Wyoming, More Than Just a State

On July 10, 2014 · 4 Comments

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
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
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.

Populated Places

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.

Beery Places

On March 25, 2014 · 3 Comments

It began as I discovered Beery Reservoir in northeastern Montana appearing from my laptop screen (map). For once I decided to avoid overthinking the reference and have fun with it while wondering how awesome it would be to have a reservoir of beer. Don’t expect a lot of intellectual curiosity or historical background today, just beer-themed places that sounded funny and maybe a pun or two.

I was surprised by the number of beery entries listed in the US Geographical Names Information System. I selected a few of the best.

Beer Run

Beer Run, Eldred, Pennsylvania, USA

In my earlier years, a beer run was what we used to do when we thought we might finish the beer before the party ended and had to dash to the nearest convenience store before it closed. This activity needed to be well considered because Virginia didn’t allow off-premise beer sales after midnight. Fortunately that hasn’t been a problem in a long time for me. I can’t imagine being awake after midnight today and certainly not drinking. The Urban Dictionary included other definitions too like going into a store, grabbing a six-pack and running out without paying. Don’t do that.

Geographically the term "run" was used interchangeably with stream or creek in certain pockets of the United States including Virginia. An example familiar to many readers might include Bull Run, the site of two famous Civil War battles fought in the Commonwealth. The Union army often named battles after a nearby body of water.

Beer Run flowed past Frozen Toe Road. I’m sure there was a joke in there somewhere.

Beer Airport

Beer Airport, Hudson, Wisconsin, USA

A pilot could be fired for consuming alcohol anytime close to flight time so Beer Airport sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. The "airport" — and I used that term loosely here — was a thin grass strip set between two plowed fields in rural Wisconsin.

The Federal Aviation Administration maintained records on every airport including this one, which was listed by AirNav.com. Beer Airport was a private field, 2200 x 60 ft. (671 x 18 m) with a 40 foot high powerline at the end of the runway (clearly visible on Street View). Richard Beer was listed as owner and Dan Beer was manager, thus explaining the name they selected for the facility. The Beers operated two single engine airplanes and an ultralight from their personal airport.

I’m impressed by the things one finds on the Intertubes. Richard Beer was also listed in TruckCompaniesIn.com.

Richard L Beer is a Carrier truck company located in Hudson, WI. Richard L Beer’s United States DOT (Department of Transportation) number is 560700. Richard L Beer employs 3 truck drivers as owner operators or company drivers. Leasing opportunities may be available. Richard L Beer’s commercial over-the-road transportation services may include specialized, flatbed, or heavy haul driving. 3 of Richard L Beer’s trucks include auxiliary power units.

The Beer family had a fascination with machines.

Beer Can Pond

Beer Can Pond, Tallahassee, Florida, USA

I found no additional information on Beer Can Pond. I enjoyed the name and the Street View image was nice. That was all.

Beer Cemetery

In heaven there is no beer.
That’s why we drink it here
When we’re gone from here,
all our friends will be drinking all our beer

(traditional Polka)

On the surface it seemed that the Beer Cemetery in Fulton Co., Illinois (map) might have been an attempt to deliver a few creature comforts into the afterlife. It wasn’t of course. The cemetery was actually the final resting place for an extended family of about forty people, many named Beer. A gravestone listing suggested that it was active in the second half of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century. The site later fell into neglect, judging by individual grave markers.

Root Beer Falls

I figured I’d also throw a bone at the teetotalers who suffered through the rest of this article, bless their hearts. GNIS recorded Root Beer Falls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in Gogebic Co. (map).

Upper Tahquamenon Falls (Paradise, Michigan) by Corey Seeman via Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

This is Tahquamenon Falls, also located on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, however on the opposite side nearly five hours away by car. I found next to nothing about Root Beer Falls, however I found tons of information about Tahquamenon Falls which was known informally as Root Beer Falls.

The Tahquamenon River flows 94 miles from the Tahquamenon Lakes into Lake Superior, and its falls are sometimes affectionately called “Root Beer Falls” because of the water’s distinctive color. The flowing water has a rich, deep brown color, which is the result of tannic acid produced by decaying hemlocks, cedars, and spruces along the river’s banks.

Got that? Root Beer Falls was completely unknown except to the US Geological Survey, while a much better Root Beer Falls was officially Tahquamenon Falls.

Somewhat Related

We snagged tickets to SAVOR 2014 during the American Homebrewers Association pre-sale period today. Rumor has it they sold out in two minutes. Life is good. Any other 12MC-ers attending?

Three American Moscows

On February 11, 2014 · 3 Comments

I noticed an interesting aside on a Wikipedia entry for Moscow, Idaho while I examined background information about the University of Idaho for the recent What State U article:

It was reported by early settlers that five men in the area met to choose a proper name for the town, but could not come to agreement on a name. The postmaster Samuel Neff then completed the official papers for the town and selected the name Moscow. Interestingly, Neff was born in Moscow, Pennsylvania and later moved to Moscow, Iowa.

I couldn’t let an utterly fascinating tidbit like that go unchallenged without examining it further. One would imagine that something so precisely-stated would withstand a little scrutiny and basic fact checking. At the risk of spoiling the surprise, Samuel Neff existed, he very likely suggested the name Moscow and he did live in the states of Idaho, Pennsylvania and Iowa. The part labeled "interestingly" was bogus though, in my opinion.

