Wyoming, Texas

On March 22, 2012 · 7 Comments

No, as far as I know there isn’t a town of Wyoming in Texas. Believe me, I’d hoped there might be such a place but the Geographic Names Information System provided by the U.S. Geological Survey doesn’t list one. Conversely there aren’t many items of significance named Texas in Wyoming either, other than a mine, a creek a lake and a small mountain pass. It’s like two mutually-exclusive cowboy cultures.

I heard it again the other evening while flipping through television channels somewhat randomly, this time on a previously-aired episode of How the States Got Their Shapes. It recounted a claim that Texas was so large that it once stretched all the way into Wyoming. Texas is crazy large and it’s residents love to remind everyone of that fact, but I wondered if there was truth behind the statement.

Wpdms republic of texas

The claim includes an element of truth although it’s more complicated than the careless way it’s often tossed-around. The above image from Wikimedia Commons actually displays it very nicely. Keep an eye on that while I peel a few layers away. Be forewarned that I will grossly oversimplify historical details for the sake of expediency.

The Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain created a border along the Arkansas River to its headwaters, then due-north from there to the 42nd parallel north of latitude. Mexico, meanwhile, was fighting for its independence from Spain during that period and finally succeeded in 1821. Thus, Mexico inherited the Spanish land claim along the southwestern side of the Arkansas River border with the United States.

Next came the Texas Revolution. Clashes began in 1835, lasted several months and resulted in a new sovereign nation carved from Mexico territory in 1836. Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco after his defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto. This gave birth to the Republic of Texas. The Mexican army was supposed to relocate south of the Rio Grande River as a result. However — and this is a key point — the Mexican government never ratified the treaties.

Thus the Republic of Texas claimed, and Mexico disputed, that Texan territory encompassed everything between the line established by the Adams–Onís Treaty of 1819 on the east and the Rio Grand River on the west, with lines drawn due north from the respective headwaters up to the 42nd parallel. That’s what is shown in the graphic above and that’s where it extend into modern Wyoming.

It was both tenuous and fleeting. The Republic of Texas ceased to exist in 1845 when it became part of the United States. Next, Mexico relinquished all claims to Texas in 1848 as a result of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War so that cleared things up a bit. Then, Texas ceded a big chunk of its territory to the U.S. Federal government as part of the Compromise of 1850 in return for debt relief. Thus, the portion of modern Wyoming was in Texas only from 1836-1850 and it was in dispute with Mexico for most of that time anyway. Texas wasn’t in any position to exercise direct control over their Wyoming nub except on paper.

View Wyoming in Texas in a larger map

Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop me from trying to figure out where in Wyoming the Texan territory once extended. I drew lines as best I could from the headwaters of the Arkansas and Rio Grand Rivers due north up to the 42nd north parallel, and shaded that portion on the Wyoming side of the border. I also attempted to draw the Carbon County, Wyoming boundary, which displays on the map as a light grey line. There’s quite a bit of overlap. Some of "old" Texas might also extend slightly into neighboring Albany County to the east or Sweetwater County to the west. I consider that within the margin of error; maybe it does or maybe it doesn’t. I can’t promise that my locations matched exactly with Nineteenth Century headwaters calculations so let’s consider this an approximation.

Anyone driving the length of Interstate 80 through Wyoming has cut directly through Old Texas. Likewise people living in any number of towns in Carbon County including the 8,500 people in Rawlins can claim an ephemeral long-ago kinship with Texas. It’s an interesting historical footnote.

On March 22, 2012 · 7 Comments

7 Responses to “Wyoming, Texas”

  1. Pfly says:

    Those headwaters were not known when Texas defined these boundaries. Neither the Arkansas nor the Rio Grande headwaters had been located, at least according to “American Boundaries”, http://books.google.com/books?id=LMacwod5KLwC&pg=PA80 …”The shape of the nation [Texas] thus described certainly looks anomalous to our eyes–that weird “tail” stretching hundreds of miles to the north. But of course no Texan was envisioning this shape when the borders were set out…”.

    On p. 70 the author points out: “The familiar stair-step shape of the Adams-Onís line had been reproduced on maps for well over a century now, and our eyes have become so accustomed to that distinctive shape that we simply assume it to be the actual shape of the boundary negotiated in the treaty. But it’s important to remember that at the time of the treat–and indeed for thirty years thereafter–not one person could have visualized that stair step as the shape of the boundary. That border outlines a shape that seems familiar, even manifest, to us; but it is a shape that would have looked unfamiliar, perhaps even strange, to the people of the time.”

    • Pfly says:

      PS, not to suggest you wrote anything wrong, just a footnote to the footnote! I wonder how the maps would have been drawn had it turned out that the source of the Arkansas was west of the source of the Rio Grande. Would the border not have been drawn north to the 42nd parallel in that case? I suppose we’ll never know.

      • No worries — that’s how I interpreted your original comment too. It further supports the case that people throw the Texas-Wyoming claim around a bit too cavalierly. The better answer is, “Well, yeh, kinda, I suppose.”

  2. wangi says:

    I spent a fair bit of time there abouts in Wyoming back in 2006 (staying in Rawlins, working around Wamsutter). Some interesting things collide – the TX bit you mention, Continental divide, Transcontinental Railroad and the settler’s trail…

    See some photos at http://www.pbase.com/wangi/wyoming and http://www.pbase.com/wangi/wyoming_at_work

    Of particular interest is the large out of place red sandstone outcrop on some of the photos. Obviously a focal point for the settler’s trail, with some graffiti to show for it!



  3. Peter says:

    Wyoming is the only state, as far as I can tell, which takes its name from a location in another state (the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania).

  4. Al Wyo says:

    A big thanks to the Howder family. Several years ago
    I had located the headwaters of the Rio Grand and the Arkansas rivers and selected the longitude line for each. My locations were
    the same as they had on the map, within the width of a pencil line. The two Wyoming landmarks that were near the Wyo/Colo border were
    Savery, east of Baggs (on the west) and a little east of Fox Park on the east.
    This is the first individual that I have found who addressed the real question. Queires to several Texas historical groups failed to provide ANY answer.
    The real problem is deciding where a stream starts, at a spring, a snow bank, a lake or???
    Rio Grande is a little easier to define, but the Arkansas really twists around.

    Please accept my thanks and since two researchers agree, and no one else responds___it is by definition absolutely the correct answer.
    Maybe we can get the Wyoming State Highway Dept. to show Texas boundries on their Highway map as a piece of old history.
    thanks, Al

  5. Ronald Ellis says:

    found this to be great reading, interesting and informative (proudest Texan you never met)

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