If North Colorado secession fails, Wyoming shouldn’t take them inBy Kerry Drake — September 3, 2013
Several counties in northern Colorado have spent the past few months contemplating breaking away from the distasteful Democratic despots in Denver and forming their own state, to be called — with a shameful lack of inspiration — North Colorado.
The name isn’t the only uninspired part of this silly effort, which will have at least six counties voting on the issue in November. To those of us in Wyoming, it all sounds so 1939.
That’s the year a contingent of Republicans in northern Wyoming pulled the same secessionist stunt, for essentially the same reason, but with much more flair than they’re doing it in Colorado. With southeastern Montana and western South Dakota, they formed their own state, Absaroka (pronounced ab-SOR-ka), from the Crow word meaning “children of the large-beaked bird.” And no, I’m not making any of this up. Check your history books.
A.R. Swickard, a former minor league baseball player who had risen to the office of street commissioner in Sheridan, declared himself the governor of Absaroka. His presence apparently made the city the de facto capital of the new state, as he began holding his own hearings on grievances that residents had with the Wyoming government.
Wyoming was granted statehood in 1890, but it took Republicans in the northern half of the state 49 years to decide that things just weren’t working out for them. Like their counterparts today in northern Colorado, they were fed up with the Democrats in the rest of the state having control of state government. They particularly despised Union Pacific and union workers.
But Swickard and his associates didn’t bother with petitions to get the secession issue on the ballot. Instead, they simply did what made sense and started acting like a state. After getting some like-minded residents in neighboring South Dakota and Montana to join the effort, Absaroka began issuing its own license plates. Swickard and his fellow rebels hosted the king of Norway, billing it as an official state visit that proved Absaroka was being recognized by world leaders, even though the king had just happened to be passing through southeastern Montana.
The new state even had a contest to crown its first beauty queen, Miss Absaroka, who turned out to also be the last Miss Absaroka when the movement faded into obscurity later in 1939.
Most of what has been recorded about the history of Absaroka is from the Federal Writers’ Project, which helped document New Deal life throughout the country. The primary motivation behind the new state was apparently dissatisfaction with how little money from the federal government was being doled out to northern agricultural interests that had been plagued for years by drought and grasshopper infestations.
“They’re weren’t fooling around; a lot of people thought it was silliness, but to them, it wasn’t,” former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming told the New York Times in a 2008 article. Simpson said he had an uncle, James C. Reynolds, a Sheridan hardware store owner, who was active in the movement, which was largely hatched during meetings of the city’s Rotary Club.
Whether Absaroka was a real goal of its founders or just a way to attract attention to themselves, it did have a positive effect. In a 2009 article in South Dakota Magazine, Nate Pederson noted that reporters started attending Swickard’s grievance hearings.
“[The] news coverage attracted the overdue attention of legislators in Cheyenne,” Pederson related. “Slightly embarrassed by the publicity generated by a secessionist movement within their borders, Wyoming and Montana leaders began to pay more attention to their eastern ranchers.”
I doubt that three-quarters of a century from now many people will remember that northern Colorado tried to secede and form the 51st state, largely because the effort is doomed to fail. In order for statehood to be granted, the move would have to be approved by both the Colorado Legislature and Congress, which simply isn’t going to happen no matter what voters in a few disgruntled, rural counties decide in November.
What caught my attention, though, was that because the secession movement’s leaders recognize that fact, they are already looking at alternate plans, and one of them is for the northeastern Colorado counties to be annexed by Wyoming. No one seems to know exactly how this might be accomplished, but several county commissioners said they are studying the issue to determine if it’s viable. Some suggested that it could require only a state constitutional amendment instead of state and federal legislative approval.
At this point we Wyomingites need to call a time-out and yell, “Wait a minute — don’t we have a say in this?” Just because they may want to become residents of Wyoming doesn’t mean we have to let them. Do they know nothing about our historic, incredibly strong independent spirit, or the fact that many of our residents see Colorado license plates and have nothing but disdain for the people driving through the state? They’re certainly welcome to stop, eat, gas up, look around for a while and even stay a night or two, but after they’ve bought their souvenirs and seen Yellowstone or the Frontier Days rodeo, it’s time for them to go home.
I suppose they’ll try to immediately buy resident fishing or hunting licenses. Look, people, it didn’t work for Liz Cheney, and it’s not going to work for you. Even if you manage to become Wyoming residents, you will always have an asterisk by your name when it comes to killing our wildlife. Maybe we’ll only charge you double, but you’re going to have to pay more.
Personally, I don’t think Wyoming would get enough out of the annexation deal to make it worth our while. True, there would be a whole lot more mineral tax checks written to our state government if industry keeps up its incessant fracking of northern Colorado. But frankly, the last thing our state needs is more Republicans and Libertarians who hate the federal government and our president. It would be nice to have some diversity and actually have a two-party system for the first time in eons, but it’s not going to happen if we are forced to absorb the serially unhappy ranchers of northern Colorado.
Here’s what I’d like to say to the people who want to secede from Colorado: Cowboy up. You don’t like the make-up of state government and the fact that Democrats are running the show? Don’t act like a little spoiled brat who takes his ball and goes home when things don’t go his way. Quit whining and do something about it.
Aren’t Republicans the party that expects everyone else to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Perhaps it’s not a concept that people in the Rocky Mountain West can easily grasp, but there is usually an ebb-and-flow to politics in most states: one party is in charge until people get sick of it, and then they replace them with their opponents, and repeat the process again and again. Republicans in northern Colorado can change things if they persuade people that they have the best ideas, but focusing on the looney notion of giving up and starting their own state — or joining Wyoming — isn’t going to help their credibility one whit.
So get over yourselves, North Colorado. If you want to make some political points and have some fun at the same time, you can do what Absaroka did long ago and declare your independence. Sell souvenir license plates and use the proceeds to promote your own candidates. Have your own beauty pageants, and even invite the king of Norway or some other quaint country to view your scenery.
But please come up with a better name. Given the energy boom you’re experiencing, how about Frackovania?— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com. — Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at [email protected]
If you enjoyed this column and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.