Feel free to come back in a couple of days for a new article now that I’ve revealed the punchline, or follow along as I unravel the strings.

Moscow, Idaho

Moscow, Idaho

Most online sources and even the City of Moscow itself repeated a variation on that same theme. Allegedly Neff was postmaster and filed a permit circa 1877 requesting a new post office named Moscow in Idaho because he came from Moscow, Pennsylvania (and in many other versions also once lived in Moscow, Iowa). Most of these sources seemed to have copied directly from each other with or without attribution, and converted verbiage to fact.

The Idaho State Historical Society took a slighly different twist. In its version, Neff sold his farmstead on a site that would subsequently become Moscow to Asbury A. Lieuallen, and it was Lieuallen who filed the new name with postal authorities. Thereupon, "S. M. Neff, who previously had lived in Moscow, Pennsylvania, and Moscow, Iowa, took credit for suggesting that Lieuallen’s townsite on his farm be named Moscow."

I’ll note that this topic has inflamed passions and led to spirited Intertubes discussions on a number of fronts. The ones I reviewed focused on the timing of the founding of the various Moscows and ignored Neff. I examined both.

Moscow, Pennsylvania

Moscow, Pennsylvania

I reviewed the "History of Luzerne, Lackawanna, and Wyoming Counties, Pa" (Google eBook). On pages 483-484 it noted, "This village the principal one of the township was so named by Henry W. Drinker from the fact that there were living here a number of natives of the famous Russian city of that name" and referenced the first home as that of one belonging to Rev. Peter Rupert, a log house build in 1830. This explanation of etymology has been questioned because of a lack of physical evidence (e.g., lack of Russian surnames in the population, lack of appropriate architecture) that cast doubt upon the existence of early 19th Century Muscovites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Nonetheless Moscow, PA existed prior to Moscow, ID, and that’s what really mattered. I could search for Neff there.

I had to make sure I looked in the right place so I consulted the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries. It confirmed that Lackawanna County, where Moscow can be found today, did not exist until 1878. It was part of Luzerne. U.S. Census records produced zero matches for Neff or any logical variations of that surname including soundex for anywhere in Luzerne County between 1840 – 1860.

Strike one.

Moscow, Iowa

Moscow, Iowa

Moscow existed in Iowa during the requisite period as noted by the Muscatine County GenWeb page. Moscow "was one of the first townships organized in 1842." The Newberry atlas confirmed the county boundaries. Nonetheless, I found no signs of Samuel Neff. I did see a single Neff family in various records for Muscatine over several decades, the household of George W. and Rebecca Neff and their children, however they were from Ohio not Pennsylvania and none of them were named Samuel.

Strike Two.

The Migration of Samuel Miles Neff

Samuel Miles Neff
SOURCE: The Spokesman-Review, Sept. 30, 1957,
via Google News

Several sources converged to identify Samuel Miles Neff, son of John Neff and Mary Grubb, born in 1841 in Pennsylvania, married to Josephine Adline Terhune in 1883, and died in Puyallup, Washington in 1927, as the likely Samuel Neff of Moscow, Idaho. A wildly exaggerated version of the Moscow, Idaho origination story printed in a 1957 newspaper article confirmed my theory. It was based upon family folklore as told by one of Neff’s daughters to the person who wrote the article. It never mentioned the other two Moscows, and believe me, it was so over-the-top that it most certainly would have made such a claim if it was even remotely true.

Federal census records showed that he resided in Indiana Township, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania in 1850. That’s nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) (map) from Moscow, Pennsylvania. State census records showed that he then lived in Iowa, appearing in Jackson County first in 1852, a place where his father remained until at least 1880. That was 80 miles (129 km) (map) from Moscow, Iowa. He might also be the same Samuel M. Neff who appeared in the Civil War Draft Registrations Records in Mahaska, Iowa, even farther away from Moscow.

Neff seemed to slip between the most obvious records as he dropped briefly into Idaho (he slid in between the 1870 and 1880 Census). There were plenty of other sources that placed him there so that didn’t bother me too much. I feel quite confident that he was in Moscow, Idaho upon its founding.

Neff Was Here; Puyallup, Washington

He spent the second half of his life in Washington state. By 1920, the tail-end of his life, he resided in Puyallup at 315 2nd Street Northeast. Today that’s the home of Yellow House Yarns. Consider that for a moment as we ponder the paper and digital trails we leave behind us in the modern age.


Samuel Miles Neff was a real person who lived in Idaho, Pennsylvania and Iowa. He has been credited with providing a name to Moscow, Idaho, although the extent of his involvement in the founding of the town and the reasoning behind his recommended name may never been known. The true history has been obscured by an overabundance of embellishment, oral tradition and fanciful tales, some likely started by Neff himself in his old age as he spun yarns in a home that later became a yarn store.

It is unlikely that Neff ever had a connection to three different Moscows. He did own land that became Moscow, Idaho. It is doubtful that he was born or lived in Moscow, Pennsylvania or that he lived in Moscow, Iowa.

And I so wanted the Triple Moscow nexus to be true.

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