People lived on the wide open plains of what’s now Wyoming at least 12,000 years ago. Signs of these long-ago inhabitants include an ancient 245-foot stone shrine that was built near Lovell, Wyoming, and possibly used for important ceremonies. Thousands of years later Native American tribes including the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, and Ute lived on the land.
Some historian think the first European to arrive was explorer François Louis Verendrye in 1742. In 1868 Wyoming became a U.S. territory, though the U.S. cavalry (the U.S. Army service members who fought on horses) and Native Americans continued to battle for control of the land. In 1890 Wyoming became the 44th state. Shoshone National Forest was set aside in northwest Wyoming in 1891 as part of the Yellowstone Timberland Reserve. It is the country’s first national forest.
Members of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes still live in Wyoming today.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Experts aren’t sure where Wyoming’s name originated. The name might come from a Delaware Indian word meaning “mountains and valleys alternating,” or “large plains.” It might also come from the Munsee language, meaning “at the big river flat,” or the Algonquin language meaning, “a large prairie place.”
It’s nicknamed the Equality State because it was the first state to grant women the right to vote and to have women serve on juries and hold public office.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
The Great Plains spread across the eastern part of the state, and is covered with shrubs and short grasses. This region also contains the Black Hills, where Devils Tower National Monument (the first national monument) stands. Devils Tower is a butte—a massive, flat-topped hill with steep sides. (You might think of national monuments as manmade buildings, but these sites can be important landforms too!)
The Rocky Mountain ranges run north to south across most of the state. Grand Teton National Park is here. So is Yellowstone, the world’s first national park. Yellowstone is well known for Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts about 17 times a day.
The Intermontane Basins region is between the mountain ranges, and has short grasses and few trees. It includes the Red Desert, the largest living dune system in the United States.
Buffalo, pronghorn, black bears, grizzlies, and bighorn sheep are among Wyoming’s many mammals. Red-tailed hawks, prairie falcons, pinyon jays, and mountain bluebirds are a few of the birds that soar overhead. Reptiles include western painted turtles, rubber boas, Great Basin skinks, and Great Plains earless lizards. Amphibians such as Columbia spotted frogs, Wyoming toads, and western tiger salamanders can be found here.
Grasses, semidesert shrubs, and desert shrubs cover nearly all of the state. Sagebrush and Rocky Mountain juniper are examples of these plants. In forested areas, you can find ponderosa pines, lodgepole pines, and Douglas firs. Yarrow, sticky purple geranium, pinkfairies, and Indian paintbrush (the state flower) are a few of the wildflowers that grow throughout Wyoming.
Wyoming produces the most coal in the United States. The state also produces petroleum, natural gas, and bentonite, a natural clay that comes from volcanic ash and is used in foods, construction, detergents, and as cat litter.
—Famous folks from Wyoming include painter Jackson Pollock and Patricia MacLachlan, the children’s author who wrote the book Sarah, Plain and Tall.
—Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is a town of ski resorts, dude ranches, and even wildlife safaris that showcase the Yellowstone ecosystem. It’s also home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art, which has a three-quarter-mile-long sculpture trail. Here, life-size buffalo and moose sculptures appear to gallop through the mountains!
—Wyoming is the least populated state in the Union.