=R:CS2908.
“How WI Became The Badger State | Travel Wisconsin.” n.d. TravelWisconsin. Accessed July 31, 2018. //www.travelwisconsin.com/article/history-heritage/badger-state-wisconsins-history-behind-the-name.
“Wisconsin State Animal | Badger.” n.d. Accessed July 31, 2018. https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol/wisconsin/state-mammal/badger.