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The Redskin Who Saved The White Man’s Hide

June 2024
22min read

Chief Washakie earned his battle scars in the service of the Great White Father, who—for once at least—kept faith with an Indian

General George Crook, United States Army, angular and bearded, resisted the impulse to consult his watch again. From the opening of his tent he could have seen the wide stretch of sagebrush-covered hills to the west over the willow bottoms of Goose Creek, but he was tired of looking at it. Why didn’t Washakie come?

The place was near Sheridan, Wyoming Territory, June 14, 1876. Crook, with eleven hundred cavalry and infantrymen, was campaigning against a determined alliance of Sioux, Chcyennes, and Arapahoes led by Chief Crazy Horse. They outnumbered him four to one and they were well armed. In three hot skirmishes on the march from Fort Fetterman, Crook had acquired a deep respect for the warriors from the Rosebud and their allies.

Crazy Horse had sent word that “every soldier who crossed the Tongue River would die,” and though Crook had the strongest force ever seen on the Irontier, lie knew that he would need Indian reinforcements. He planned to cross the Tongue River the next day. Two hundred Crows under Old Crow, Medicine Crow, and Good Heart had arrived that afternoon. The Shoshones under Washakie had ended their old feud with the Crows two years previously. Now they had ottered the Army full co-operation against their common enemy, the Sioux. Washakie had never broken his word yet, and he had promised to join Crook with the best of his fighting men—but where was he/ Crook was determined to move the next day, without the Shoshones if necessary. But he didn’t relish the prospect.

Then, over the noises of the heavily fortified camp, Crook heard the alarm call sound. A large body of horsemen, in smart columns of lours, was rushing down the steep slope from the west. One lone man on a magnificent pinto rode in the lead: another followed, carrying a long staff topped by an oriflamme of eagle feathers. This bearer was Hanked by two horsemen who broke out huge American flags as they approached the camp. Every warrior carried a glittering lance ornamented with a small pennant. At a sharp command from their leader, the long column swung into a parade front and halted.

Eyewitness accounts do not agree as to numbers, but there were between yo and 160 superbly mounted warriors in that long, stiff line. Besides lance, shield, and pogamoggan (war club), every one carried a repeating rifle and a revolver. They were stripped to the waist, in full war paint, and decorated with brass and feather ornaments. The troops who had gathered at the alarm call cheered, and the Crows gave their ancient enemy a fierce cry of welcome. The Shoshones had arrived.


Washakie dismounted and warmly took Crook’s extended hand. It was hard for Crook to realize, despite the snow-white hair that hung down over his shoulders, that this Indian was over seventy years old. Here he was—having come 160 miles and across two mountain ranges from Fort Washakie—dignified, proud, and anxious to support his white friends.

Washakie asked where his warriors were to be quartered. Then he barked a command and the still-stiff line, with clockwork precision, swung into fours and trotted smartly off. Washakie promised to join Crook and the Crows in council immediately, mounted his war horse, and followed his men.

At the council of war the Shoshones and Crows insisted that in the forthcoming campaign they be allowed to operate separately from the Army. Both pointed out that they had more experience in fighting the enemy and preferred their own methods. Crook agreed. He asked only that they maintain contact with him at all times. Washakie requested a detail of soldiers to be attached to his braves, so that the rest of the Army would not mistake them lor the enemy. Crook decided to postpone his march one more day. He wanted to strengthen his present position so that he could leave his wagons there under light guard. Also, both he and Washakie had agreed that the Shoshone horses would benefit from a day’s rest.

Moving west, the Army crossed the Tongue River early in the forenoon of June ifi. Crook had mounted his infantry on mules from the supply wagons to give his corps greater mobility. They met no opposition from the Sioux, but returning scouts reported that they had found the trail of a large village moving north. Crook turned north into Montana, halted late in the afternoon, and bivouacked for the night.

On June 17, with extreme caution, they marched into the Rosebud country. The Indian allies who had been moving on the flanks now took the lead, with their medicine men well in advance. The Army struck the headwaters of the Rosebud and marched downstream. Suddenly the Shoshone and Crow warriors returned at lull gallop, shouting, “Sioux! Sioux! Heap Sioux!” Then they whirled to give battle.

The Shoshoncs took up a position at the head of a large coulee, where they had full view of the enemy as he swept down on the main concentration ol the Army five hundred yards below. Then the Shoshoncs, with a disengaged wing of the infantry, swung into the Sioux horde and delivered a withering fire. With a wild howl the Crows smashed into the opposite Bank, and the impact of the attack was broken.

