United States #897 (1940)

Wyoming Statehood

United States #897 (1940)
United States #897 (1940)

On July 10, 1890, the Territory of Wyoming which had been established on July 25, 1868, was admitted into the United States of America as its 44th state. Located in the mountain region of the western United States, the state is the tenth largest by area, the least populous and the second least densely populated state in the country. Wyoming is bordered on the north by Montana, on the east by South Dakota and Nebraska, on the south by Colorado, on the southwest by Utah, and on the west by Idaho. Cheyenne is the capital and the most populous city in Wyoming, with a population estimate of 63,335 in 2015. The state population was estimated at 586,107 in 2015, which is less than the population of 31 of the largest U.S. cities.

The western two-thirds of the state is covered mostly with mountain ranges and rangelands in the Rocky Mountains, while the eastern third of the state is high elevation prairie known as the High Plains. Almost half of the land in Wyoming is owned by the U.S. government, leading Wyoming to rank sixth in the United States in total acres and fifth in percentage of a state’s land owned by the federal government. The federal lands include two national parks — Grand Teton and Yellowstone — two national recreation areas and two national monuments, as well as several national forests, historic sites, fish hatcheries, and wildlife refuges.

The Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, and Shoshone were some of the original inhabitants of the region. Southwestern Wyoming was included in the Spanish Empire and then Mexican territory until it was ceded to the United States in 1848 at the end of the Mexican–American War. The region acquired the name Wyoming when a bill was introduced to Congress in 1865 to provide a “temporary government for the territory of Wyoming.” The territory was named after the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, with the name ultimately being derived from the Munsee word xwé:wamənk, meaning “at the big river flat.”

The mineral-extraction industry — especially coal, oil, natural gas, and trona — along with the travel and tourism sector, are the main drivers behind Wyoming’s economy. Agriculture has historically been an important component of the state economy with the main commodities being livestock (beef), hay, sugar beets, grain (wheat and barley), and wool. The climate is generally semi-arid and continental, being drier and windier in comparison to the rest of the United States, with greater temperature extremes.

Except for the 1964 election, Wyoming has been a politically conservative state since the 1950s, with the Republican party winning every presidential election.

As specified in the designating legislation for the Territory of Wyoming, Wyoming’s borders are lines of latitude, 41°N and 45°N, and longitude, 104°3’W and 111°3’W (27° W and 34° W of the Washington Meridian), making the shape of the state a latitude-longitude quadrangle. Wyoming is one of only three states (along with Colorado and Utah) to have borders along only straight latitudinal and longitudinal lines, rather than being defined by natural landmarks. Due to surveying inaccuracies during the 19th century, Wyoming’s legal border deviates from the true latitude and longitude lines by up to half of a mile (0.8 km) in some spots, especially in the mountainous region along the 45th parallel. The state has an area of 97,814 square miles (253,340 km²) and is made up of 23 counties. From the north border to the south border it is 276 miles (444 km) and from the east to the west border is 365 miles (587 km) at its south end and 342 miles (550 km) at the north end.

There is evidence of prehistoric human habitation in the region stretching back roughly 13,000 years. Stone projectile points associated with the Clovis, Folsom and Plano cultures have been discovered throughout Wyoming. In the Big Horn Mountains, there is a medicine wheel that has not yet been dated accurately due to disruption of the site prior to the two archaeological excavations of 1958 and 1978. However, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel’s design of twenty-eight spokes is similar to the Majorville Medicine Wheel in Canada that has been dated at 3200 BC (5200 years ago) by careful stratification of known artifact types.

Throughout the Bighorn Mountains, south to Medicine Lodge Creek, artifacts of occupation date back 10,000 years. Large ceremonial blades chipped from obsidian rock formations in what is now Yellowstone National Park to the west of the Bighorns, have been found in the Hopewell burial mounds of Southern Ohio, indicative of vast continental trading networks since around 1000 years ago. When White explorers first entered the region, they encountered numerous American Indian tribes including the Arapaho, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute.

