Most settings for our historical western books take place west of the Mississippi during the nineteenth century. I've listed below in alphabetical order the 24 states west of the Mississippi, when they officially became states and brief trivia about the origins of their state names, many of which came from Native American languages. Although not a part of the contiguous United States, Alaska and Hawaii are included in the list.
ALASKA, Jan. 3, 1959 Historically a district from 1867, it became an organized territory in 1912. The name originates from an Aleut word, "Alyeska," meaning "great land." The Aleuts are people inhabiting the Aleutian Islands and western Alaska.
ARIZONA, Feb. 14, 1912 The name is debated by historians, however, the region was sometimes called Arizona before 1863, although it was still in the Territory of New Mexico. The Spanish called the region Arizona based on Native American words translated to mean "silver-bearing" or "place of the small spring."
ARKANSAS, June 15, 1836 The name originated with the Native American Quapaw tribe by way of early French explorers.
CALIFORNIA, Sept. 9, 1850 The name originated from the Spanish conquistadors, after "Califia," a mythical island paradise described in Las Serges de Esplandian, by Garcia Ordonez de Montalvo, c. 1500.
COLORADO, Aug. 1, 1876 Spanish origin, meaning "colored red." The name was given to the Colorado river because of the red sandstone soil of the region.
HAWAII, Aug. 21, 1959 The name is possibly based on the native Hawaiian word for homeland, Owhyhee. Captain James Cook discovered the islands in 1778 and named the group, "the Sandwich islands" in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. This name lasted until King Kamehameha I united the islands under his rule in 1819 as the Kingdom of Hawaii.
IDAHO, July 3, 1890 Mining lobbyist George M. Willing presented the name "Idaho" to congress for a new territory around Pike's Peak, claiming it was a Shoshone Indian phrase: "E Dah Hoe," supposedly meaning Gem of the Mountains.
IOWA, Dec. 28, 1846 The name Iowa comes from the Iowa River, which was named for the Native American Iowas, a Sioux tribe.
KANSAS, Jan. 29,1861 Origin from a Sioux word meaning "people of the south wind."
LOUISIANA, April 30, 1812 Named in honor of Louis XIV of France
MINNESOTA, May 11, 1858 From a Dakota Sioux word meaning "sky-tinted water."
MISSOURI, Aug. 10, 1821 Named after the Missouri Indian tribe, meaning "town of the large canoes."
MONTANA, Nov. 8, 1889 Derived from the Spanish word meaning "mountain."
NEBRASKA, March 1, 1867 From the Oto Indian word meaning "flat water," referring to the Platte River.
NEVADA, Oct. 31, 1864 Spanish, meaning "snowcapped." The Spanish "Sierra Nevada" is also a mountain range in Spain.
NEW MEXICO, Jan. 6, 1912 New Mexico was named by the Spanish for lands north of the Rio Grande. Mexico is an Aztec word meaning "place of Mexitli" (an Aztec god).
NORTH DAKOTA, Nov. 2, 1889 Dakota is the Sioux Indian name for "friend."
OKLAHOMA, Nov. 16, 1907 From two Choctaw Indian words meaning "red people."
OREGON, Feb. 14, 1859 Uncertain to the name's origin, however, it is generally accepted that it was taken from the writings of an English army officer, in which he refers to "the River called by the Indians, Ouragon."
SOUTH DAKOTA, Nov. 2, 1889 Dakota is the Sioux Indian name for "friend."
TEXAS, Dec. 29, 1845 Derived from the word "teyshas," meaning friends or allies, from the Native American Caddo language.
UTAH, Jan 4, 1896 From the Ute tribe, "people of the mountains."
WYOMING, July 10, 1890 From the Delaware Indian word, meaning "mountains and valleys alternating," and was first used by the Delaware people as a name for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 1889 Named in honor of George Washington, our first president of the United States and the only state in the Union that is named after a president.