Wyoming Statehood

United States - Scott #897 (1940)
United States – Scott #897 (1940)

On July 10, 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the United States of America as the Union’s 44th state. It is located in the mountain region of the western United States. As specified in the designating legislation for the Territory of Wyoming — which was founded on July 25, 1868 — 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.

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. It is the tenth largest state in the United States in total area, containing 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. It is the least populous and the second least densely populated state in the country. The state population was estimated at 586,107 in 2015, which is less than 31 of the most populous U.S. cities including neighboring Denver. Cheyenne is the state capital and the most populous city, with population estimated at 63,335 in 2015.

Map of Wyoming

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

Original inhabitants of the region include the Crow, Arapaho, Lakota, and Shoshone. Southwestern Wyoming was 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 the U.S. Congress in 1865 to provide a “temporary government for the territory of Wyoming”. The name was used earlier for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, and is derived from the Munsee word xwé:wamənk, meaning “at the big river flat”.

The main drivers of Wyoming’s economy are mineral extraction—mostly coal, oil, natural gas, and trona — and tourism. Agricultural commodities include livestock (beef), hay, sugar beets, grain (wheat and barley), and wool.

Panoramic view of the Teton Range looking west from Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park. Photo taken on April 30, 2007.
Panoramic view of the Teton Range looking west from Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park. Photo taken on April 30, 2007.

Wyoming’s climate is generally semi-arid and continental and is drier and windier in comparison to most of the United States with greater temperature extremes. Much of this is due to the topography of the state. Summers in Wyoming are warm with July high temperatures averaging between 85 and 95 °F (29 and 35 °C) in most of the state. With increasing elevation, however, this average drops rapidly with locations above 9,000 feet (2,700 m) averaging around 70 °F (21 °C). Summer nights throughout the state are characterized by a rapid cooldown with even the hottest locations averaging in the 50–60 °F (10–16 °C) range at night.

In most of the state, most of the precipitation tends to fall in the late spring and early summer. Winters are cold, but are variable with periods of sometimes extreme cold interspersed between generally mild periods, with Chinook winds providing unusually warm temperatures in some locations. Wyoming is a dry state with much of the land receiving less than 10 inches (250 mm) of rainfall per year. Precipitation depends on elevation with lower areas in the Big Horn Basin averaging 5–8 inches (130–200 mm) (making the area nearly a true desert). The lower areas in the North and on the eastern plains typically average around 10–12 inches (250–300 mm), making the climate there semi-arid. Some mountain areas do receive a good amount of precipitation, 20 inches (510 mm) or more, much of it as snow, sometimes 200 inches (510 cm) or more annually. The state’s highest recorded temperature is 114 °F (46 °C) at Basin on July 12, 1900 and the lowest recorded temperature is −66 °F (−54 °C) at Riverside on February 9, 1933.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming

The Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming. The state is a great plateau broken by many mountain ranges. Surface elevations range from the summit of Gannett Peak in the Wind River Mountain Range, at 13,804 feet (4,207 m), to the Belle Fourche River valley in the state’s northeast corner, at 3,125 feet (952 m). In the northwest are the Absaroka, Owl Creek, Gros Ventre, Wind River, and the Teton ranges. In the north central are the Big Horn Mountains; in the northeast, the Black Hills; and in the southern region the Laramie, Snowy, and Sierra Madre ranges.

The Snowy Range in the south central part of the state is an extension of the Colorado Rockies in both geology and appearance. The Wind River Range in the west central part of the state is remote and includes more than 40 mountain peaks in excess of 13,000 feet (4,000 m) tall in addition to Gannett Peak, the highest peak in the state. The Big Horn Mountains in the north central portion are somewhat isolated from the bulk of the Rocky Mountains.

The Teton Range in the northwest extends for 50 miles (80 km), part of which is included in Grand Teton National Park. The park includes the Grand Teton, the second highest peak in the state.

A view of the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming, from US-20. Photo taken on May 27, 2006.
A view of the Wind River Canyon, Wyoming, from US-20. Photo taken on May 27, 2006.

The Continental Divide spans north-south across the central portion of the state. Rivers east of the divide drain into the Missouri River Basin and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. They are the North Platte, Wind, Big Horn and the Yellowstone rivers. The Snake River in northwest Wyoming eventually drains into the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, as does the Green River through the Colorado River Basin.

The Continental Divide forks in the south central part of the state in an area known as the Great Divide Basin where the waters that flow or precipitate into this area remain there and cannot flow to any ocean. Instead, because of the overall aridity of Wyoming, water in the Great Divide Basin simply sinks into the soil or evaporates.

Several rivers begin in or flow through the state, including the Yellowstone River, Bighorn River, Green River, and the Snake River.

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel, Medicine Mountain, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming. Photo taken on September 21, 2011.

