Washakie

Washakie

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

Independence – opportunity

As I ponder the Fourth of July celebrations, my first thought was independence, and how it led to opportunities for those from around the world to come to a place to worship as they choose, with an independent free will created by God Himself, freedom from government dictating how to live.  Government would be by the people, for the people – with the federal government being responsible for safety and security of its citizens, enabling them to prosper and pursue happiness. 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Preamble to the Declaration of Independence (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration)

I thought about how conflict arose, and the many lives lost between early settlers and the motherland – Great Britain.  Although there were struggles and loss of life throughout the early years, and each generation thereafter, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness were destined to prevail. 

The individual, independent states formed a republic with representation in the federal government.  The government provided a common defense, allowing the people to be creative – expanding the new nation, building for themselves a new home, wherever their adventures would take them.

With the expansion west, it became evident travelers and settlers needed an efficient, and safer, means of transportation.  The people were on the move to build a greater nation and accept those of all nations who yearn for freedom, although it also came at the demise of the Native American. 

With the great expansion out west, how could organization, peace and unity be established? 

In the 1850s Congress commissioned several topographical surveys across the Western U.S. to determine the best route for a railroad.  However, private corporations were reluctant to undertake the task without federal assistance. The Pacific Railroad Act designated the 32nd parallel as the initial transcontinental route and gave huge grants of land for rights-of-way. 

The act authorized two railroad companies, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, to construct the lines. Beginning in 1863, the Union Pacific, employing more than 8,000 Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, built west from Omaha, NE.

The Central Pacific, whose workforce included more than 10,000 Chinese laborers, built eastward from Sacramento, CA. 

Photo of poster in Union Pacific Historic Depot Museum (Artist Art Kober, Thunder on the Plains)

“Each company faced unprecedented construction problems—mountains, severe weather, and the hostility of American Indians. On May 10, 1869, in a ceremony at Promontory, UT, the last rails were laid and the last spike driven. Congress eventually authorized four transcontinental railroads and granted 174 million acres of public lands for rights-of-way.” https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/pacific-railroad-act

Union Pacific Railroad Depot – national historic landmark, was built in 1886 and given to the community of Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1993 by the Union Pacific Railroad Company.

The railroad vastly improved development out west and state governments had to be formed. 

Cheyenne was born in 1867 in the path of the transcontinental railroad, when the Union Pacific crews arrived to lay tracks westward. Cheyenne soon laid claim to a higher status than older Wyoming settlements such as those at Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, and the mining town of South Pass City, changing Cheyenne from a village to a city in a matter of months. The seat of the new territorial government was established in Cheyenne in 1869.

Women were instrumental in settling the west with their new freedoms and opportunity. They too had dreams and aspirations. No doubt they faced many obstacles and persevered, making way for Wyoming to be the first state to grant women the right to vote.

Wyoming began construction of the state capitol building before statehood (becoming a member of the United States), located north of downtown Cheyenne.

Although we didn’t see them during our visit while the renovation was being completed, the exterior approach to the front steps of the capitol features the State Seal in granite as well as two statues:

Esther Hobart Morris, who had a significant role in gaining women’s suffrage in the Wyoming Territory. The statue was sculpted by Avard Fairbanks. The act to grant women the right to vote was passed by the First Territorial Assembly and signed by Governor John Allen Campbell on December 10, 1869. Wyoming became the first government in the world to grant women the right to vote. Morris was also appointed as the first female Justice of the Peace in the territory during 1870. 

Chief Washakie of the Shoshone tribe. The statue was sculpted by Dave McGary. Chief Washakie earned a reputation that lives on today – a fierce warrior, skilled politician and diplomat, great leader of the Shoshone people, friend to white men. Washakie granted right-of-way through Shoshone land in western Wyoming to the Union Pacific Railroad, aiding the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The famed leader and warrior died at the age of 102 in 1900. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming_State_Capitol

A replica of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie is in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

So, as we celebrate independence as a nation of all who dream to be free, let’s be mindful of the myriads from all nations and walks of life who contributed to this worthy cause, often having their own lives taken in pursuit of their dreams and freedoms. Let’s take these differences and unify them for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. 

Blessings along the Way!

Ron