Historical Research Maps: Western States

Historical Research Maps: Western States

The regions of the Wild, Wild West didn't always look like they do today. Check out this map of the Western United States in 1857, plus a list of when states were organized into territories and admitted to the Union.

Image courtesy the David Rumsey Map Collection
For more than a century, Americans ventured west to seek wealth and start their lives anew. You’ve heard the dangers they faced in the Wild West—cruel weather, starvation, disease, bandits, ferocious animals, hostile American Indians—but the west was “wild” in another sense: the ever-shifting boundaries of what would later become the Western states. Territories jockeyed with each other for land, making it difficult to trace your ancestors who lived in these Western regions before statehood.

This “New Map of the Union” shows the Western states and territories in 1857, though you’ll notice some major differences between state boundaries on this map and the ones on your favorite map app today. Washington and Oregon extend all the way east to the Rocky Mountains, and Kansas expands farther west. The monstrous “Nebraska Territory” contains land from five other modern states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. Likewise, “Utah” and “New Mexico” contain pieces of other states.

Check out this table, which lists each of the states west of Missouri, when they were (or weren’t) organized into territories, when they were admitted as states to the Union and what (if any) other territories they were part of before statehood. Use this table to search for records of your Western ancestors in the appropriate archives.
Name Territory organized Statehood Previously part of
Arizona 1863 1912
  • New Mexico Territory
California n/a 1850 n/a
Colorado 1861 1876
  • Kansas Territory
  • Nebraska Territory
  • New Mexico Territory
  • Utah Territory
Idaho 1863 1890
  • Nebraska Territory
  • Oregon Territory
  • Washington Territory
Kansas 1854 1861 n/a
Montana 1864 1889
  • Dakota Territory
  • Idaho Territory
  • Washington Territory
Nebraska 1854 1867 n/a
Nevada 1861 1864
  • New Mexico Territory
  • Utah Territory
New Mexico 1850 1912 n/a
North Dakota 1861 1889
  • Dakota Territory
  • Nebraska Territory
Oklahoma 1890 1907
  • Indian Territory
Oregon 1848 1859 n/a
South Dakota 1861 1889
  • Dakota Territory
  • Nebraska Territory
Texas n/a 1845 n/a
Utah 1850 1896 n/a
Washington 1853 1889
  • Oregon Territory
Wyoming 1868 1890
  • Dakota Territory
  • Idaho Territory
  • Utah Territory

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