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44th star on the flag

Jul 10, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

The day Wyoming joined the union

July 10 is an important day for Wyoming. In fact, it might well be the most important one. Today is Wyoming Statehood Day. July 10, 1890, is the date Wyoming joined the union of the United States.

Forty-three states had gained statehood before Wyoming did, and only six more would follow.

We joined the union during a particularly busy period of statehood. Colorado had become the 38th state in 1876, and no more states were granted admission to the union for 13 years after that. But six states were added to the union in just eight months between November 1889, when both North Dakota and South Dakota were created, and Wyoming's statehood on July 10, 1890. Idaho entered exactly one week before Wyoming on July 3, 1890, and it was six more years before Utah joined in 1896.

Wyoming was part of the assemblage of states that endured longer than any other, save for the current 50-state lineup. We were one of the "Lower 48," so to speak -- the contiguous United States that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, from Miami to Seattle, from San Diego to the tip of Maine -- to comprise the entire nation for 47 years from 1912 to 1959.

Wyoming had been a well-known part of America before its statehood. It was a U.S. territory for many years before joining the union as the 44th state. In the history of the westward expansion of North America, Wyoming is important. The Lewis and Clark expedition did not come through Wyoming, but spinoffs of it did. John Colter, the seminal explorer of the Yellowstone region, first came west with Lewis and Clark.

Wyoming was trail country. The Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express and others came through Wyoming.

In the years immediately following the Civil War, Wyoming figured largely in one of the great industrial enterprises ever seen on planet Earth. This was the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad which covers wide Wyoming from border to border, with Cheyenne emerging as one of the great train towns in the nation as the railroad took shape.

A century later, a similar triumph of engineering and muscle took place as the Interstate Highway System was created. Wyoming is home to more than 300 miles of the cornerstone of the entire network, the mighty Interstate 80, which runs 2,900 miles from San Francisco Bay to Manhattan.

We are a state of firsts. The first U.S. National Forest was in Wyoming, and still is -- the Shoshone National Forest. The first national park was Wyoming's great Yellowstone. The first U.S. National Monument, Devils Tower, is a state landmark.

Wyoming was a territory at the time, but it was the first in America to grant women the right to vote, and the first to elect a woman to a standard public office, which was in our own Fremont County.

We will put our Teton range side-by-side against any geographic wonder on the planet and come out ahead in the comparison almost every time. The Tetons are part of Wyoming's great mix of geography and terrain, from the great grasslands of the northeast to the sagebrush prairies of the south and center, to the magnificent mountains of the West -- all in one state.

If Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa can claim to be the nation's breadbasket, then Wyoming is the nation's fuel tank. Let us remain forever proud of that distinction, for it has brought us great prosperity and economic stability. And if you've never seen a big Wyoming coal mine, or didn't get to see a big Fremont County uranium mine operating in full swing, then you missed an unforgettable sight.

We are a significant agricultural state as well, producing the nation's finest alfalfa hay, honey and sugar beets, and top-quality beef and wool. Significant acreage is devoted to important commercial crops that are shipped nationwide.

And we are home to half a million Americans. We have families, jobs, businesses, schools, farms, ranches, churches, parks, mountains, rivers, canyons, lakes, forests, geysers, prairies, streets and cities.

We are Wyoming, the proud 44th star on the flag, and today is our birthday.

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