A visitor arrived on Twelve Mile Circle the other day from Wyoming, Iowa. Certainly I was acutely aware of the State of Wyoming as well as the predecessor Wyoming in Pennsylvania, although the Iowa rendition was a new one for me. I conducted a quick frequency check of "populated places" designated Wyoming in the USGS Geographic Names Information, and discovered numerous occurrences. That didn’t even consider counties, townships, and all manner of other features with the same name. GNIS included 288 entries for Wyoming.
20140308 31 near Wyoming, Iowa by David Wilson, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
First, a little bit about the hometown of 12MC’s nameless one-time visitor. It wasn’t a large town. It had only 515 residents during the 2010 Census so I feel privileged to have attracted even one of them. Wyoming was incorporated in 1873 so it had longevity. At least one source noted that it was named for Wyoming County, New York. It remained unstated in the sources I consulted although I’d guess that an original pioneer or town founder must have arrived in Iowa from that other Wyoming.
I’ve become a fan of William Bright’s Native American Placenames of the United States recently. I’ve relied upon it a couple of times as an instrumental resource as I delve into the history of various US placenames. Many of them traced back to English, French or Spanish mangling of Native words overheard by early explorers as they encountered territories previously unknown to them. The book also offered an explanation for Wyoming.
WYOMING (Pa., Luzerne Co.)… from Munsee Delaware (Algonquian), probably ‘at the big river flat’… The placename was made popular by an 1809 poem "Gertrude of Wyoming," commemorating a conflict between Indians and whites at the Indian site; during the nineteenth century, the name was assigned not only to the state but also to many other locations.
The Wyoming Valley runs through the place known today as the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Area. Wilkes-Barre serves as the county seat of government in Luzerne County, and an actual town of Wyoming exists there as well. The various Wyoming places invariably traced back to this source ultimately, a place based upon a word in an Algonquian language called Unami, in its Munsee dialect. This was a language of the Lenape people who the European settlers called the Delaware Indians. The phrase didn’t spread through the forced migrations endured by the Lenape in the manner of the word Delaware itself (discussed previously in 12MC). Rather it traced to an unrelated event in the American Revolutionary War.
The Battle of Wyoming
Battle of Wyoming Monument by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
British Loyalists and allied Native American warriors from the Iroquois tribe descended upon the Wyoming Valley and the town of Wyoming in 1778. They numbered several hundred and greatly outmatched those living in the valley who supporting independence. Sources described it as resembling a massacre more than a battle, with greater than two hundred people killed including many in gruesome ways. Revolutionaries couldn’t return to the area to bury their dead for several months. When they finally did, they interred their scattered dead in a mass grave. These events were commemorated by the Battle of Wyoming monument (map).
Gertrude of Wyoming
However it wasn’t until the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell wrote, "Gertrude of Wyoming; A Pennsylvanian Tale" in 1809 did Wyoming take-off in popularity in the culture of the time.
Campbell wrote Gertrude of Wyoming in Spenserian stanza and the plot revolved around Gertrude growing up in the lovely Wyoming valley, marrying the love of her life, and then perishing with her newlywed husband at the hands of the Loyalists and their Native warriors. It became wildly popular soon after its publication, fueled by romantic themes and a tragic ending.
More than anything the poem launched just about everything Wyoming, directly or indirectly, other than the original valley and the town in the vicinity of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
View Towns of Wyoming in a larger map
I discovered an impressive number of populated places named Wyoming. They are noted with blue markers in the map, with a red marker at the original Wyoming in Pennsylvania. I even discovered a Wyoming in Wyoming (map).
It didn’t stop there. Imagine Wyoming in Australia.
Wyoming, New South Wales, Australia
Gertrude of Wyoming could have contributed to the Australian place name too, according to the Gosford City Library: "Campbell’s popular work may have influenced the Hely family to name their grant "Wyoming". The local suburb and the North American State share the same name origin. The use of the term “Wyoming” locally pre-dates the American State by many years."
Gertrude certainly got around.
It was time to clear my list of unwritten articles again and I noticed several of them involved state capitals, or their capitol buildings. I’m not sure what the "usual" State Capital trivia might be much less the unusual, so let’s consider this an article on topics that the average layperson may not know. The always astute 12MC audience probably knows many of these peculiarities already although I’m hoping everyone will walk away with at least one new bit of information.
Highest Altitude State Capital
New Mexico State Capitol by Mr.TinDC, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
I would imagine that the preponderance of the general public might think of Denver as the highest state capital as a matter of reflex. After all, Denver has long touted itself as The Mile High City and parts of it do measure up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) above sea level, and in some instances a little higher. Santa Fe, New Mexico blew that figure out of the water with an elevation of 7,199 ft (2,134 m) above sea level. I consulted an altitude calculator and measured the New Mexico capitol building (map) at 7,005 ft (2,135 m) at the actual seat of government. That still bested Denver by a remarkable amount.
If I were to hand out an award for the capitol that looked least like a stereotypical capitol I’d probably have to give it to Santa Fe, understanding that it would be a subjective determination. The capitol didn’t have a dome or many of the traditional architectural flourishes observed elsewhere. It was also the only ROUND capitol building in the United States, "designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above." That was bonus trivia.
A State Capital with Odd Governance
Michigan State Capitol by Graham Davis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
It would seem to make sense that the seat of any state government would not be beholden to a local government. At the national level in the US, the District of Columbia was created as an independent entity removed from any state for that very reason. In 49 states, the state capital city also served as the local county seat of government. Michigan was the only exception.
