Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Wyoming Flag: A Wild West State of Mind

Cowboy at sunset, Shell WY (Photo by Joe Restuccia III)
"The Cowboy State" is just one of the nicknames for the state of Wyoming. It also is known as the "Equal Rights State" because Wyoming, the land of cowboys and cowgirls, granted women the right to vote and to hold public office in 1869 while it was still a territory – over two decades before it became a state.

One of the largest states in the Union with nearly 97,914 square miles, Wyoming's population remains, according to the 2010 census, barely over half a million (

Cowboy & Cowgirl, Big Horn, WY (Photo: Joe Restuccia III)
Another distinction: It is one of the few states whose flag was designed by a woman: Mrs. A.C. Keyes, the former Miss Verna Keays. The design, like the flag of Arkansas, is the result of a statewide contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

During the summer of 1916...
Miss Keays returned home to Buffalo, Wyoming. A recent graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, she entered the contest after encouragement from her father, and some procrastination on her own part as a friend was visiting from Ohio and her friend "made an excellent excuse for me to do everything but draw."
Mrs. A.C. Keyes, 1960 (Photo: Casper Journal
In her own words from a Feb. 15, 1960 interview with the Casper Journal, Mrs. Keyes remembers the story like this:

"As the closing date for the competition approached and my father's persuasion increased I knew it was time to heed him.

"Silently I had been pondering over the various possibilities for the design and was awakened from a sound sleep one night and there appeared to me a clear, complete and perfect design for the flag. I wakened my friend in great excitement, telling her I knew exactly what I would draw. She was uninterested and sleepily mumbled something incoherent about not caring. The following morning I drew the design as it had been revealed to me that night; such inspiration reaffirms the true Source of all Creation...

"Several days after I had submitted the design, Dr. Hebard telephoned from Sheridan to announce the decision of the Judges. There had been thirty-seven designs entered in the contest and the one I had submitted had been given first place. ... A technical description of the flag was then written and this drafted into a bill for presentation to the Fourteenth State Legislature."

On January 31, 1917, her design became the official stateflag for Wyoming.

A buffalo branded with the state seal
Mrs. Keyes describes the flag's symbolism in simple but eloquent terms:

"The Great Seal of the State of Wyoming is the heart of the flag. The seal on the bison represents the truly western custom of branding. The bison was once 'Monarch of the Plains.' The red border represents the Red Men, who knew and loved our country long before any of us were here; also, the blood of the pioneers who gave their lives in reclaiming the soil.
"White is an emblem of purity and uprightness over Wyoming. Blue, which is found in the bluest blue of Wyoming skies and the distant mountains, has through the ages been symbolic of fidelity, justice and virility.
"And finally the red, white and blue of the flag of the State of Wyoming are the colors of the greatest flag in all the world, the Stars and Stripes of the United States of America."

Wyoming became the 44th state on July 10, 1890. Let it fly!

Wyoming's state flag and "branding" state seal
Let It Fly!

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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