INDIANAPOLIS — Many Hoosiers might not be familiar with Indiana’s state seal. Indiana’s state flag is one of 27 in the U.S. that does not feature its seal, according to study.com.
Indiana’s state flag depicts a blue background with a gold torch and 19 stars. The 13 stars nearest the torch represent the 13 original U.S. states, per IN.gov.
Outside the 13 stars closest to the torch are six others. Five of the stars represent the territories that officially became U.S. states before Indiana, according to IN.gov. The last remaining star identifies Indiana as the 19th territory to be officially recognized as a U.S. state.
Unlike the Hoosier State’s flag, Indiana’s state seal doesn’t feature a torch or gold stars. Rather, the seal depicts a buffalo, a person with an axe and a few trees. The imagery is contained within a circular frame, which is outlined by text.
The design of Indiana’s state seal was given legal sanction by the Indiana General Assembly in 1963, per sitting Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s Office. When the image became legally sanctioned, it also got an official description.
The Indiana Governor’s Office claims Indiana’s state seal is “A perfect circle, 2 5/8 inches in diameter, enclosed by a plain line. Another circle within the first, 2 3/8 inches in diameter enclosed by a beaded line, leaving a margin of 1/4 of an inch. In the top half of this margin are the words ‘Seal of the State of Indiana.'”
The bottom of the seal is flanked by the number 1816. According to IN.gov, Indiana officially became a U.S. state on Dec. 11, 1816.
Either side of the number 1816 are adorned with dotted diamonds and the leaf of a tulip tree. IN.gov indicates that the tulip tree is Indiana’s state tree.
The largest trees depicted the in central imagery on Indiana’s state seal are not tulip trees. Rather, the pioneer shown on the state seal is chopping sycamore trees with an ax that is “nearly perpendicular on his right,” per IN.gov.
In any depiction of the state seal, the woodsman’s axe blade should be turned away from him and at a height even with that of his hat, according to IN.gov.
The sun on the state seal has 14 beams of light emanating from it, per the governor’s office. Since its earliest depictions in 1801, some have debated whether or not the sun in the image is rising or setting, according to IN.gov.
The buffalo shown in the foreground of the seal is facing to the left and jumping over a log with its tail and front legs in the air.
Indiana officially became a U.S. territory in 1800, per IN.gov. Court documents signed by then-territory governor and future U.S. President William Henry Harrison mark the earliest appearances of what is now known as Indiana’s state seal.
Since its earliest-known historical appearances, Indiana’s state seal has been questioned, according to IN.gov. In a 1905 issue of the now-defunct evening newspaper, Indianapolis News, the imagery in the state seal was intensely criticized.
In a letter to the editor, Jacob P. Dunn opined that Indiana’s state seal depicts mountains in its background, even though no such terrain is found in the Hoosier State.
“Of course, there is no location in Indiana that would furnish such a scene as is in this device, and the probability is that it is figurative — indicating a new community beyond the mountains, as to the older settlements,” Dunn wrote. “… If this were the design it would necessarily be a rising sun, as the mountains were to the East, and, indeed, a rising sun would seem a more appropriate emblem for a new State.”
One might also question the appearance of a buffalo on the state seal, considering the last native buffalo in Indiana was killed in Orange County in 1830, according to the Jasper Newton Foundation — a nonprofit based in Rensselaer, Indiana.
The first appearance of the state seal, however, dates well before 1830, and the same report from the Jasper Newton Foundation indicates buffalo used to be found throughout Indiana.
Even today, some buffalo still live in Indiana. The Jasper Newton Foundation moved a herd from South Dakota to an 8,300-acre prairie in Newton County known as Kankakee Sands in 2016.
Despite the discourse surrounding it, Indiana’s state seal has been the official mark of the Hoosier State for the last 60 years. In 2004 and 2005, slight alterations were made to the description of the image.
According to IN.gov, the sun in the state seal was officially described as rising in 2004. In 2005, legislation was introduced to make the description of the seal say the sun in the image is setting.