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 BCE (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.

Europeans may have ventured into the northern sections of the state in the late 18th century. French-Canadian trappers from Québec and Montréal went into the state in the late 18th century, leaving French toponyms such as Téton and La Ramie. Most of the southern part of modern-day Wyoming was nominally claimed by Spain and Mexico until the 1830s, but they had no presence. What is now southwestern Wyoming became a part of the Spanish Empire and later Mexican territory of Alta California, until it was ceded to the United States in 1848 at the end of the Mexican–American War.

John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, itself guided by French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau and his young Shoshone wife, Sacagawea, was probably the first American to enter the region in 1807. At the time, his reports of thermal activity in the Yellowstone area were considered 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. 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 first Fort Laramie as it looked before 1840 (painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller). Founded by William Sublette and Robert Campbell, Fort Laramie lay at the crossroads of an old north-south Indian trail and what became known as the Oregon Trail. Called Fort Laramie because of the nearby Laramie Mountains and the Laramie Fork of the North Platte River, the post was approximately 150 feet square, according to Miller, with bastions at the diagonal corners. Miller's paintings are the only known visual records of the fort, because the original fort was torn down in 1840 before any other artist had traveled the Oregon Trail; it was replaced with another structure, located perhaps on the same site in 1841. Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874). 'Fort Laramie,' 1858-1860. watercolor on paper. Walters Art Museum (37.1940.49): Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1858-1860.
The first Fort Laramie as it looked before 1840 (painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller). Founded by William Sublette and Robert Campbell, Fort Laramie lay at the crossroads of an old north-south Indian trail and what became known as the Oregon Trail. Called Fort Laramie because of the nearby Laramie Mountains and the Laramie Fork of the North Platte River, the post was approximately 150 feet square, according to Miller, with bastions at the diagonal corners. Miller’s paintings are the only known visual records of the fort, because the original fort was torn down in 1840 before any other artist had traveled the Oregon Trail; it was replaced with another structure, located perhaps on the same site in 1841. Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874). ‘Fort Laramie,’ 1858-1860. watercolor on paper. Walters Art Museum (37.1940.49): Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1858-1860.

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. Fort Laramie was built in 1834 at the confluence of the Laramie River and the North Platte River in the upper Platte River Valley in the eastern part of Wyoming. It sat at the bottom of the long climb leading to the best and lowest crossing point at South Pass into western descending valleys and so was a primary stopping point on the Oregon Trail.

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 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. 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 region had acquired the name Wyoming by 1865, when Representative James Mitchell Ashley of Ohio introduced a bill to Congress to provide a “temporary government for the territory of Wyoming”. The territory was named after the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, made famous by the 1809 poem Gertrude of Wyoming by Thomas Campbell, based on the Battle of Wyoming in the American Revolutionary War.

A 12 pounder mountain howitzer on display at Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming.
A 12 pounder mountain howitzer on display at Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming.

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 and the establishment of military posts. 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.

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. Union Pacific 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 UP 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.[14] 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 drove out Chinese miners employed by the Union Pacific Coal Company in Rock Springs.

Wyoming Territory coat of arms, as illustrated in The State Arms of the Union by Henry Mitchell, Boston: L. Prang & Co. (1876)

The federal government established the Wyoming Territory on July 25, 1868. At the time of its formation, it took land from the Dakota, Idaho, and Utah Territories. In 1872, Wyoming Territory had five counties: Albany, Carbon, Laramie, Sweetwater, and Uinta, each a tall narrow rectangle comprising approximately one-fifth of the territory. Unlike mineral-rich Colorado, Wyoming lacked significant deposits of gold and silver, as well as Colorado’s subsequent population boom. However, South Pass City did experience a short-lived boom after the Carissa Mine began producing gold in 1867. Furthermore, copper was mined in some areas between the Sierra Madre Mountains and the Snowy Range near Grand Encampment.

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”.

Once government-sponsored expeditions to the Yellowstone country began, reports by Colter and Bridger, previously believed to be apocryphal, were found to be true. The Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition in 1869 and the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870 confirmed the stories of the mountain men. In 1871, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden led a formal geological survey of the area, the result of which ultimately convinced Congress to set aside the region. Yellowstone National Park became the world’s first National Park in 1872. Nearly all of Yellowstone National Park lies within the far northwestern borders of Wyoming. In August 1886, the U.S. Army was given administration of the park. In 1917, administration of the park 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.

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).

Wyoming State Capitol building, Cheyenne

Congress admitted Wyoming into the Union as the 44th state on July 10, 1890. Wyoming’s Constitution established three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Wyoming State Legislature comprises a House of Representatives with 60 members and a Senate with 30 members. The executive branch is headed by the governor and includes a secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and superintendent of public instruction. Wyoming does not have a lieutenant governor. Instead the secretary of state stands first in the line of succession.

