Wyoming’s Name Origin and Fun Facts
Written by Mac Morey on January 27, 2021
The lovely state Wyoming that we are privileged enough to call home became the 44th state in 1890, but where did the Cowboy State’s name actually originate?
There are a few answers to this question.
According to the Wyoming Secretary of State, “the name Wyoming is a contraction of the Native American word mecheweamiing (“at the big plains”), and was first used by the Delaware people as a name for the Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Other sources would say it is based on the Algonquin Indian word that means “large prairie place” or the Munsee word meaning “at the big river flat.”
Both tribes’ definitions are splitting hairs and both capture the essence of Wyoming on its face which is that it attains a lot of open space. But we know that it wasn’t Native Americans here physically that created that verbiage.
So, what was originally Wyoming? The Wyoming Valley in northeastern Pennsylvania.
This area sparked a war between the six Native American tribes – The Iroquois – that felt they had ownership over the land, and Connecticut and Pennsylvania.
Through years of war and ownership change, the land ended up in Pennsylvania due to British soldiers and other warriors taking it when it was at its weakest point. That was all before the Revolutionary War ended in 1783.
The very famous 1809 poem by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell called “Gertrude of Wyoming” is (historically) the most famous circulation of the state’s name. But it was written about the Pennsylvania valley, not the 44th state.
In regards to our state, in 1865, U.S. Representative James M. Ashley of Ohio made the suggestion that a large swath of unsettled land in the American West be called the “Wyoming territory.”
It was an ambitious moniker – Ashley grew up in the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and assumed the new territory would be agriculturally rich. By the time he visited the territory, he wanted a name change.
“…there was not enough fertility in the soil to subsist a population sufficient for a single congressional district,” Ashely said. “Not one acre in a thousand can be irrigated.”
But, to no avail.
Now, hundreds of years later, we are lucky enough to get this state as our home – and get it mostly to ourselves. Wyoming remains the least populated of the 50 states, while also being the 10th largest in overall land area.