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Wyoming State Museum
Barrett Building
2301 Central Avenue
Cheyenne, Wy 82002
(307) 777-7022

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Verna Keyes - Original Design of the Wyoming State Flag

Category: Artworks

Original Design of the Wyoming State Flag
A-1919.45.1
watercolor, ink, gouache

Wyoming had no official flag until 1917, almost three decades after the state was created. In 1916, the state chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held a contest to create a flag design that could be submitted to the Wyoming legislature for approval. Thirty-seven works were created for the contest. The winner was Verna Keays, a 23 year old artist from Buffalo. Keays was paid $20 for her winning entry.

Verna Keays was born in 1893 and was just 23 years old when she created her drawing for the flag. She had just returned from studying at the Art Institute of Chicago where she graduated with honors. Her father suggested she enter the contest and, after some procrastination, Verna “woke up one night with the design complete in her head.”

Keays’ mother, who had better hand-writing than her daughter, wrote the meaning of Verna’s symbolism on the flag just below the artwork.

“Seal of Wyoming – The heart of the flag, the brand on the bison.
American Bison – The monarch of the plains of Wyoming (Incorrectly called buffalo).
Red – The red man (Indian) and blood of pioneers who reclaimed the country.
White – Freedom of plains and purity for all.
Blue – The blue of our sky and mountains color symbolic of fidelity and justice.
Colors – Those of our national flag.”

The design was officially adopted as the state flag on January 31, 1917 at the same time the Indian Paintbrush was adopted as the state flower. It should be noted that on Keays’ original design, the bison is facing downwind. The artist is recorded as saying that as the bison once roamed freely over the plains, he should do the same on the flag. Grace Raymond Hebard, who served as State Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution at the time and had submitted a flag design of her own, argued otherwise. She believed that since bison keep their nose to the wind, the image on the flag should do the same. Hebard had an artist reverse the bison’s direction on a painting and that is the way the flag has appeared ever since. No official change to Keays’ design seems to have taken place.

Verna Keays had planned to become a teacher, but met and married a World War I veteran named Arthus Keyes on June 1, 1921. They moved to Casper where Verna was active in Daughters of the American Revolution, the Girl Scouts, and the Wyoming Historical Society. She died on October 31, 1982 at the age of 89.

Follow this link to find a unique Wyoming state flag tie sold in the State Museum Store!

Written by Jim Allison, Supervisor of Collections