States of the Union #3

States of the Union #3

Today I am continuing what will be a ten-part series covering all of the fifty States of the Union comprising the United States of America. I am a proud American, particularly regarding our remarkable history, so for ten consecutive Wednesdays each blog post will spotlight FIVE States (chosen at random). There will be some trivia, facts and data, a map, occasional vocabulary lessons, and naturally a wee bit of history. Links to the previous blogs are below.

States of the Union #1 — Oklahoma, Alaska, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Florida

States of the Union #2 — California, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and South Dakota


Abbreviation — AZ
Capital — Phoenix
Statehood — February 14, 1912
State Motto — “Ditat Deus (God Enriches)”
State Nickname — Grand Canyon State
State Bird — Cactus Wren
State Flower — Saguaro Cactus Bloom


  • Arizona has three National Parks: Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, and Saguaro. The state also has 18 national monuments, more than any other state.
  • Arizona is the largest copper producing state in the Unites States, accounting for 60% of all copper production in the country.
  • The only place in the country where mail is delivered by mule is the village of Supai, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
  • Arizona has the largest Native American population of any state. More than 14 tribes are represented on 20 reservations, thus making Arizona the state with the largest percentage of land designated as Indian lands.
  • In World War II, many Navajos enlisted as secret agents. Our enemies could never understand the Navajo language to learn our military secrets.
  • Contrary to immediate impression of Arizona as one big desert, one-fourth of the state is covered by forest growth. In fact, Arizona has the largest unbroken Ponderosa pine forest in America.
  • Arizona is one of the four states that create “Four Corners” where one can stand at a single spot and be in four states at the same time. The Four Corner states are Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico.
  • Stones from the original London Bridge were shipped stone-by-stone and reconstructed in Lake Havasu City in 1971.
  • The Gila Monster (the only poisonous lizard in the US) is indigenous to Arizona.

FAMOUS ARIZONANS: Glen Campbell, Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt (singers) – Cesar Chavez (labor leader) – Apache Chiefs Cochise and Geronimo – Wyatt Earp (lawman) – Reggie Jackson (baseball) – Steven Spielberg (film producer).


Spanish Franciscan friar, Marcos de Niza, was the first European to explore Arizona. He entered the area in 1539 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. Although he was followed a year later by another gold seeker, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, most of the early settlements were for missionary purposes. In 1848, after the Mexican War, most of the Arizona territory became part of the USA, and the southern portion of the territory was added by the Gadsden Purchase in 1853.

The common theory is that the name Arizona originated from the Spanish name, Arizonac, which in turn was derived from an O’odham Indian word, alî sonak, meaning “small spring.” This name appears to initially have only been applied by Spanish colonists to an area near the silver mining camp of Planchas de Plata in what is now the Mexican state of Sonora. European settlers thought the O’odham pronunciation sounded like Arissona.

However, there is a possible second etymological origin. There was a substantial settlement of Basque sheepherders in the Sonora region and a ranchería (village) established in 1734 was named “Arizona” possibly from the Basque phrase haritz ona, meaning “the good oak.” This settlement village became notable after a significant discovery of silver in 1737.


Abbreviation — ME
Capital — Augusta
Statehood — March 15, 1820
State Motto — “Dirigo (I Lead)”
State Nickname — Pine Tree State
State Bird — Chickadee
State Flower — White Pine Cone & Tassel


  • Maine is the only state with a one-syllable name. It is also the only state bordering just one other state, that being New Hampshire.
  • Maine is the biggest harvester of lobsters (called “bugs” by Mainers) in the United States, over 90%. Maine also produces 99% of the country’s blueberries.
  • The nation’s first sawmill was established near York in 1623. York became the nation’s first incorporated city in 1642.
  • Eastport is the most eastern city in the United States, receiving the first rays of the morning.
  • Maine has over 3000 miles of coastline, which is more than California! Not coincidentally, Maine has 63 lighthouses, over 2000 islands, and more than 6000 lakes and ponds.

FAMOUS MAINERS: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (poetry) – Stephen King (author) – John Ford (movie producer).


The Vikings probably discovered the area now known as Maine over a thousand years ago, but it was in 1498 when France sent explorers to the far north area. France claimed the area, which included Canada, calling it Acadia. In 1604, the first French colony was established on the St. Croix River. In 1605, Ferdinando Gorges and John Popham were sent to explore the Maine coast for England, and two years later colonists from England established Popham Colony near the mouth of the Kennebec River. What followed was decades of fighting between France and England for control — the French and Indian Wars — concluding with an English victory and the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

Where the name Maine came from is unclear. It first appeared in a land grant charter to Englishmen Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason. A large slice of land granted to the two men was split in half, the land granted to Gorges named Maine, most probably as a nautical reference to the vast mainland as seen when approaching from the sea.

However, it has been considered a possible compliment to Henrietta Maria, queen of Charles I of England, who was said to have owned the province of Mayne in France.


Abbreviation — VT
Capital — Montpelier
Statehood — March 4, 1791
State Motto — “Freedom and Unity”
State Nickname — Green Mountain State
State Bird — Hermit Thrush
State Flower — Red Clover


  • Vermont was the first state admitted to the union after the first 13 colonies.
  • Vermont is the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States. Forty years are required to grow a sugar maple tree large enough to tap. A tree ten inches in diameter is considered minimum tappable size for one tap, and it takes four to five taps to produce enough maple sap (40 gallons) to produce one gallon of syrup. WOW!
  • Vermont was the first state to abolish slavery, writing universal male suffrage and freedom into the state’s first constitution adopted in 1777.

