Every heard of him?  Chief Washakie was a prominent leader of the Shoshone people during the mid-19th century. He was first mentioned in 1840 in the written record of the American fur trapperOsborne Russell.

“In 1851, at the urging of trapper Jim Bridger, Washakie led a band of Shoshones to the council meetings of the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1851). Essentially from that time until his death, he was considered the head of the Eastern Shoshones by the representatives of the United States government.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washakie

Washakie’s prowess in battle, efforts for peace and commitment to his people’s welfare made him one of the most respected leaders in Native American history. In 1878, a U.S. Army outpost located on the reservation was renamed Fort Washakie.  It was the only U.S military outpost to be named after a Native American. (Wikipedia)

Washakie County, Wyoming was named for him. In 2000, the state of Wyoming donated a bronze statue of Washakie to the National Statuary Hall Collection.

There is also a statue of Washakie in downtown Laramie at the University of Wyoming.  Many locations are named after him as well. 

I didn’t know much of the history of Chief Washakie until I first saw his statue in Laramie.

Statue and description at the University of Wyoming in Laramie

Once we departed Laramie and traveled toward Rawlins and Lander, Wyoming, the chief’s background became more intriguing.  We found ourselves on the Chief Washakie Trail that extends through the area and Shoshone Reservation. 

Here is a little ride-along if you care to join me.  The clip picks up leaving Rawlins, Wyoming on U.S. 287 traveling the open road with miles of sage brush and occasional hills.  You’ll then notice a sign saying Chief Washakie Trail.  We even crossed the Continental Divide a couple of times.  Stay tuned toward the end of the clip and you’ll see us driving toward the Crow Heart Butte.  I’ll explain that below.    

Washakie was not born to a Shoshone tribe.  No doubt he had a challenging childhood and was likely lost when he escaped with some of his family when his tribe was raided by an enemy tribe.  He was later found and was adopted into the Shoshone tribe.  He became a mighty warrior and eventually chief of the Eastern Shoshone Indians of Wyoming. 

Washakie befriended white pioneers who traveled through his territory in wagon trains, and no doubt as individuals, in the 1850s. He helped overland travelers in crossing streams and recovering cattle that had strayed.  It is stated Washakie was also a scout for the U.S. Army.     (Wikipedia)

Image from Wikipedia

It is evident to me that Washakie knew he and his people needed to adapt to the new life and work with the government initiative. 

Another challenge for Washakie was having sufficient land to hunt large game like buffalo and elk for their survival.  Other tribes had this problem as well, particularly with the U.S. Cavalry making progress in pushing the various tribes to reservations as the west was being populated. 

Wyoming was one of the last areas to become a reservation for Native Americans and this triggered intense competition.  The Sioux were well-trained warriors and had moved toward the area, as well as the Crow. 

According to Jackson Hole History, in 1856 the building up of the competition erupted in a violent battle between Washakie’s band and a large Crow group.  The fight took place when Washakie’s Shoshones traveled south from Henry’s Lake, according to the memoirs of Elijah Wilson, a white boy who spent two years with Washakie’s family during this time. 

Wilson said more than 50 Shoshones and 100 Crow warriors lost their lives, which is a tremendous loss of life and highly unusual in plains Indian warfare.  Wilson implied that Washakie and the Crow leader called a truce and both groups departed the scene.  However, it is quite possible and perhaps likely that this battle is the legendary story of the Battle of Crow Heart Butte. 

According to the story, following a battle like this one described by Wilson, Washakie challenged the Crow leader to single combat, with the loser’s people agreeing to retreat from the area.  This event supposedly took place at the top of the Crow Heart Butte, a monolithic table-top mesa near the Big Wind River, about 30 miles south of Dubois, Wyoming. 

Crow Heart Butte, near Dubois, Wyoming (U.S. Library of Congress)

Washakie emerged victorious, holding the heart of the Crow warrior, thus giving the mesa its name and addition another layer of mystery to Washakie’s life.  https://jacksonholehistory.org/chief-washakie-of-the-shoshone-a-photographic-essay-by-henry-e-stamm-iv-ph-d/ 

Here is another account of the battle between the Shoshone and Crow leaders. 

