From Absaroka to Yazoo: The 124 United States That Could’ve Been

Most of my life, I’ve daydreamed about history — not so much the incredible depth of historical events that have already occurred, good thinking as that might be. No, I’ve constantly fictionalized history by changing the outcome of one event here and there and exploring the possibilities of what would have come next. Sometimes I come up with some utterly ridiculous progressions on these alternate timelines of whole new worlds based on relatively minor changes.

Though I admit my imagination was far more active in my youth, I’ve had a little help getting things going again… mainly, of all things, Wikipedia. A treasure trove of information, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit has tons of information on historical minutiae that can be used to pass idle time. One of my favorite things to read about, oddly, is defunct sports leagues and teams. These always make me think of the random “what if” questions: What if the USFL hadn’t failed in its anti-trust suit against the NFL? (It won, but was only awarded $1.) What if, instead of Green Bay’s Packers, that the Muncie Flyers had survived as a small-market team to the present? What if the Federal League, or World Hockey Association, or ABA had made it? Sure, the world of sports is limited in application, but think: if something so arbitrary can spark the imagination, what about larger world events like World War II or the American Civil War? The possibilities are seemingly endless.

I’m certainly not the only one who’s done this. It seems like a good third of all Star Trek episodes deal with timeline issues like this. In fact, there’s a whole genre of literature, called “alternate history,” dedicated to exploring these very possibilities. Harry Turtledove is probably the king of this genre in the US. Turtledove explored an alternate reality in which the south won the American Civil War, all the way through present day. Philip K. Dick’s contribution (The Man in the High Castle), a book in which he explores the opposite possible outcome of World War II, is probably the most well known in the genre. Even Newt Gingrich as gotten in on the action. His book…. wasn’t completely terrible, as much as it pains me to admit it, though it’s probably more the subject matter than the writing.

Recently, on Wikipedia, I discovered a list that really intrigued me like none other: the List of U.S. State Partition Proposals. For a geographer/cartographer who’s a U.S.-specialist and who’s interested in alternate history, this was Kryptonite for my productivity. From this list, I stumbled onto listings for U.S. Territories that Failed to Become States and the listing for the hypothetical 51st State. I even came across a nice little book called Lost States, a humorous account from Michael Trinklein that briefly explores a number of random states that never quite happened.

After reading all of these things, and all of the linked pages connected — that’s where Wikipedia really sucks you in — I, of course, allowed my own mind to wander and I came up with the beginnings of a historical geography narrative for the United States of my own, drawing on each of these sources. How could I spell this out? Well, I’m no novelist, because I just really don’t have the imagination or skills necessary to put together a story in that format. However, I can make maps here and there, and I firmly believe that maps can do a pretty good job telling a story.

What did I end up with? My own alternate history U.S. map of 124 states (click on it for a bigger version):

Of course, as the map has stated right in the legend, this is NOT a proposal of any sort, it’s only a fictional work based loosely on history. Depending on my free time in the next few weeks, I’m hoping to post a summary of how I came up with this map (in other words, my timeline), and a brief capsule about each of these newly created states. I might even make a GIS shapefile so that I could do some rudimentary analysis. That’d be a bizarro GIS article to write, wouldn’t it?

Who knew fictional geography could be so much fun?

UPDATE: With the sudden interest in this post, I figured I should link to the other parts of the project I’ve completed:

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.

72 thoughts on “From Absaroka to Yazoo: The 124 United States That Could’ve Been”

  1. Cascadia is wrong. It includes OR, WA, BC and the Jefferson area on your map. Just look at the debates around the cascadia dark ale being designated as a regional beer type and the opposition from other parts of the US. Other interesting maps of regional association are the Dartmouth atlas of health care that defines referral regions for hospitals. Possibly a good proxy for some social and economic associations

  2. If you’re referring to the Republic of West Florida (1810), technically it didn’t include any of the original state of Florida but did include parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. The capital was Saint Francisville, Louisiana.

