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125 Years Proud

Written by Dennis Sun

Last week Wyoming celebrated 125 years of statehood. The event was more of a time of reflection around the state, but Cheyenne had a great celebration along with a parade.

Reading of histories from the Wyoming State Historical Society, Wyoming almost didn’t become a state at the year it did. It had plenty of support from everyone in the state ever since it had become a territory in 1869, but the U.S. Congress, using a general rule of thumb dating back before the U.S. Constitution to the Northwest Ordinance, said that a territory had to show a population of 60,000 people to qualify for statehood. The current Territorial Governor Thomas Moonlight, a Democrat, said in December 1888 that Wyoming had only 55,000. Well, what do you know, there was a Democrat in the state who didn’t inflate figures – or maybe he just couldn’t count.

Francis E. Warren, a Republican, was appointed to a second stint as territorial governor in 1889, replacing Thomas Moonlight, and he strongly supported statehood. At that time Wyoming was a rural state with mostly ranchers and residents of small towns, but because of the railroads, the population was growing. The railroads in those days were the Union Pacific, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy, and the Chicago and Northwestern. Together, and partly as a result of all the coalmines they owned, the railroads established a growing population.

Joseph M. Carey, the only officer elected territory-wide as delegate to Congress, also backed statehood. Territorial governors and other top officials were appointed by the President. Territorial delegates to Congress could introduce legislation but could not vote. Carey argued that it was not unprecedented for territories with fewer than 60,000 people to be granted statehood. Carey, Warren and others knew that while Wyoming’s 20-year-old ruling for women’s votes would be controversial when the statehood proposal reached Congress, the population issue was more likely to cause problems.

Congress did not act on Carey’s proposal calling for a Wyoming constitutional convention in 1889, but Warren went ahead and set a date for the election of delegates to a constitutional convention in Cheyenne. The election was called for July 8, 1889. Even though women held full voting rights and the right to seek and hold office, not one woman ran for a delegate position. Though Wyoming was the first state to grant equal political rights to women, the state constitution was drafted, debated and passed entirely by men – a dark time for the state.

At that constitutional congress, 49 of the 55 elected members assembled in Cheyenne in September 1889 to draft the Constitution. Only four of the 49 elected delegates did not sign the Constitution and attended only now and then. That was pretty good considering travel in those days. Warren kept pushing to finish the job as the Wyoming statehood proposal would have to be introduced before Congress ended its current session and the citizens of Wyoming would have to vote on the proposed Constitution at the November general election. Warren wanted their work done by the end of September, just 25 working days away.

Knowing their time was short, the delegates used parts of other state’s constitutions they liked, except when it came to two major exceptions, water and irrigation and women’s rights. Smart guys – they knew they had to go home to their wives and neighbors. Some things never change.