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Places That Could Have Been U.S. States

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U.S. history has been defined by people and communities keen to forge their own independent path. As a result, the current 50 states each have a distinct government and cultural identity. While the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico may achieve statehood and join them one day, other proposed states over the centuries have fallen by the wayside — meaning you’ve probably never heard of the likes of Delmarva, Deseret, and Nickajack. Take a look at seven would-be states from America’s colorful past up to the present.

7

Greater Idaho

A view of Snake River in Idaho, a major river of the greater Pacific Northwest of the U.S.
Credit: Alisa_Ch/ Shutterstock

A current movement called Move Oregon's Border For a Greater Idaho seeks for a large chunk of mostly agricultural counties in central, southern, and eastern Oregon to split away and become part of Idaho instead. This reflects a common theme among new proposed states: a sense of rural dwellers being ignored in favor of cities and frustrated by their politics. Several counties in northernmost California have also expressed an interest in the movement, but it is unclear exactly how creating a Greater Idaho would work in practice — from matters of counties that share names with those already in existence in Idaho to larger issues such as state licensing for certain professions. And even if the long-shot proposal wins approval in the county ballots, it would still have quite a way to go in state legislatures before becoming reality.

6

Forgottonia

Sunset over the Sny Levee flood pool in Western Illinois.
Credit: LilyBrice/ Shutterstock

What started as little more than a satirical publicity stunt in the early 1970s turned into a grassroots campaign that helped to draw attention to rural Illinois. Local businessmen in western Illinois were frustrated at the lack of attention their region received from the state government, especially poor investment in transportation. They proposed a new state, appropriately named Forgottonia, comprising 16 counties. The organizers recruited a theater student to be their governor, appointed the small community of Fandon state capital, and proclaimed that they would secede and apply for foreign aid. The movement gained some attention for a short period but fizzled out in 1972. Nevertheless, Amtrak later established a train route through the area, so perhaps Forgottonia wasn’t so forgotten after all.

5

Texlahoma

Texas windmill on the panhandle plains.
Credit: Hundley Photography/ Shutterstock

Decades before the residents of Western Illinois felt forgotten by their representatives, so did folks in the Texas panhandle. By the 1930s, automobiles had become more affordable and were more common on American roads. Cars were especially useful for covering distances in the open spaces of the West — as long as the areas they passed through had decent infrastructure. Unfortunately, that was sorely lacking in the panhandle of Texas and neighboring western Oklahoma. A proposal for the 49th state (at the time) combined 23 Oklahoma counties and 46 Texan counties into Texlahoma, with the capital in Amarillo. Residents believed that having their own statehood and legislature would give them better access to improved infrastructure and services. The New York Times reported on the story, and it even earned the support of then-Vice President John Nance Garner. The plan was ultimately dropped, with some suggesting that those proud Texans couldn’t quite bring themselves to give up their Lone Star identity.

4

Absaroka

 A bison in a green field beside a body of water.
Credit: Exploder1/ iStock

In 1939, a street commissioner in Sheridan, Wyoming, named A. R. Swickard declared himself governor of Absaroka, a combined chunk of Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota. At the time, the Federal Writers’ Project was sending journalists across the country in search of local color, and so what might have remained a little-known local oddity captured the national imagination. Although the proposal for statehood never reached any of the state legislatures involved, a Miss Absaroka beauty pageant did take place, and Absaroka license plates were produced. Organizers even claimed a royal visit when the King of Norway happened to be in Montana. Ranchers and farmers in the region might have latched onto the proposal, especially given recent droughts and a lack of federal aid, but with war breaking out overseas, their attention quickly turned to patriotism. By the time of the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941, the idea of secession and the future of Absaroka had faded entirely. If not for that, visitors to Mount Rushmore might have found themselves in the state of Absaroka instead of South Dakota.

3

Cascadia

Glacier in the North Cascades.
Credit: eastandwest/ Shutterstock

Depending on whom you ask, Cascadia could be a bioregion, a new state, or a new nation. CascadiaNow! is a Seattle-based nonprofit seeking to promote the importance of community and environment in the watersheds of the Columbia, Snake, and Fraser Rivers. However, others have gone one step further and proposed a new state, comprising parts of Oregon and Washington. A few even suggest Cascadia could be an independent nation, covering an area from northern California up the coastline to southern Alaska. If this were to occur, depending on the actual land boundaries, economists have said it could be a major global economy, containing the headquarters of Microsoft, Starbucks, and other large corporations. Alas, such an outcome is highly unlikely. CascadiaNow! has established a number of environmental education and community health projects in the Pacific Northwest in the meantime, so you may see the Cascadia flag, emblazoned with a Douglas fir, as you travel around the region.

2

Jefferson

Statue dedicated to founding father and third President of the U.S., Thomas Jefferson.
Credit: chrisdorney/ Shutterstock

If you're wondering why there is not a state named after Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, it isn’t for lack of trying. There have been four attempts to establish one over the years. In 1859, a group of miners proposed the Jefferson Territory in western Kansas, which later became Colorado. Two Jeffersons have been suggested on different occasions in Texas. The fourth was in Northern California. As in the case of Absaroka, talks of these proposed states halted after the outbreak of World War II. Nevertheless, there are still some residents of northern California and southern Oregon who hold out hope for a breakaway state named Jefferson, with Redding as the state capital. There’s even a Jefferson flag depicting a gold mining pan on a field of green with two X-es on the pan that symbolize abandonment by their current states.

1

Transylvania

Aerial view of the sunset over a rural neighborhood in Central Kentucky.
Credit: alexeys/ iStock

Central Kentucky residents know Transylvania well — and not as the home of Count Dracula (though that does make the local college T-shirts popular with tourists). When pioneer Daniel Boone crossed the Cumberland Gap into what is now Kentucky, he established a fort called Boonesborough. He hoped that this would one day be the capital of the 14th state, which was dubbed Transylvania in the 1770s. However, Virginia decided that they already owned the land and were not willing to let it break away. Congress also wasn’t too keen on the idea, so it was shelved. Several years later, the region did indeed become its own state, but it was named Kentucky. However, the original name lives on in Transylvania University, founded in 1780 as the first college west of the Allegheny mountains.

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