Research in the Equality State: Background & History

I’m going to start a new series with this post, about researching in one of my favorite states: Wyoming. We moved to Wyoming from Ohio when I was 14. I went to high school and college there. I met my husband there. He was born there. And now, my daughter is about to start attending the University of Wyoming this semester. So, Wyoming is a special place for me and my family. I also created a locality guide for the state (I don’t recommend doing a guide for an entire state, but that’s another story.)

Wyoming is a state with a lot of firsts for women, giving it the title “The Equality State”:

  • Esther Hobart Morris – first female Justice of the Peace, served in South Pass City, Feb. 1870
  • Mrs. Louisa Swain, first woman to vote in the nation in Laramie, 1870
  • Estelle Reel became the first woman elected to a state office, 1894
  • Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross, first elected female governor in the United States, 1924
Esther Hobart Morris, first female Justice of the Peace, Library of Congress image in the Public Domain.

Most of the Wyoming’s land was acquired by the US through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Most of the southern portion of modern-day Wyoming was claimed by Spain and Mexico until the 1830s but there was no real presence by them in the area at that time. The Oregon Territory claimed a western portion. There was also a little bit that was part of Texas.

“The Territorial Acquisitions,” The National Atlas of the United States, digital image (

The first known explorer to Wyoming was John Colter in 1807. Later, he was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He first wrote about the geological features in what is now Yellowstone National Park. In 1812, South Pass was discovered by a party of men returning from Astoria, Oregon. This important route would later be used by the Oregon Trail, the Union Pacific Railroad, and eventually become Interstate 80 that runs along the south part of Wyoming from east to west.

When traveling from my home in Colorado to Salt Lake City to visit the Family History Library, I drive across I-80. There is a lot of flat nothing much out there. I often find myself wondering about those first explorers and what they must have thought about that landscape as they traveled across it. By car it takes me about 7 hours to get to Salt Lake City. It would have taken many days by horse, wagon, or walking. Plenty of time to think about life while crossing the state!

We will explore important migration and transportation routes next week.

3 thoughts on “Research in the Equality State: Background & History

  1. I love Wyoming! My family on both sides all migrated to the Big Horn Basin in the early 1900s. However, I haven’t done a lot of genealogical research in Wyoming records. I’m excited to learn throughout this series. Thanks Cari!

    1. Lol! Yes, since we went to high school together I imagined you had some deeper connection to the state. I felt like the only “outsider” not from Cowley/Byron. 😁

  2. Cari Ann,

    I look forward to learning more about Wyoming.

    Years ago my wife and I took a trip from Houston, where we lived, to Tacoma, Washington were my parents lived. We drove through Wyoming in our Volkswagen Van on the way. As I drove along I saw a roadside sign pointing out that the Oregon Trail was just a little south of the highway we were on, so I drove there, turned onto the Oregon Trail and headed west. I could easily follow the unmarked trail because there was no grass growing where long ago wadon wheels had compacted the soil. I drove on for a quite a distance until I encountered deep ruts in the trail. That area must have had a lot of clay in the soil and wagons driving there in the rain left these ruts. Unfortunately the wheel-base of the wagons that made the ruts was different than my Volkswagen’s wheel-base, so one wheel would be in a rut while the other was on high ground. The ruts were not straight and the curves in them would make my vehicle snap back and forth as I drove along. It made the ride very uncomfortable. I saw where the trail ahead was coming to a big downward slope and decided not to try it. I stopped and we got out and looked for rocks but didn’t find anything of interest. I turned the van around and headed back to the highway, thinking to myself, “I have driven part of The Oregon Trail.”

    Best regards,

    Cousin Richard Campbell In Austin, Texas


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