Nine US States You've Never Heard Of - Part IIby Joe McAlhany
In our July newsletter, we presented the nearly forgotten histories of four "almost" states, proposed or provisional states that were never officially part of the Union. We covered the thwarted formations of Franklin, Morgania, Fredonia, and Deseret last month. (Click here if you missed part one of this article.) This month, we are diving into the stories behind five more of these failed states. In doing so, we are also telling obscure but foundational stories about existing states, in this case Colorado, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.
Colona and Jefferson
Colona on "Carte Generale des Etats-Unis et du Mexique Comprenant l'Amerique Centrale et les Antilles," by E. Andriveau-Goujon, from Atlas Universel (dated 1862). [Click on the image to view this map in the OWA archive.]
Starting in July 1858, the Pike's Peak Gold Rush (later known as the Colorado Gold Rush) attracted some 100,000 fortune seekers to western Kansas Territory and southwestern Nebraska Territory. Created in 1854, these sizable territories spanned from the western banks of the Mississippi to the Rockies. As settlers flooded into the western areas of these territories, they quickly realized how isolated they were from the territorial governments in the east. Seeking the stability and responsiveness of local government, these settlers set out to organize a new territory.
The first attempt was introduced in Congress by Rep. Schuyler Colfax of Illinois on January 6th, 1859. Colfax's proposed territory was to be called Colona (named after Christopher Columbus) and would include the western portions of Kansas and Nebraska stretching from the 49th parallel south to New Mexico. Due to the terms of the Missouri Compromise, Colona would have been a free territory, something that Southerners in Congress could not afford at this tense juncture in history. As a result, Colona never really had a chance; predictably, the bill failed.
Still the settlers of the region were determined to assemble their own government. A few months after the collapse of the Colona bill, a convention gathered at Uncle Dick Wootton's Tavern in Auraria, a former mining settlement that now exists as a neighborhood in Denver. The convention came up with a name for a proposed state, Jefferson, and decided to meet again in a couple months to draft a constitution. In September 1859, settlers voted against a referendum to create the state of Jefferson. The popular consensus was that self-funding a new state would be a financial disaster. New territories, however, were funded by Congress. A month later, voters passed a referendum forming Jefferson, this time as a territory.
Jefferson on "Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indian Territory, Dacotah," by C. Roswell Smith, from Smith's Geography (ca. 1860). [Click on the image to view this map in the OWA archive.]
Unfortunately, Congress never recognized the Territory of Jefferson. Still, the extralegal and unrecognized territorial government operated from October 24, 1859, until the creation of the Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861.
Despite their short, unofficial existences, both Colona and Jefferson managed to live on in a handful of antique maps. It may have existed for a shorter period of time, but Colona is the more common of the two, appearing on select atlas maps published between 1859 and 1862. We have located Jefferson on a couple maps by Roswell C. Smith published circa 1860-62.
Kanawha on "Etats-Unis," by Poussielgue Freres (ca. 1864). [Click on the image to view this map in the OWA archive.]
As the Civil War started heating up in 1861, the state of Virginia was divided -- at first figuratively, and then quite literally. After the attack on Fort Sumter that April, the Richmond Convention gathered and voted 88 to 55 to secede from the Union. Half of the dissenting votes were from the far western counties. Even before the vote to secede was officially ratified by voters, local authorities across the state began taking action to join the Confederacy. There were hold-outs around Wheeling, where the local government continued to operate as usual and Union sympathizers ditched the state militia to fight with the North.
That summer, Kanawha Valley and the northwestern corner of the state became something of a sanctuary for Unionists as federal troops helped local volunteers beat back a swarm of Confederate troops. A convention met in Wheeling to debate whether or not it was possible or desirable to create a new state out of the western parts of Virginia. In August, the convention voted yes on a "dismemberment ordinance" that would create a new state of 39 counties called Kanawha.
The name did not last long, however, as members of the state convention determined that there would be too much confusion with its own Kanawha County. After considering several possible names including Allegheny, Augusta, Columbia, New Virginia, and Vandalia, the convention members decided upon perhaps the most obvious choice: West Virginia. After a highly irregular process, the new state was admitted into the Union on June 20, 1863.
Although we know there are other examples out there, according to our archives, we have listed maps with Kanawha on it just once: a lot of two French atlas maps published circa 1864 and 1868, respectively.
Pembina on "General Map of the United States," by John Bartholmew (ca. 1875). [Click on the image to view this map in the OWA archive.]
In 1861, two days before his term ended, President James Buchanan signed into law a bill that established the Dakota Territory, which originally consisted of the Dakotas and most of present-day Montana and Wyoming. Even after significant sections of the territory were annexed in 1863 and again in 1868, the territory was much too massive to run effectively. Starting in 1871, delegates began introducing bills proposing the creation of a new territory named Pembina in the northern section of Dakota.
According to Delegate J.P. Kidder's Territory of Pembina bill of 1875, "The people of the territory were unanimous in desiring such division; saying that the two sections were virtually separated anyway, and there could be no harmony of interests on account of the lack of communication and travel between the northern and southern parts." Kidder anticipated two main counterarguments to this division. The first was that the population of Pembina -- 15,000 of the 40 to 50,000 citizens of the Dakota Territory -- was too small to justify the creation of a brand new territory. But other territories had been struck in less populous areas, Kidder reasoned, so why not Pembina? The second counterargument was that it would be expensive to run a new territory. To that point, Kidder argued that running such an inconveniently vast territory was even more costly, not to mention inefficient.
