Trees symbolize many things like strength and majesty. They soar above the heads of man, and for many years in the early days of our country our buildings as well. Given the uses that mankind has had for the tree it was sure to inspire a nickname or two over time but not as many as one might think.
Trees stand tall and strong, so it is the perfect nickname for the man who sits in the Oval Office and calls himself the President of the United States. Our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, was known as “Old Hickory.” Jackson, a career soldier, had stood firm at New Orleans in 1815 giving our young nation one of its greatest victories on the battlefield in its history. Our eleventh president, James Polk was given the nickname of “Young Hickory” since Jackson was one of his mentors. Polk led the United States through the Mexican War and was a believer in America’s Manifest Destiny, or that we had a destiny to rule the continent. Another president who the public believed had a similar background to Jackson and would have the same firm hand was our fourteenth president Franklin Pierce, who was given the nickname “Young Hickory of the Granite Hills.” For Pierce, who like Jackson was a soldier, there was a similarity to like. Unfortunately for Pierce he did not live up to the nickname and since then no American president has been given a wooden nickname.
Wooden nicknames in the sports world are surprisingly not common. Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams comes close with the nickname of the “Splendid Splinter” but despite baseball’s use of wooden bats no other ones are prominent. In the sport of rugby the late New Zealand All Blacks legend Colin Meads went by the sobriquet of “Pinetree.” He was tall and muscular so his teammate Roger Boon decided to give him that nickname in honor of a decidedly less-coordinated man who lived in Boon’s hometown who answered to the same nickname. It must not have been so bad since Meads and Boon were friends until Meads recent passing. Basketball should provide the most nicknames one would figure given that trees are majestic and soar above the forest, kind of like basketball players do on the court. Despite that dendroligic nicknames are few and far between. Minnesota Timberwolves player Andrew Wiggins is called “Maple Jordan”, playing on his Canadian citizenship and the fact that he is pretty darn good just like Mike. Of course the most famous is longtime NBA player Wayne “Tree” Rollins, who stood 7 foot 1 inch.
Our final stop to find tree-related nicknames is the military. Since a tree cannot be moved easily and projects strength one would think it is a common nickname amongst military men. Of course Andrew Jackson, a general before becoming president, was “Old Hickory.” Union Civil War Admiral David Farragut was known as “Old Heart of Oak”. Farragut commanded at times a blockading squadron, the Mississippi River squadron and most famously the assault on Mobile Bay, Alabama where he damed the torpedoes. He was also a Tennessean by birth but stayed loyal to the United States. Some wooden nicknames are not always endearing. Confederate general John Bell Hood was known as one of the finest division commanders under Robert E. Lee but his performance was not up to par when placed higher command. When Hood assumed command of the Army of Tennessee in the summer of 1864 he already had a disabled left arm and a wooden right leg. He immediately threw his army in headlong assaults outside of Atlanta leading only to high casualties on his side. Atlanta was lost but Hood did not learn his lesson and in November 1864 outside of Franklin, Tennessee he launched his army in a forlorn assault against entrenched Federal soldiers resulting in a blood bath. His wooden nickname though is an accident. A historian when writing about him wanted to call him “Old Wooden Leg” but made a typo and called him “Old Wooden Head” instead. Given Hood’s record his soldiers might have agreed.