Although people may have ventured into the northern sections of the state in the late 18th century, John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was probably the first white American to enter the region in 1807. His reports of thermal activity in the Yellowstone area were considered at the time to be fictional. Robert Stuart and a party of five men returning from Astoria, Oregon discovered South Pass in 1812. The route was later followed by the Oregon Trail. In 1850, Jim Bridger located what is now known as Bridger Pass, which was later used by both the Union Pacific Railroad in 1868, and in the 20th century by Interstate 80. Bridger also explored the Yellowstone region and like Colter, most of his reports on that region of the state were considered at the time to be tall tales. During the early 19th century, fur trappers known as mountain men flocked to the mountains of western Wyoming in search of beaver. In 1824, the first mountain man rendezvous was held in Wyoming. The gatherings continued annually until 1840, with the majority of them held within Wyoming territory.

The route later known as the Oregon Trail was already in regular use by traders and explorers in the early 1830s. The trail snakes across Wyoming, entering the state on the eastern border near the present day town of Torrington following the North Platte River to the current town of Casper. It then crosses South Pass, and exits on the western side of the state near Cokeville. In 1847, Mormon emigrants blazed the Mormon Trail, which mirrors the Oregon Trail, but splits off at South Pass and continues south to Fort Bridger and into Utah. Over 350,000 emigrants followed these trails to destinations in Utah, California and Oregon between 1840 and 1859. In 1859, gold was discovered in Montana, drawing miners north along the Bozeman and Bridger trails through the Powder River Country and Big Horn Basin respectively.

The influx of emigrants and settlers into the state led to more encounters with the American Indian, resulting in an increase of military presence along the trails. Military posts such as Fort Laramie were established to maintain order in the area. In 1851, the first Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed between the United States and representatives of American Indian nations to ensure peace and the safety of settlers on the trails. The 1850s were subsequently quiet, but increased settler encroachment into lands promised to the tribes in the region caused tensions to rise again, especially after the Bozeman Trail was blazed in 1864 through the hunting grounds of the Powder River Country, which had been promised to the tribes in the 1851 treaty.

As encounters between settlers and Indians grew more serious in 1865, Major General Grenville M. Dodge ordered the first Powder River Expedition to attempt to quell the violence. The expedition ended in a battle against the Arapaho in the Battle of the Tongue River. The next year the fighting escalated into Red Cloud’s War which was the first major military conflict between the United States and the Wyoming Indian tribes. The second Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 ended the war by closing the Powder River Country to whites. Violation of this treaty by miners in the Black Hills lead to the Black Hills War in 1876, which was fought mainly along the border of Wyoming and Montana.

In 1866 Nelson Story, Sr. drove approximately 1000 head of Texas Longhorns to Montana through Wyoming along the Bozeman Trail — the first major cattle drive from Texas into Montana. The Wyoming Stock Growers Association is a historic American cattle organization created in 1873. The Association was started among Wyoming cattle ranchers to standardize and organize the cattle industry, but quickly grew into a political force that has been called “the de facto territorial government” of Wyoming’s organization into early statehood, and wielded great influence throughout the Western United States. The association is still active to this day, but it is best known for its rich history and is perhaps most famous for its role in Wyoming’s Johnson County War.

In 1892, the Johnson County War, also known as the War on Powder River and the Wyoming Range War, took place in Johnson, Natrona and Converse County, Wyoming. It was fought between small settling ranchers against larger established ranchers in the Powder River Country and culminated in a lengthy shootout between local ranchers, a band of hired killers, and a sheriff’s posse, eventually requiring the intervention of the United States Cavalry on the orders of President Benjamin Harrison. The events have since become a highly mythologized and symbolic story of the Wild West, and over the years variations of the storyline have come to include some of the west’s most famous historical figures and gunslingers. The storyline and its variations have served as the basis for numerous popular novels, films, and television shows.

The Union Pacific Railroad played a central role in the settlement of Wyoming. The land was good for cattle ranches, but without transportation it was too far for a cattle drive. The UP railroad companies had large land grants that were used to back the borrowings from New York and London that financed construction. UP was anxious to locate settlers upon the land as soon as possible, so there would be a steady outflow of cattle, and a steady inflow of manufactured items purchased by the ranchers. UP also built towns that were needed to service the railroad itself, with dining halls for passengers, construction crews, repair shops and housing for train crews. The towns attracted cattle drives and cowboys.

The Union Pacific reached the town of Cheyenne, which later became the state capital, in 1867. The railroad eventually spanned the entire state, boosting the population, and creating some of Wyoming’s largest cities, such as Laramie, Rock Springs and Evanston. The railroad needed coal, which was discovered in quantity in the southwestern part of the state, especially around Rock Springs. In 1885, a murderous riot known as the Rock Springs Massacre broke out when white miners froze out Chinese miners employed by the Union Pacific Coal Company in Rock Springs.

