Guest Opinions: The Hinge of The West
Geography, of course, is fundamental to all aspects of history, and in few cases is this more profoundly true than in the American West.
Arguably, the most significant – in an emblematic sense, at least – is the Tri-Territory Historic Site in Sweetwater County, where the Louisiana Purchase, the Oregon Country and the Mexican Cession all joined at a single spot along the Continental Divide.
Those three acquisitions, with the last coming in 1848, became the overwhelming bulk of the Western U.S. outside of Texas.
During fall of 2022, along with Dave Mead, executive director of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, I traveled to the site to photograph it. It’s a lonely place and the vista is breathtaking in any direction, which helps us get a handle on the West’s elemental fact – its immensity.
Dave and I talked about the fact we were standing – figuratively and in a way even literally – at its center.
Look at a map of the U.S. and imagine a circle with a radius of roughly 900 miles with the Tri-Territory Site at its center.
Within this circle are the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and a portion of Texas.
As such, the site serves as the base of a great hinge, whose long, sweeping arm extends east to St. Louis, south to the Rio Grande, west to the Golden Gate and north to the Canadian border – the Hinge of the West.
The Tri-Territory Site may be symbolic, but it is nonetheless a vital symbol. There, the holdings of three empires combined to form what is, for many of us, the most important part of the U.S.
The morality and the means of how we came into possession of these immense tracts will always be the subject of intense debate, but it is impossible to imagine an America without the West.
Dick Blust, Jr. is an author and staff member of the Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River. This op-ed was originally published on wyohistory.org on Jan. 18.