A State That Never Was in Wyoming

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SHERIDAN, Wyo. — In early 1939, as talk of war in Europe clouded the horizon and hard economic times gripped the nation, a group of business and political leaders in this northern Wyoming city hatched an audacious, if not quite ridiculous, plan to break off huge chunks of Wyoming, South Dakota and Montana and form a new state.

Editors at the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project, which happened at the time to be combing the country for local color (and for writers as well, for a series of travel guides about the United States that are now coming online and enjoying a public revival of sorts), included the story in the Wyoming guide, published in 1941, as an example of ten-gallon cowboy eccentricity.

The tale of the would-be rebels, who called their new state Absaroka (pronounced ab-SOR-ka), from the Crow word meaning “children of the large-beaked bird,” then faded into the mist. Details were forgotten — how a baseball-player-turned-street-commissioner in Sheridan named A. R. Swickard appointed himself governor and began hearing writs of grievance, and how license plates were distributed along with pictures of Miss Absaroka 1939, the first and apparently last of her breed. There was even an Absarokan state visit, when the king of Norway made a swing through Montana.

But here is the great open secret of this part of the West: the frontier spirit of the state that never was lives on.

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