Crow Heart Butte was the site of a battle between the Crow and Shoshone American Indian tribes in 1866. According to legend, following a five-day battle for rights to the hunting grounds in the Wind River Range, Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crow agreed to a duel, with the winner gaining the rights to the Wind River hunting grounds. Chief Washakie prevailed, but he was so impressed with the courage of his opponent that rather than scalp him, he cut out his heart and placed it on the end of his lance.  Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2017688173/

The following is another story presented by the Historical Marker Project as it referenced the statue of Washakie. 

This bronze sculpture captures the moment when Chief Washakie first raises his lance challenging Crow Chief Big Robber to a duel. The Battle of Crow Heart Butte was ignited when Crow Chief Big Robber and his braves refused to leave an area near this unique geological outcropping at the middle northern boundary of the present-day Wind River Reservation.

Game had become increasingly scarce in other areas, with more tribes looking to the Wind River Valley for their winter supply of meat. Like the Shoshone, the Crow believed that this was their territory too. When the Crow moved in, to hunt, Washakie allowed them to stay for several weeks. Eventually, however, Washakie sent one of his best warriors and the warrior’s wife as a peace envoy with a message telling Big Robber that it was time to move east toward the Owl Creek Mountains. 

The Crow chief’s response was to kill the Shoshone scout as the woman watched helplessly. Big Robber then sent her home to relate the horrific scene to Chief Washakie.

Although Washakie considered Big Robber to be a very strong opponent who was revered among his people for his steadfast bravery, the Shoshone chief immediately organized a war party of men he had trained personally to military precision and set out to attack the band of Crow camped on the Big Wind River near the Kinnear Ranch.

A group of Bannocks (another tribe) joined Washakie in his attack on the Crow. Although taken by surprise, the Crow proved to be formidable adversaries for Washakie’s men.  The two sides fought for nearly a week without resolution.

Finally realizing that both chiefs were losing too many warriors, Washakie approached Big Robber with a proposition: the two chiefs would fight each other. The warriors of the losing chief would forfeit the hunting lands and go home. 

Fearless and menacing, Washakie rode close to the Crow chief and taunted him: “You and I will fight. And when I beat you, I will cut out your heart. And I will eat it!”

As the Shoshone and Crow warriors gathered on opposite sides to watch, the two chieftains rode back and forth taunting and yelling at each other. As the fight raged on, it became impossible to distinguish one from the other in the distant haze of dust.

Finally, Washakie emerged with Big Robbers heart on the end of his lance, determining the winner. True to his word, Washakie had indeed cut out the dead chief’s heart, but his descendants say he did not eat it.  Instead, he displayed it until after the Shoshone victory dance that night. Out of respect for the triumphant Washakie, the Crow gave him two young women. He later took one of them as his wife.  https://www.historicalmarkerproject.com/markers/HM1SPZ_battle-of-crowheart-butte_Laramie-WY.html

Washakie accomplished what most other Indian leaders of his time could not; a negotiated deal with the U.S. Government, guaranteeing land for his people.

When Washakie died he was given a full U.S. military funeral, supposedly the only Native American leader so honored. His cenotaph states that he “was noted for his friendship towards the white men” and even his tombstone praises him as “always loyal to the government and to his white brothers.” https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/36397 

Documentary: https://www.pbs.org/video/wyoming-pbs-documentaries-washakie-last-chief-eastern-shoshone/

Blessings along the Way! I’m sure glad you’re going along with us on this journey in Wyoming, South Dakota and elsewhere.

Ron

14 thoughts on “Washakie

    1. I wonder. I miss posts sometimes and I’m not sure why. I try to use reader but sometimes posts from ones I follow don’t seem to be there. I get a lot of emails of posts and can’t seem to keep up with them like I want. Actually, just this week I notice the follow button showed up on your page and I had already been following you. I clicked on follow again. Intriguing for sure. 🙂

  1. Wow, I learned a lot of new history things in this post 🙂 I always enjoy that! Goodness those pictures are beautiful too, such wide open spaces.

    1. Thanks so much M.B. It’s amazing all the stories still out there that need to be discovered. I never learned these things in school. I agree, the area is so open and beautiful. More to come. 🙂

    1. Neither had I. There are so many stories and lives that were never shared in our history studies. I enjoy the “mission” of uncovering them. Thanks so much KT. 🙂

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