Lansing (map), the capital of Michigan fell primarily into Ingham County, with a tiny sliver in Eaton County. Lansing was not the county seat of either county; Mason was the county seat of Ingham and Charlotte of Eaton. It came about as fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to locate the state capital in Mason:
In 1836 Charles Noble knew that Michigan would be seeking a central location for a new capital when it became a state. He purchased an area of forest, cleared 20 acres (81,000 m2), and founded Mason Center. The "Center" was soon dropped. In 1847, however, the state chose Lansing Township 12 miles (19 km) northward to be its capital due its potential for water power. Noble managed to make Mason the county seat instead.
The odd arrangement was a consolation prize for a pioneering settler.
Where the State Capitol is the Tallest Building in the State
West Virginia State Capitol by Jonathan Rieke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
There was one, maybe two with an asterisk, state capitol buildings that were the tallest buildings in the state. The West Virginia Capitol (map) at 293 ft (89 m) in Charleston was definitely one.
That might also be true for North Dakota:
The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. Locally, we like to think of it as a "mini skyscraper" because of its sleek form and the fact that it happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the area.
However, depending on what one considers a building, the tallest might actually be the Antelope Valley Station power plant rising to 361 feet (110 m) in Beulah, ND. Additionally a real estate developer was hoping to construct the 252 ft (77 m) Dakotah Place tower in Fargo that "…would include a parking ramp, retail and office space, a hotel and high-end condos.."
State Capital on an International Border
State Capitol by cubby_t_bear, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
This was a trick question revealed in a comment on State Capitals Meet Time Zones from August 2009. Juneau, Alaska (map) is the only state capital that borders another nation. The city and borough of Juneau unified in 1970. Naturally the unified entity filled the same physical space including a border with Canada ("The newly created boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau consolidated the City of Douglas, the City of Juneau. and the Greater Juneau Borough."). Good luck trying to climb the mountains and cross into Canada, though.
The Alaska State Capitol building might also be a contender for least like a stereotypical Capitol, now that I think about it.
Chillicothe served as the initial capital of the State of Ohio, a fact Twelve Mile Circle noted recently. The name didn’t sound as if it derived from a European language, and indeed it came from the language of the Shawnee, an Algonquian-speaking people. Chillicothe, the former Ohio capital, may have been the first town of that name settled by American citizens as they pushed away from the Atlantic seaboard into the frontier, however it wasn’t the first Chillicothe. Not even close.
Approx. Sites of Five Native American Chillicothe Settlements in Ohio
Ohio History Central listed five specific Chillicothe settlement and in fact there were even more.
One Chillicothe was located on the site of the modern city of Piqua. Another was on the Scioto River south of Circleville at, or near, modern-day Westfall. A third Chillicothe was approximately three miles north of Xenia… A fourth Chillicothe was at Frankfort along Paint Creek in Ross County. A fifth Chillicothe was at Hopetown, three miles north of present-day Chillicothe.
The Shawnee were semi-nomadic with much of their population concentrated in the area of modern Ohio. They formed into several loose bands with each band specializing in certain functions that they provided across the larger tribe. One of those groups was the Chalahgawtha, a band that English-speaking people later called Chillicothe. The Chillicothe excelled at political leadership. The leader’s village was called Chillicothe so whenever a leader changed so did the placement of Chillicothe. Thus, Chillicothe translate to something like "principal town" or "principal place" which is why there were so many Shawnee sites called Chillicothe in the historical record.
The Battle of Chillicothe
Battle of Chillicothe, Old Chillicothe Site, Ohio
The most notable Shawnee Chillicothe in United States history was likely the one north of Xenia, the home of Chief Blackfish. Some sources referenced this as "Old Chillicothe" to differentiate it from the current Ohio city.
The tribe had already been pushed completely out of Virginia by that point, then in the midst of the American Revolution. Britain supplied Shawnee with weapons from their fort in Detroit and coaxed warriors to raid American settlements on the other side of the Ohio River in Kentucky. Two well-regarded American frontiersmen were captured and brought to Old Chillicothe during this period along with other prisoners: the very famous Daniel Boone, who escaped; and the lesser-known Simon Kenton who was rescued.
John Bowman’s expedition of Kentucky County militia crossed the Ohio and struck Chillicothe in May 1779 to neutralize the threat. It didn’t accomplish much although the militia captured a few horses, burned Chillicothe to the ground and wounded Chief Blackfish, who died about six weeks later from an infection. Thus ended one of the more obscure battles of the American Revolution.
Tecumseh, probably the most famous of all Shawnee was also born in Chillicothe. The Chillicothe of his birth, however, was likely one of the sites along the Scioto River rather than Old Chillicothe.
The Shawnee did not fare well once settlers started streaming into Ohio during the early years of the Nineteenth Century. They were forced onto reservations over time. The Federal government now recognizes three Shawnee tribes all located in Oklahoma: the Absentee-Shawnee Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee Tribe.
Zane Shawnee Caverns, Bellefontaine, Ohio
One group of Shawnee descendants purchased land in Ohio in 1989 to reestablish the tribe in its ancestral home. They called themselves the United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation, and received state recognition. Their status has been questioned however, both by the Federal government — which does not recognize the tribe — and by other Native Americans. They don’t have much of a web presence although they maintain a FaceBook page and a YouTube channel.
The Shawnee Nation URB also purchased Zane Shawnee Caverns near Bellefontaine, and stated "We are Native American owned and operated and we have been in business for more than 17 years at this location." The property includes a Native American museum, a campground, and it hosts regular powwows.
The Shawnee returned to Ohio after nearly two centuries, or maybe not, depending on one’s point of view. Will there be another Shawnee Chillicothe someday?