Wyoming, a Guide to Its History, Highways, and People

By Writers' Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Wyoming | Go to book overview
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Natural Setting

MIDWAY between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean is the State of Wyoming, a great rectangular plateau of the Rocky Mountain uplift, broken by foothills and mountain ranges, with intervening valleys and extensive stretches of rolling plains. One of the four States that have no boundary lines formed by mountain range, river, or ocean, Wyoming is bounded by Montana on the north, South Dakota and Nebraska on the east, Colorado and Utah on the south, and on the west by Utah, Idaho, and a bit of Montana. The State ranks eighth among the 48 in area, with 97,548 square miles of land surface and 366 square miles of water.

The name Wyoming, it is believed, was derived from the LenniLenape or Delaware Indian language, and was first applied to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. If the word derives--as according to one interpretation it does--from a compound of the Delaware Indian maughwau, meaning 'large,' and wama, meaning 'plains,' the name describes the State's outstanding topographic feature, the Great Plains. (Some authorities state that Wyoming comes from two Delaware Indian words signifying 'the end' and 'plains,' therefore 'the end of the plains.')

No definite western boundary marks the merging of the Great Plains with the intermountain region. The Big Horns rise to the northwest and the Laramie and Medicine Bow ranges to the south, breaking the westward flow of the plains over about one third of the State. The three distinguishing characteristics of the Great Plains are the wide expanse of fairly level country, maintaining an average altitude of between 5,000 and 6,000 feet, the absence of forests, and the lack of rainfall sufficient for ordinary agriculture. The altitude of the northern section is half a mile lower than that of the southern, with a low point of 3,100 feet on the Belle Fourche River.

The Laramie Plains and the Cheyenne Plains in the south, primarily grazing country, are divided from the plains of the north by several distinctly agricultural districts; the Wheatland Flats, Platte Valley,

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