By the time westward expansion brought settlers across the Mississippi River, states started to take on rather uninteresting shapes. Unimaginative shapes – – – like “rectangle.” As explained in an earlier post, the advent of railroads had removed the need to use rivers to define the borders of states, so it became much easier to draw boxy shapes and attempt to make states roughly the same size.
But Utah and Wyoming were two rectangular shapes that overlapped each other. One was going to have to give up some land. How did they decide to leave Wyoming as a complete rectangle and cut a notch in Utah?
Part of the reason was political. Congress had already been dealing with the Mormon influence that had flooded Utah and the region (see my post in July titled “States that Disappeared” for more information) and by this time were not feeling particularly inclined to grant that fledgling territory any more land than it had to. The notched area was rich with many natural resources and Congress worried about giving too much power to a religious group in the cultivation of those riches.
But in the end the decision was made for more practical reasons. Just to the south and west of the notch, Utah is home to the rather ample Uinta Mountains. The ability to govern a chunk of land separated from everything else in the state by a wall of mountains was a serious difficulty in those times. But from the Wyoming side, no such impediment existed.
It made pragmatic sense to grant that notch of land to Wyoming based on the geographic ease of maintaining law enforcement and state governance in that area. Wyoming became a state in 1890 and Utah followed in 1896.