FAMOUS VERMONTERS: Presidents Chester A. Arthur and Calvin Coolidge.


In 1609, explorer Samuel de Champlain claimed the Vermont region for France, and the first French settlement was established at Fort Ste. Anne in 1666. The first English settlers moved into the area in 1724 and built Fort Dummer on the site of present-day Brattleboro. England gained control of the area in 1763 after the French and Indian Wars.

The name Vermont is derived from two French words, vert (“green”) and mont (“mountain”). On French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s 1647 map he gave the name “Verd Mont” to the Green Mountains.


Abbreviation — OR
Capital — Salem
Statehood — February 14, 1859
State Motto — “She flies with her own wings”
State Nickname — Beaver State
State Bird — Western Meadowlark
State Flower — Oregon Grape


  • Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, with a maximum depth of 1,943 feet. It is the only lake in the world formed in the remains of a volcano.
  • At 7,993 feet deep, Hells Canyon is the deepest river gorge in North America.
  • Oregon’s state flag is the only one to have different designs on each side. On the back is a beaver… of course!
  • The nickname “Beaver State” is due to the prevalence of beavers. Prized for their fur, the beaver was extensively trapped by early settlers, nearly to the point of elimination. Now under partial protection, the beaver remains a vital economic asset for Oregon, not only for their pelts but also as “nature’s engineer” critical for natural water flow and erosion control.
  • Rivers form most of the borders between Oregon and neighboring states: the Columbia River forms most of the northern border with Washington, and the Snake River forms over half the border with Idaho.
  • Oregon (and New Jersey) are the only states where it is against the law to pump one’s own gas. A gas station attendant must do the job for the driver.

FAMOUS OREGONIANS: Nez Perce Chief Joseph – Linus Pauling (Scientist, Nobel Prize winner Chemistry and Peace) – James Beard (chef).


The first white explorers came to Oregon by sea. Spain sent Juan Cabrillo, in 1542, and Bartolomé Ferrelo reached the southwestern coast in 1543 looking for a passageway between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ferrelo’s Northwest Passage was searched for and found by British explorer James Cook in 1776, who claimed the land now called Oregon for Great Britain. Despite Cook’s bold claim, the unsettled area was disputed among Spain, Britain, Russia, and the United States for several decades.

Second US President Thomas Jefferson sent explorers Lewis and Clark on an overland expedition in 1804 to strengthen the American claim to Oregon. The opened Oregon Trail led to the first established permanent settlement in 1834 by Methodist missionaries in the Wilamette Valley. By 1843, thousands of American pioneers migrated west along the Oregon Trail, a path crossing over 2000 miles from Independence in Missouri to Oregon City in Oregon.

Despite all that rich history, the origin of the name Oregon is a mystery. Literally every page I checked out from a Google search rendered an array of “possible” origins. Most scholarship ascribes the earliest known written use of the name “Oregon” to a 1765 petition by Major Robert Rogers to Great Britain, in which he requested money to finance a searching expedition for the Northern Passage.

“the rout… is from the Great Lakes towards the Head of the Mississippi, and from thence to the River called by the Indians Ouragon….”

Major Rogers commissioned Jonathan Carver to lead the expedition, and Carver’s map in his widely read Travels Through the Interior Part of North America (published in 1778) labeled “the Great River of the West” as “the Oregon.” The name stuck for the area, although the river Carver labeled is now the Columbia River. This, of course, still does not nail down where the word Oregon actually came from or what it meant, and since there are many Spanish, French, and Native Indian languages with similar sounding words, there are countless possibilities.


Abbreviation — IA
Capital — Des Moines
Statehood — December 28, 1846
State Motto — “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain”
State Nickname — Hawkeye State
State Bird — Eastern Goldfinch
State Flower — Wild Prairie Rose


  • Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids is the largest cereal company in the world.
  • Iowa is the only state whose eastern and western borders are formed entirely by rivers.
  • The nickname “Hawkeye State” is in honor of Sauk Indian Chief Black Hawk, at least according to most historians. There are others, however, who believe the nickname is based on the character Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.

FAMOUS IOWANS: President Herbert Hoover – William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (scout, frontiersman) – John Wayne (actor) – Johnny Carson (entertainer) – Ann Landers and Abigail Van Buren (advice columnists) – Andy Williams (singer).


French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the first Europeans to view Iowa territory in 1673. The region was included in the Louisiana purchase and came under US control in 1803.

The name derives from the Ioway Native American tribe, the prominent Indian tribe dwelling in the region. It was first applied to the valley along the Iowa River where the Ioway people made their home. The tribal name accurately spelled “Ayuxwa” was spelled “Ayoua” by the French and “Ioway” by the English, based on the pronunciation. Loosely translated, the tribal name meant “sleepy or drowsy ones” or “one who puts to sleep.”

Those are the five US States for this week’s blog.
Be sure to read the previous two blogs,
and also be sure to return next Wednesday
for five more States of the Union!



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I love this series! I was given an old book as a child called Land of Little Rain and it was stories about the Hopi Indians. I never realised there’s still a settlement in Arizona. I absolutely loved that book as did my daughter. I have recently read modern JAFF based in Maine which I really enjoyed. I certainly wouldn’t go swimming in Crater Lake as I panic if I can’t touch the bottom! Plus I never knew Quaker Oats came from Iowa! Fascinating!

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