- Historic Sites
The Redskin Who Saved The White Man’s Hide
Chief Washakie earned his battle scars in the service of the Great White Father, who—for once at least—kept faith with an Indian
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
One agent thus described the chief in his report: Among those who spoke [in the Council at Fort Bridger between U. S. Indian agents and Shoshone, Ute, and Bannock tribes] was a Chief or sub-chief of the Eastern Shoshones, or Snakes. This man’s name is Wa-sha-keck or Wa-sha-kuk. He is quite tall for a Shoshone, easily six feet, of lighter skin than average and the most handsome Indian I have yet seen. He is very eloquent, avowing his friendship for the whites and declares that no man who ever follows him will be allowed to harm a white man or steal his property. Mr. James Bridger of this place informs me that this “Wa-sha-kee,” as he pronounces it, is rapidly rising to power in his tribe. He is. however, a man of blood. Another Chieftain of the tribe bears a formidabfe scar in his forehead where Washakie struck him with a war club in an altercation over tribal policy.
Brigham Voting, president of the Mormon Church, while serving as Indian agent lor the Territory of Utah—which included Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and parts of Colorado and Montana—spoke highly of Washakie in his reports. Washakie spent part of one winter as Voting’s guest in Salt Lake City, and Voting advised the government to make a treaty with Washakie and the Shoshones at the earliest opportunity.
By 1850 Washakie was head chiel of the Shoshones. He had a following of sonic twelve hundred well mounted, well-equipped Indians, and had allowed a lew well-behaved Bannocks and Utes to join his tribe. Their travels in search of food and skins led them over a huge area, mostly in western Wyoming—nomadic journeys ruled by game conditions, mainly of the buffalo, and the activities of enemy tribes. Their home base was the Bridger Valley in southwestern Wyoming.
An industrious limiter and trapper himself, Washakie encouraged his people to collect lui.s and make robes beyond their own needs and trade with the whites lor guns and ammunition, tools, cloth, and ornaments. To follow his eagle-leather standard became a desirable thing among the Shoshonc people. His admission standards were high. Treaty-breakers, horse thieves, and pilferers (that is, of white men’s property) were kept out. Washakie made his own rules and was judge, jury, and very often executioner for those who failed to obey. Even during one very trying period, when it looked as though he were going to lose part of his following to certain firebrands in the tribe, he kept his policy of stern justice and peace with the whites. Hc was beginning to give aid and protection to the increasing stream of settlers who were destroying and running oil the game as they passed through to the West.
The swarms of emigrants, the rapidly spreading Mormon settlements, and the constant harassment by the enemy tribes who were being pushed farther into his country convinced Washakie that the days of the nomadic life were about over. More and more the able, distinguished chief—an old arrow wound on his IeIl cheek added to, rather than detracted from, his looks—besought the Indian agents for a treaty and a reservation. He wanted a permanent home where his people could learn agriculture and livestock raising. He wanted them to have churches, and schools where they could learn to compete in the new way of life. When asked his choice of a reservation site, he always answered that he wanted the “Warm,” or Wind River, Valley at the eastern foot of the Wind River Mountains. There the ponies stayed fat the year around, and the bullalo never left. There were elk, deer, and bighorn sheep in the mountains and antelope on the plains. In the Warm Valley were the mineral hot springs where the Indians had always treated their ills.
In the year 1851 the government, in an effort to settle the strife on the frontier, called in all the Plains Indian tribes for a general council. The site chosen was Kort Laramic; the time, September. All tribes were invited whether they were to be parties to a treaty or not. Though the eastern Shoshones were not to be included, Washakie—urged by his old friend fim Rridger—decided to make the long journey through the dangerous enemy country. At Fort Laramie he had the hitter disappointment of seeing the Crows given everything from the Rig Horns to the Wind River Mountains. This immense tract included his much-desired Warm Valley. But lie left the council with determination in his heart to keep his faith and win a place for his people, come what might.
By the mid-fifties Washakie had regular details of warriors, from his limited numbers, doing duty on the Oregon Trail. These hard-riding patrols covered the trail from South Pass to Fort Bridger, giving aid and protection to the long wagon trains wf exhausted men and women from the East. Jn his later years, one ol Washakie’s most prixed possessions was a testimonial of appreciation signed by nine thousand of these emigrants.