  3. Just to be complete. You forgot:
    1. Canada! What if Benedict Arnold's attempted 1775 conquest of Quebec had been successful? Then all of Canada would be ours.
    2. What if we'd kept southern Mexico after the Mexican-American War?
    3. Our two Pacific conquests from the Spanish American War, Guam and the Philippines.
    4. Panama, or at least the Canal Zone (otherwise known as the birthplace of John McCain).
    5. Our returned Pacific conquests from World War II: Ryukyu Islands, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

  4. How about finding someone who could create the interactive map, allowing people to see the current arrangement, and then go off to "publish" a new version based on their own research. For example, in New Mexico history, there have been a few semi-serious discussions of rearrangements to suit some political notion.

  5. You’ve been mentioned on Gizmodo! Your site may get hammered soon.

    Still hoping for that timeline. The map is fun, but the history would be fascinating!

  6. This is all interesting. I recall once hearing of a proposed territory (maybe imaginary) called "The Gulf State" that encompassed what is now the entire state of Florida along with the coastal counties of Alabama and Mississippi all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana, with New Orleans being the capital. Actually, I rather like this idea …. this seems to be a homogeneous area of geography for sure.

  7. This is all interesting. I recall once hearing of a proposed territory (maybe imaginary) called "The Gulf State" that encompassed what is now the entire state of Florida along with the coastal counties of Alabama and Mississippi all the way to New Orleans, Louisiana, with New Orleans being the capital. Actually, I rather like this idea …. this seems to be a homogeneous area of geography for sure.

  8. You're missing it. Not "how it COULD BE divided by sociology/style/who's moved there/…", but "divisions that HAVE BEEN PROPOSED".

  9. You missed the proposed State of Sequoyah. luna.library.okstate.edu:8180/luna/servlet/detail/OSULibraryOCM~7~7~11524~100285:State-of-Sequoyah?sort=Original_Date%2CBrief_Title%2CFilename&qvq=q:Sequoyah;sort:Original_Date%2CBrief_Title%2CFilename;lc:OSULibraryOCM~7~7&mi=4&trs=183

  10. As someone who grew up in South Florida, I Genuinely believe that South Florida from Orlando on down should be a separate state. It is the economic engine of the Florida and the primary reason why the states population keeps expanding. An eclectic Mix of cultures, progressive And inclusive, It is ruled And exploited economically by the tyranny of Tallahassee and entrenched old South backwards thinking which is so common throughout the rest of the state. Without South Florida, Northern and Central Florida would be left to wallow in their poverty and ignorance, and would be no better off economically than states like Arkansas and Alabama. Removed from the strangling yoke that the Tallahassee legislature imposes on South Florida, it would become the hub of the Caribbean, and the entire face of the region from Mexico to the northern part of South America Would change for the better.

  11. Love it!

    Although I must ask… since you clearly included certain proposals that go outside of the country's current borders (Mexico, Cuba), it seems like a lot of not-terribly-far-out-there states are missing… like how Canada was pre-approved to join the union by the Articles of Confederation, and how following World War II both the Phillipines and Newfoundland had minority but still mainstream support of joining the U.S.

    There are a handful more I've read about, and likely dozens more I haven't, but these three seem to have had at least as much serious support at one time as some of the states you have included on the map…

  12. This is wild! Like you, I have long had an over-active imagination, and I've spent most of my time thinking about sports leagues, trades that did/didn't happen, and music, etc.

  13. South Kentucky should also have included the Jackson Purchase region. It was the prime mover of secession in KY in 1862.

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  16. Since I was born in Fulton, MO I was fascinated that you picked up The Kingdom of Calaway for your map. I saw it in posting by Calaway County, Missouri. I’ve been proud of their reasoning for breaking away from North and South for years. Thanks for including us in your fun.

  17. In Colorado, it’s HuerfAno County/State. Nice on the inclusion… this place was an industrial powerhouse there for like ten minutes in the gilded age.

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