Despite these convincing arguments in favor of Pembina, the bill failed to pass both houses of Congress every time it came up over the next decade or so. Eventually, of course, the Dakota Territory would be divided, with its two parts being admitted into the Union on November 2, 1889.
While the name "Pembina" shows up on a number of maps, often as a county or area of the western part of Minnesota Territory or a county in Dakota Territory, we have only seen one example of the proposed territory: John Bartholomew's "General Map of the United States" (ca. 1875).
"State of Sequoyah," by U.S. Government (published 1905). [Click on the image to view this map in the OWA archive.]
Established in 1834 in the wake of Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policies, Indian Territory was to be a new home to Native Americans forced to resettle west of the Mississippi. Originally, the Indian country consisted of all land west of the Mississippi outside the boundaries of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas Territory, and any other organized territory. This was an enormous area, including present-day Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and a portion of Minnesota. But over the course of the 19th century, the Native Americans continually lost land to new territories and white settlement. In 1890, the Oklahoma Organic Act created Oklahoma Territory out of the western part of Indian Territory and the panhandle (then referred to as No Man's Land), essentially halving the size of what remained of Indian Territory.
This act put the Indian and Oklahoma territories on track for statehood, likely to be combined as one state. For many years, the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory (the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) opposed the idea of statehood, whether in combination with Oklahoma Territory or on their own. But in the early years of the 20th century, their opinion started to change, in large part due to pressure caused by the Curtis Act of 1898. Under this act, the tribal governments and communal lands were set to be dissolved on March 6, 1906. In order to preserve their autonomy and culture, the tribes would have to consider statehood.
The main agitator for this new Indian state was James O. Norman, a Cherokee boardinghouse owner. "We, as Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Osage Indians, together with the whites and blacks in our midst, have the same equal right as American loyal citizens to call a constitution convention this summer, to adopt a constitution for the Indian Territory's new state, called ‘Sequoia,'" Norman wrote in the April 2, 1905 issue of the Muskogee Democrat. In Norman's conception, the state would be named after Sequoyah, the Cherokee silversmith and statesman who codified his people's language into a syllabary. His idea caught on. Delegates from all over Indian Territory met at the Hinton Theater in Muskogee on August 21 and August 22, 1905, for the Sequoyah Convention.
The delegates reconvened from September 5 through September 8, and again on October 14. In that time, they quickly drafted and signed a 35,000-word constitution. The proposed state of Sequoyah would have 48 counties and 4 elected congressmen, two Democrats and two Republicans to start. On November 7, 1905, the territory's voters approved the constitution in overwhelming numbers. But the odds were heavily stacked against the state of Sequoyah. Even with the concession of two Republican representatives, the Republican-dominated Congress was wary of what was sure to be a largely Democratic state. President Theodore Roosevelt made his position on the issue clear in his 1905 State of the Union Address: the Indian and Oklahoma territories should be admitted as one state. Rep. Arthur Phillips Murphy of Missouri, an attorney for the Creek Nation, and Sen. Porter James McCumber of North Dakota both sponsored bills for Sequoyah statehood, but they were never considered.
Yet as with Deseret and Utah, the proposed state eventually became a crucial part of the new state's DNA. When Oklahoma was admitted as the 46th state on November 7, 1907, its constitution was largely drawn from the Sequoyah constitution. Several delegates from the Sequoyah Convention would go on to hold prominent leadership positions in the Oklahoma government, including Charles N. Haskell, who served as the state's first governor.
According to Americana expert Wright Howes, there are three publications related to the state of Sequoyah and its constitution. The first is a 68-page constitution with a map published in Muskogee in 1905; the second is an unofficial 50-page version of the constitution without the map published in Guthrie, OK; and the last is an official 87-page version with the map.
An Alternate America
These proposed states have been lost to history, erased by the states that replaced them. Their names survive in the states that supplanted them as counties, cities, or streets; their shapes survive on old maps. Coming across one of these "almost" states on a map is a surreal experience, like glimpsing an alternate history, an America that could have been under slightly different circumstances.
The "Collector's Corner" is a new, recurring segment that will highlight one collector's journey through map collecting in their own words.
Jeff K. "My earliest exposure to maps was a globe that my brother and I used to play with at home, which was more like a balloon than anything else, but it had the geography. I wish I had that globe now because the geography has all changed. But we spent hours with that globe so I think I was imprinted early with an interest in maps and cartography. My first real area of interest in collecting was Africa. I was working for the World Bank for many years and for about a dozen years was traveling back and forth to Africa, being there and becoming familiar with places I'd never really known that well. A colleague was going through a map catalog and I came into his office and I asked him "What is that all about?" He said, "Well I've been collecting maps and even writing about them. Would you like to go to a map fair?" There was one in DC and we went together and that got me hooked. My very favorite map today is a family map. My grandfather formed his own advertising company, and somehow in the 30's or 40's his art director created a manuscript map that showed all his favorite haunts in Baltimore. And it is done in the style that people would recognize now as a great pictorial map."
If you would like to share your story, please reply to this email explaining (in 200-500 words) how you first became interested in collecting maps, how you decided on your collecting interest, and what is your favorite map and why. Hopefully we will feature your collecting journey soon!
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