Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

25 Wild Facts About Wyoming

Chloe Effron
Chloe Effron

Wyoming may always come last alphabetically, but don't hold that against it. From its natural wonders, to its early progressivism, to its many colorful characters, there's a lot worth knowing about the 44th state. Here are 25 facts for starters.

1. The name “Wyoming” comes from the Lenape Indian word mecheweami-ing, which means “at (or on) the big plain.”

2. The Wyoming territory became first in the nation to grant women over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1869. Historians believe that legislators passed the bill for several reasons, including a genuine conviction that women should have the same rights as men, a desire to attract new settlers to the territory by making it appear more modern, and because some legislators voted for it just to be able to say they did, believing (mistakenly) that the bill did not have enough traction to pass.

3. The country’s first female governor was also elected in Wyoming. After Nellie Tayloe Ross's husband, Governor William Bradford Ross, passed away, she was elected to finish his term. She served as the 14th governor of the state from 1925 to 1927, and was later appointed by FDR to serve as the director of the United States Mint. She is still the only female governor that the state has ever had.

By George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

4. Wyoming is the least populous state in the country, even though it’s the 10th largest by area. According to census records, approximately 586,000 people live within its 97,818 square miles. To put that in perspective, the smallest state in the U.S., Rhode Island, has an area of only 1212 square miles and is home to around 1.055 million people.

5. The official motto of Wyomingites is "Equal Rights" and one of the state’s nicknames is the Equality State, both in reference to the pioneering women’s suffrage law from 1869. The motto was officially adopted 86 years later in 1955.

6. The outlaw Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, a.k.a. The Sundance Kid, took his nickname from the town of Sundance, Wyoming, where he was jailed at the age of 15 for stealing a horse.

7. Most of Yellowstone, the nation’s first National Park, lies within the borders of Wyoming. Established in 1872, 44 years before there was a National Park Service, the park hosts nearly 4 million visitors each year. People come from all over the world to get a glimpse of Yellowstone’s majesty and its unique ecosystem, which is comprised of almost 300 species of birds, 67 species of mammals, 16 species of fish, five species of amphibians, and five species of reptiles.

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8. Abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming, a town named after the man who helped establish it, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Pollock’s family then moved to Arizona and California, and Jackson later followed his older brother Charles to New York.

9. There are reportedly only two escalators in the entire state, and both are located in the town of Casper. That number is doubled if you count the up and down sides as independent systems.

10. Bison are the official state mammal of Wyoming, but the relationship between the animals and their human neighbors is complicated. According to the National Park Service, there are more people hurt every year at Yellowstone by bison than by bears. Because conservation efforts have been so successful, there's also an initiative to keep the bison population down: this year, the goal is to capture and kill between 600 and 900 of the animals.

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11. The mythical creature known as the jackalope was "born" in the 1930s when, in Douglas, Wyoming, Douglas Herrick and his brother Ralph decided to add antlers to a dead jackrabbit they had taxidermied. They sold the creatures—and their tall tale—to anyone willing to buy. You can still get a jackalope hunting license in the city.

12. We hate to disappoint any Jake or Heath fans, but there is no Brokeback Mountain in Wyoming. The 2005 film may have been set in the mountains of Wyoming, but it was actually filmed much further north, in Alberta, Canada. It did, however, increase tourism to the area. “People are talking about Wyoming," Wyoming's director of travel and tourism, Diane Shober, told ABC News. “We've had more visibility from this movie than we've had in a long time from a movie." The last time movie fans flooded the state in droves, she added, was after the Devils Tower National Monument was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

13. Speaking of Devils Tower, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it the nation’s first National Monument as a part of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

14. Another famous movie that was filmed in Wyoming: Rocky IV. Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) trained to fight Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) on a farm in Jackson Hole; the frozen landscape that was supposed to pass for Russia was actually Grand Teton National Park.

Cinema Sins on YouTube

15. Since the mid-1800s, Wyoming has been an important destination for fossil hunters. Dinosaur bones were so plentiful in one area of southeast Wyoming that in the late 19th century, an enterprising local used bone fragments to construct a cabin (it still stands today). Wyoming is also one of only a handful of states with an official state dinosaur. An elementary school chose Triceratops to represent the state back in 1994.

16. There is only one public four-year educational institution in the state, the University of Wyoming. So if someone says they went to school in the Equal Rights State, they were probably rooting for the Cowboys.

17. In 2013, the tiny outpost of Buford, Wyoming—population one—was sold for $900,000 after its only resident decided to move away to be closer to his son. Pham Dinh Nguyen, a businessman from Vietnam, purchased the town in an online auction, and renamed it PhinDeli Town Buford, after the coffee brand he hoped to introduce to the area.

18. Old Faithful, the infamous cone geyser located in Yellowstone, got its name because of how dependable its eruptions are. The geyser erupts about every hour and a half, on average, and more than 90 percent of predictions about its eruptions are, according to the Park Service, accurate within a ten-minute window. 

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19. At one time or another, Tiger Woods, Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Charles Schwab, and Wyoming native Dick Cheney, just to name a few, all reportedly owned real estate in Jackson Hole, which is still a favorite ski destination of the rich and famous.

20. Nearly half of the state (48 percent [PDF]) is owned by the United States government. Its Wyoming-based holdings include national forests, the National Grassland, and an Air Force Base in the capital.

21. Wyoming didn’t raise the legal drinking age from 19 to 21 until 1988—the last state in the union to do so.

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22. James Cash Penney opened his first store on April 14, 1902 in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Today there are approximately 1020 JCPenney stores across America.

23. On April 30, 2015, Laramie, Wyoming danced its way into the Guinness Book of World Records when 1184 swing dancers took to the floor of the University of Wyoming’s Fieldhouse at the same time.

24. Two of the largest coal mines in the world are located in Wyoming: North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder, both in the Powder River Basin. Coal is big business in Wyoming, with about 40 percent of the country’s domestic supply coming out of the state’s mines.

25. Wyoming may be landlocked, but it's still home to dozens of islands. There are 32 named islands within the state’s borders, most of which are located in Green River, Yellowstone Lake, and Jackson Lake.

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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