Sunday, June 4, 2017


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.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful information. Sure to find this useful.

    1. Thanks, I found it quite interesting and useful myself!

  2. We forget that states such as Minnesota and Ohio are "west of the Mississippi." This list is helpful when choosing a place--a state--to use as a setting for a new story.
    Thanks for a useful post!

    1. Love swapping interesting research with my favorite authors!

    2. I think the states I don't think of as "western" are Arkansas, Idaho, New Mexico and Washington state. I never really think of Hawaii as being western, but I do think of Alaska as western. Maybe Alaska just seems wild and more like a frontier than Hawaii which actually seems like a foreign port of call. LOL
      All the best to you, Cheri.

  3. Sarah, you're right, Alaska is "The Last Frontier." Having lived in Florida many years, I regard Hawaii as another tropical state, although in addition to its beautiful islands and beaches, it has mountains & volcanoes.

  4. That was so much fun to see how the states were named.

  5. Thanks for your comment .... I enjoyed researching their names. Lots more trivia about them, but didn't want to make too long.

    1. I love trivia. :-) Maybe you can make a second post with more little goodies. Thanks, Cheri, for the tidbits you did include.

  6. Very interesting, Cheri. I knew the origin and meaning of "Minnesota" having grown up there, but I didn't know how the other state names originated. Thanks for your informative post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Lyn. I was also surprised by the dates that some were admitted to the Union.


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