Wyoming Agriculture Fashioned States National, International Image

March 29, 2012
Two students working horses
University of Wyoming student Ethan Oberst, front, of Findlay, Ohio, halters a horse. (UW Photo)

That famous bucking horse symbol without Wyoming would be like the Eiffel Tower without Paris.

The prairies, plains, mountains and the people who labored here not only grew food and fiber, but a Cowboy State image that became internationally known.

Only about 7 percent - or 34,000 out of about 500,000 state residents - now live on Wyoming farms and ranches, but the symbol and state phrase endures. The famous symbol is branded on coffee cups, football helmets, T-shirts, bumper stickers, billboards and countless other items.

The state, including the University of Wyoming, counts on agriculture, especially ranching, to uphold the image used in many Wyoming marketing and branding campaigns, says Dannele Peck, an assistant professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"Wyoming's tourism campaigns would be much less convincing without the occasional momma beef cow and calf standing in the middle of a dirt road when tourists drive through," says Peck, in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. "The power of Wyoming's image depends on having real cowboys and farmers out on the ground, getting their boots dirty, living by the code of the West -- or the ‘Cowboy ethic.'"

Wyoming National Guardsmen sported a bucking horse insignia on their uniforms on World War I battlefields. In 1936, in an effort to stop license plate counterfeiting, the state copyrighted and then slapped the bucking horse insignia on Wyoming vehicles.

People just don't think Cowboy State or a cowboy guarding cattle on the lonesome prairie, says Chris Bastian, an associate professor in the department.

"Our brand is associated with a large suite of characteristics and attributes that attract people to the state: rugged and hard-working individualism, a simpler way of life, wide-open spaces, cattle roundups and rodeos, camping, fishing, wildlife watching and mountains," he says.

There has to be consistent follow-through to maintain the power of that brand, he says. If not, prices charged for and quantity of tourist goods and services could fall, translating into lost revenues.

Repetition can propel a symbol to become nationally or internationally known, says Cindy Price, an associate professor who teaches advertising and public relations in UW's Department of Communications and Journalism.

"When people from other countries think about Wyoming, they often think about Yellowstone," she says. "But they also imagine the cowboy and his rugged independence. They often yearn for some of that in their lives, so they travel here to experience a taste of it for themselves."

Wyoming's popular slogan differs from some other states and mottos. At one time, the Illinois state motto was "The Sucker State." Its origins are still debated, before it became "The Land of Lincoln" in 1955. Its new moniker was fortunate for public relations experts.

There are other examples, although not so dramatic.

"A public relations company asked people what they thought of when they thought of Delaware," says Price. "People either say they couldn't think of anything, or they say the state was small. When they think of Wyoming, it's a cowboy. Our state has an identity and that identity translates into economic benefit when people visit here."

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