‘Manteo to Murphy’ yielding to ‘Murphy to Manteo’

” ‘Manteo to Murphy’ is a phrase often used in reference to the entire east-west width of North Carolina, particularly when describing a phenomenon that touches all regions of the state.

“The phrase was famously applied to the 1876 gubernatorial campaign between Zebulon B. Vance and Supreme Court Justice Thomas Settle Jr., in which Vance’s victory set off ‘rejoicing by Democrats “from Manteo to Murphy.” ‘ This followed from the fact that Vance and Settle had toured the state in a series of debates that resulted in the largest Democratic majority (over 13,000) in any election between 1868 and 1900.

“The phrase is actually a symbolic and not literal rendering of the extreme east-west width of North Carolina, since neither Manteo (Dare County) nor Murphy (Cherokee County) is situated precisely at the state’s borders.”

– From “Manteo to Murphy” by Wiley J. Williams in NCpedia

A Nexis search of newspapers dating back to 1987 turns up 179 references to “Manteo to Murphy” — but almost twice as many (335) to “Murphy to Manteo.”

What happened? How did this historic expression come to be so often reversed? Did our habit of reading text left to right carry over to the state map? Or is it, as my wife suggests, that “Man-te-o” delivers a “stronger, more musical” ending than  “Mur-phy”?