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Another phone book, regional identity, and how Scottsbluff is really part of Wyoming

February 19, 2010

Scottsbluff phonebooksRecently, another phone book appeared on my front porch. I don’t quite understand why publishers think people in western Nebraska need three different phone books, especially given the print phone book’s march toward obsolescence.

But, the arrival of a third phone book prompted me to carry out a nifty little exercise I learned in my geography studies: search the phone book for clues to regional identity. Specifically, look at local businesses, which are often named in ways that will resonate with the local population.

I did a quick-and-dirty scan of the business white pages (I used the Scottsbluff & Gering one) , and here’s what I found:

  • 1 with “cornhusker” (which surprised me, given what I’d heard about the vehemence of University of Nebraska fans); 1 with “cowboy” (a reference to the University of Wyoming mascot?)
  • 2 with “rail”
  • 3 with “sugar”
  • 7 with local flora/fauna (antelope, bobcat, buffalo, cottonwood, cedar)
  • 9 with some reference to Native Americans (arrowhead, Indian, lodgepole, Kiowa, Sioux, Lakota)
  • 9 with some reference to ranching (branding iron, bucking horse, bunkhouse, longhorn, chute, corral)
  • 10 starting with “el” or “la”, indicating Spanish origin
  • 4 with “heartland”, 8 with “midwest”
  • 61 with “west” or “western”
  • 4 mention out-of-state landforms (Black Hills, Front Range, Rocky Mountains)
  • 45 mention Nebraska landforms, the most popular being “monument” (17), “bluff” (14), “Chimney Rock” (7), and “sandhill” (4)
  • 40 with “Nebraska”, 4 with “Wyoming”, 5 with “Wyobraska”, 4 with “Tri-State”, 0 with “Dakota” or “Colorado”
  • “Scottsbluff” or “Scotts Bluff” was used only 32 times. I say “only” because this represents the city name (population 15,000), county name, AND, the monument name. By comparison, the city names of Alliance (population 9,000) and Gering (population 10,000) were each used 31 times.
  • 6 with “twin city” (which refers to Scottsbluff / Gering)
  • 18 with some reference to early settlement and migration (frontier, homestead, pioneer, trail, crossroads)
  • 15 with “prairie”, 5 with “plains”, 10 with “high plains”
  • 24 with some reference to the sky or weather (big sky, open sky, horizon, four winds, thunderhead)
  • 34 with some combination of “Platte River Valley”
  • 32 with “panhandle” (Before I moved here, if you’d asked me which states had a panhandle, I would have said “Florida and Oklahoma”. Apparently, there are more than that.)

This phone book perusal verifies what I’ve experienced and what I’ve heard: the panhandle region where I live is culturally more a part of Wyoming than Nebraska. In fact, the citizens of the Nebraska panhandle have threatened to secede and join Wyoming, beginning in the 1890s and as recently as 1982.

What does your local phone book reveal about where you live? I would love to see your comments to this post.

Copyright 2010 by Katie Bradshaw

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