Wyoming’s sparse population warrants it only a single at-large seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and hence only three votes in the Electoral College.

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.

The increased number of settlers also brought with them merchants, as well as outlaws. A number of notable outlaws of the time started their careers in Wyoming, including Butch Cassidy and Harry Longabaugh, both of whom were incarcerated in Wyoming as young men. A remote area in Johnson County, Wyoming known as the Hole-in-the-Wall was a well known hideout for a loose association of outlaw gangs known as the Hole in the Wall Gang. It was used from the 1860s through the early 20th century by outlaws operating throughout Wyoming.

Map showing Federal lands and Indian reservations in the state of Wyoming.

More than 48% 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. This amounts to about 30,099,430 acres (121,808.1 km2) owned and managed by the United States government. The state government owns an additional 6% of all Wyoming lands, or another 3,864,800 acres (15,640 km²).

The vast majority of this government land is administered by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service in numerous national forests, a national grassland, and a number of vast swathes of public land, in addition to the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

In addition, Wyoming contains areas managed by the National Park Service and other agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, including:

  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park —first designated national park in the world
Devil's Tower National Monument, Wyoming. Photo taken on June 19, 2012.
Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming. Photo taken on June 19, 2012.
  •  Devils Tower National Monument — first national monument in the U.S.
  • Fossil Butte National Monument
  • California National Historic Trail
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site
  • Independence Rock National Historic Landmark
  • Medicine Wheel/Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark
  • Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
  • National Register of Historic Places listings in Wyoming
  • Oregon National Historic Trail
  • Pony Express National Historic Trail
  • John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks
  • Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area (managed by the Forest Service as part of Ashley National Forest)
  • Jackson National Fish Hatchery
  • Saratoga National Fish Hatchery
  • National Elk Refuge
  • Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge
Map of the Wind River Reservation, Wyoming
Greater sage-grouse lek on the Wind River Reservation. Photo taken on April 12, 2017.
Greater sage-grouse lek on the Wind River Reservation. Photo taken on April 12, 2017.

The Wind River Indian Reservation is shared by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of Native Americans in the central western portion of the state near Lander. The reservation is home to 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and 5,000 Northern Arapaho.

Chief Washakie established the reservation in 1868 as the result of negotiations with the federal government in the Fort Bridger Treaty. However, the Northern Arapaho were forced onto the Shoshone reservation in 1876 by the federal government after the government failed to provide a promised separate reservation.

Today the Wind River Indian Reservation is jointly owned, with each tribe having a 50% interest in the land, water, and other natural resources. The reservation is a sovereign, self-governed land with two independent governing bodies: the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe. Until 2014, the Shoshone Business Council and Northern Arapaho Business Council met jointly as the Joint Business Council to decide matters that affect both tribes. Six elected council members from each tribe served on the joint council.

The Wyoming entry in the United States Mint's State Quarters program was released on September 3, 2007, featuring a bucking horse and rider with the caption "The Equality State." The engraver was Norman E. Nemeth and a total of 564,400,000 coins were minted.
The Wyoming entry in the United States Mint’s State Quarters program was released on September 3, 2007, featuring a bucking horse and rider with the caption “The Equality State.” The engraver was Norman E. Nemeth and a total of 564,400,000 coins were minted.

Due to its sparse population, the state of Wyoming lacks any major professional sports teams. Some of the most popular sports teams in the state are the University of Wyoming Cowboys and Cowgirls teams — particularly football and basketball, which play in the Mountain West Conference. Their stadiums in Laramie are at about 7,200 feet (2,200 m) above sea level, the highest in NCAA Division I. High school sports are governed by the Wyoming High School Activities Association, which sponsors 12 sports.

Rodeo is popular in Wyoming, and Casper has hosted the College National Finals Rodeo since 2001.

Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photo taken on August 25, 2003.
Castle Geyser in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photo taken on August 25, 2003.
The American bison (Bison bison) is Wyoming's state mammal. Herd in Yellowstone National Park photographed on February 24, 2014.
The American bison (Bison bison) is Wyoming’s state mammal. Herd in Yellowstone National Park photographed on February 24, 2014.

Scott #897 was released on July 10, 1940, 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. The Wyoming State Seal was selected. The seal features the central figure of a female statue on a pedestal draped with a banner reading “Equal Rights,” representing the rights of women following the territorial suffrage amendment in 1869. Wyoming was in the forefront of women’s rights in the late 19th century. The two men and their respective banners symbolize the state’s economic strengths of mining earth resources and livestock agriculture. The 3-cent brown violet stamp was printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the rotary press in a quantity of 50,034,400 copies, perforated 10½ x 11.

Wyoming State Flag
Great Seal of the State of Wyoming
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