“Fifty states. It’s such a nice, round number,” writes Michael Trinklein in the introduction to “Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States That Never Made It” (Quirk). “But dozens of other statehood proposals didn’t quite make the cut. Some came remarkably close to joining the union. Others never had a chance. Many are still trying,” he adds. In fact, the latest proposal—to split Maine in two (and create Northern Massachusetts)—failed just last month.
In the book (which features a jacket that opens into a large map of an alternate America), Trinklein chronicles the stories of dozens of these so-called lost states—proposals that are “replete with absurd characters, stunning ignorance and monumental screw-ups.”
Failure asked Trinklein to list his five favorite “states that never made it,” and to offer a few words about each.
This Civil War era movement was an attempt to create a pro Union state in the middle of the Confederacy. The idea had considerable support because many subsistence farmers living in the Appalachians had little interest in a fight they considered “a rich man’s war.” Nickajack ultimately fell by the wayside, but a parallel movement did lead to the creation of West Virginia.
In the late 1700s, this rogue state existed in what is now the Tallahassee, Florida area. The state’s leader, William Bowles, may have lived the most interesting life in American history, one worthy of a Hollywood movie. After getting kicked out of the U.S. Army, Bowles joined a Native tribe, married the chief’s daughter, consolidated multiple native peoples and became their king. He was subsequently captured by the Spanish army and thrown in prison, before escaping, taking over a British ship and becoming a pirate. I imagine Johnny Depp playing the role of Bowles.
A 1785 proposal to create a new state in what is now eastern Tennessee. It was approved by more than half of the existing states, but fell short of the two-thirds necessary. Why did it fail? Consider the Franklin constitution, which banned doctors and lawyers from serving in the state legislature. As popular as that might have been in some circles, it didn’t pass muster with Congress.
Founder Isaac Roop had no trouble convincing ex-miners to establish farms and ranches in Nataqua—a territory that roughly overlays current-day Nevada. The problem was that the settlers were all men—single men who needed wives. Desperate, Roop organized dances any time a wagon train with women passed through the area. But the valley’s bachelors lacked social skills. On one occasion Roop wrote: “The boys could not say one word to them, no how.” Ultimately the area did live up to its name, though. Nataqua is the Paiute word for “woman,” and there are plenty of women in the area today.
You probably learned about the Gadsden Purchase in grade school—that tract of land in the southwestern U.S. that includes Tucson. But did you know the [Franklin Pierce] administration considered James Gadsden a failure because his orders were to buy a much-larger chunk of Mexico, big enough for a couple of new states? Not surprisingly, the Mexican government wasn’t willing to sell off a third of its land.
Find out more about other states that never made it at LostStates.com