The name was first used by Representative J. M. Ashley of Ohio, who introduced the Ashley Bill to Congress to provide a “temporary government for the territory of Wyoming”. The name “Wyoming” was made famous by the 1809 poem Gertrude of Wyoming by Thomas Campbell. The name is derived from the Delaware (Munsee) name xwé:wamənk, meaning “at the big river flat”, originally applied to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.

After the arrival of the railroad, the population began to grow steadily in the Wyoming Territory, which was established on July 25, 1868. Unlike Colorado to the south, Wyoming never experienced a rapid population boom in the 19th century from any major mineral discoveries such as gold or silver.

Wyoming Territory Coat of Arms, illustrated in 1876
Wyoming Territory Coat of Arms, illustrated in 1876
Holt's New Map of Wyoming, 1883
Holt’s New Map of Wyoming, 1883

South Pass City experienced a short-lived boom after the Carissa Mine began producing gold in 1867. Copper was mined in some areas between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Snowy Range near Grand Encampment.

Once government-sponsored expeditions to the Yellowstone country began, reports by Colter and Bridger, previously believed to be apocryphal, were found to be true. This led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park, which became the world’s first national park in 1872. Nearly all of Yellowstone National Park lies within the far northwestern borders of Wyoming.

United States #760 (1935)
United States #760 (1935)

On December 10, 1869, territorial Governor John Allen Campbell extended the right to vote to women, making Wyoming the first territory and then United States state to grant suffrage to women. In addition, Wyoming was also a pioneer in welcoming women into politics. Women first served on juries in Wyoming (Laramie in 1870); Wyoming had the first female court bailiff (Mary Atkinson, Laramie, in 1870); and the first female justice of the peace in the country (Esther Hobart Morris, South Pass City, in 1870). Also, in 1924, Wyoming became the first state to elect a female governor, Nellie Tayloe Ross, who took office in January 1925. Due to its civil-rights history, one of Wyoming’s state nicknames is “The Equality State”, and the official state motto is “Equal Rights”.

Inclusion of women’s suffrage in the Wyoming constitution was debated in the constitutional convention, but ultimately accepted. The constitution was mostly borrowed from those of other states, but also included an article making all the water in Wyoming property of the state. Wyoming overcame the obstacles of low population and of being the only territory in the U.S. giving women the right to vote, and the United States admitted Wyoming into the Union as the 44th state on July 10, 1890.

Wyoming was the location of the Johnson County War of 1892, which erupted between competing groups of cattle ranchers. The passage of the federal Homestead Act led to an influx of small ranchers. A range war broke out when either or both of the groups chose violent conflict over commercial competition in the use of the public land.

In 1917, administration of Yellowstone was transferred to the new National Park Service. Hundreds of structures have been built and are protected for their architectural and historical significance, and researchers have examined more than 1,000 archaeological sites. Most of Yellowstone National Park is located in the state boundaries. Wyoming is also home to the nation’s first national monument (Devils Tower created in 1906), and the first national forest (Shoshone National Forest created in 1891).

U.S. #897 was issued on July 10, 1940, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Wyoming’s statehood. Since the Idaho statehood stamp (issued just one week before) pictured that state’s capitol building, President Franklin Roosevelt suggested that the Wyoming stamp should picture something else. Thus, the 3-cent brown violet stamp, printed by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving on the Rotary press and perforated 10½ x 11, portrays the Wyoming State Seal. The seal pictures a female statue draped with a banner reading “Equal Rights,” representing the rights of women following the territorial suffrage amendment in 1869. The two men and their respective banners symbolize the state’s long history in livestock and mining.

President Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the design and issuance of this stamp. Roosevelt’s mother introduced the future president to stamp collecting at a young age. Throughout his life, he turned to his collection to relax and unwind. Roosevelt was elected President four times, serving in the nation’s highest office longer than any other chief executive — 12 years. During that period, he promoted the importance of stamps by personally approving each of more than 200 stamp designs. This included suggesting topics, rejecting others, and even designing some of the stamps himself. He used U.S. postage stamps to educate Americans about their heritage, to buoy war-weary spirits during World War II, and to send a message of peace and hope as Europe faced the overwhelming task of rebuilding.

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