Michigan Man. Where come from?

Submitted by Elno Lewis on October 19th, 2009 at 9:44 AM

Like most of the people who might be reading this diary entry, you probably thought the term, "Michigan Man", was coined by the late, great Bo Schembechler.  Most of us believe Bo invented this term when he found out Bill Frieder had accepted an offer from another university (Arizona State University) during Michigan's run for a national championship back in 1989.  Ostensibly, Bo was so annoyed with Coach Frieder over taking the job at ASU that he fired him on the spot stating, "A Michigan Man will coach this team!”, or something along those lines.  Steve Fisher was promoted to interim Head Coach, Rumeal Robinson made those free throws against Seton Hall, and we were cutting down the nets.  Everyone was happy.  Well, except for Seton Hall, that is.

Thus was born the term, Michigan Man.  Or so we thought.

When I Googlestalked the term, Michigan Man, this was the first result:  DNA Tests Prove Michigan Man, Searching for Origins, Was Not Kidnapped Toddler.  Although the gentleman in question was a man, and did reside in Michigan, I do not believe he is the quintessential Michigan Man I am seeking at this point.

Hmmm.  Googlestalking was not proving to be entirely helpful.  The Googlestalk images showed a wide array of rather interesting images including a gay Michigan Man.  MVictors followed with the fifth listing, but they just announced that former U of M Quarterback, Jim Harbaugh, is not a Michigan Man.  The listings go on, yada yada yada.

Imagine my surprise while reading Jeffry D. Wert's biography on George Armstrong Custer (Custer:  The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer) when I found perhaps the true originator of the term, "Michigan Man", Republican Senator Jacob M. Howard.  I know--Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.  

When the Civil War broke out George Custer was a student at West Point and had not quite finished his studies there.  (He was a terrible student with a plethora of disciplinary and academic problems—he even flunked his Calvary class.)  But, war being war, the army needed men and Custer was a man, so off he went.  Eventually Old George fell under the command of this Alfred Pleasonton guy who saw to it that his charge got elevated to the rank of General. (long story)  However, this was kind of a interim or temporary assignment, kind of like what Steve Fisher got.  In 1864, when it came time for the Senate to confirm Custer’s Generalship, a problem arose.  Now, George Armstrong Custer was actually born in Ohio, and he was a Democrat just like his loud mouth father.  Apparently, this did not sit well with the Republican Senator Howard.    To quote Wert’s book, (page 132, second paragraph):  “About January 5 or 6, Alfred Pleasonton confided to Custer that he had heard a rumor that Republican Senator Jacob M. Howard of Michigan, a member of the Military Affairs Committee, opposed the nomination because of Custer’s “youth” and of the fact that he was not “a Michigan Man.”

Custer subsequently wrote some letters to some influential people and sucked up enough to get his Generalship confirmed and he and Libby Bacon (his new wife) lived happily ever after.   Well, until those Indian guys butchered him up, at least.

So, the true origination of the term, Michigan Man, did not come from Bo.  He unwittingly (I am sure) stole it from Republican Senator Howard. 

And, just in case you are wondering, Custer did lead the Michigan Wolverines.  It says so right there in that book. The more you know!



October 19th, 2009 at 12:37 PM ^

Would Ardipithecus qualify perhaps as the first Michigan Man?

Not only did Ardi pattern its feet in the same shape as the State of Michigan (before the Great Lakes even formed!!!) but scientists also discovered State of Michigan-shaped protrusions on the upper-left of the parietal bone.

They also found massive chipping on the scapula. And this hominid was distinctly slower-moving and less intelligent than its close relative Australopithecus Afarensis.

Waitaminute...this is starting to sound more and more like the First Sparty.

(yes, there's mouseover text)

Section 1

October 19th, 2009 at 11:02 AM ^

...it was already in ancient usage. This might be an interesting exercise for some enterprising linguistics student; but I think the term goes back to at least the 1920's.

Bo said "Michigan Man..." in that press conference because he had heard the term, and used it himself, a thousand times before.


October 19th, 2009 at 10:49 PM ^

Yes, the term Michigan Man goes all the way back to one Fielding H. Yost. I read a book last summer about Yost and the construction of Michigan Stadium (very good read IMO, link). The book contains several letters and quotes from him about being a Michigan Man.

My favorite quote from the book:

"What you remember as the Michigan Spirit is still throbbingly alive. This spirit is based upon a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways; an enthusiasm that makes it second nature for Michigan Men to spread the gospel of their university to the far corners of the earth; and a conviction that no where is there a better university than this Michigan of ours."
--Fielding H. Yost