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.


Etymology

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.

On July 10, 2014 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Wyoming, More Than Just a State”

  1. David F-H says:

    Just catching up on TWC after moving across country (sorry I didn’t check-in as we drove! Next time!), and I liked a quiet little link between this article and the presidential deaths:
    The (former?) Syrian Embassy is on Wyoming Avenue in DC!

  2. Christine says:

    Don’t forget Wyoming County, PA! I’m not sure which was named first, the Wyoming Valley or Wyoming County, PA (formerly part of Luzerne County until 1842).

  3. Drake says:

    Coincidentally, there’s a city in MIchigan named Wyoming, which was named after Wyoming County, PA, where many of the residents originated. It’s a suburb of Grand Rapids, I think about 75,000 people.

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