In the Battle of Death Hollow, as the soldiers called it, Captain Guy V. Henry, Third Cavalry, was seriously wounded. As he lay prostrate on the ground, Tigce, Bannock subchicf of Washakie, stood over him and held the hostiles at bay with his carbine until both could be rescued. Two government scouts, Nelson Yarnell and another known only as Eckkles, discovered General (hook in a dangerous position and escorted him to safety.

After the Sioux withdrew, Crook mustered his men and decided to return to Goose Creek. His losses for the day were fifty-nine killed and wounded. There are no records ol the Sioux losses, nor of those of the Shoshones and Crows. The battle had been a dead heat.

When Crazy Horse made his final surrender, he told Crook that he had had no less than 6,500 fighting men in the field that day. Fifteen hundred had taken part in the first charge while the others hid behind steep ridges and bluffs. Crazy Horse told Crook that, had it not been for the Shoshones and Crows, the army advancing down the canyon would have suffered the same fate that Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were to endure on the Little Big Horn less than a fortnight later.

Although Washakie did not take an active part in the battle of the Rosebud, he was in the forefront of the fighting at all times, giving advice and orders. Sometimes he sat his war horse at Crook’s side, watching the battle and pointing out defects in the tactics of Shoshones, Crows, and United States troops. When he saw Crazy Horse bring his mass of reserves into sight, he calmly turned to Crook and said, “Too dam much Sioux here today for ‘Cook’ and Washakie to fight.” Two months later, in late August, Washakie and his veterans helped Crook defeat Dull Knife and his Cheyennes in the Big Horn Mountains. That was the blow that broke the back of the Sioux resistance and led to the swift defeat of Crazy Horse. Chief Washakie’s promise to the United” States government, of help whenever requested, had been fulfilled.

The man who was to become known as Washakie was born at the turn of the century among the Flathead Indians in the Bitter Root Mountains of northern Montana. His mother was a Shoshone, and his father, Paseego, a Flathead. His birth name was “Shoots Straight,” because a ray of the morning sun coming into the lodge made a straight line the full length of his infant body.

When Shoots Straight was in his middle teens he earned the name that he kept lor the rest of his life. From the inflated and dried scrotum of a buffalo, in which he had placed a few pebbles, he made a rattle, called a washakie , or “gambler’s gourd,” which is used in one of the many Indian gambling games. He always carried his washakie with him and accompanied himself with it when he sang. His voice, a high clear tenor, was the only parlor grace he ever claimed, save for his ability to draw pictures of his exploits and accompany them with long descriptive monologues in which he always did “the bad guys” in.

When Washakie was still in his teens, his mother decided to accompany the Lemhis, a band of northern Shoshones, on a move north into the Flathead country. At this time the Lemhis were visiting with another branch of the Shoshones, or “Snake” people, the Bannocks, who were headed east to hunt buffalo. Washakie chose to go with them, rather than to go north with his mother. They probably never met again.

He grew into a full-Hedged warrior among the Bannocks, then joined the eastern Shoshones, the people to whom he devoted the rest of his days. These nomadic hunters had no real leader and lived in a state of anarchy; but they were liked and respected by the men ol the lui trade and the early explorers. Harassment by the Sioux, Chcyennes, and Arapahoes was all that held them together in any semblance of a tribe.

During his first years among these people, Washakie met liis first American whites. The great trading rendezvous, from 1825 to 1840, were held near Shoshone country and he probably never missed one ol them. There lie would have met such men as General Ashley, William Sublctte, Lucien Fontenellc, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger, trappers and traders: and Father De Smet and Marcus Whitman, the missionaries. These men must have had a great influence on the young brave. Washakie (his name has been spelled a score ol different ways) was first called to the attention of the authorities in Washington by the early Indian agents in the inteimountain West, in connection with the various Shoshone and Ute tribes.


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.

In spite of his rigid laws and autocratic rule, Washakic’s tribe grew to eighteen hundred souls. Increased numbers called for greater clforts on the part of the Shoshone hunters. But now there were more of the sturdy fighting men who made it possible to reach into the buffalo country where enemy tribes were the most numerous. The agents reported that the Shoshones were prospering, that they were bringing in many furs and robes for trade, and that they were rich in horses. But the agents also suggested that with the eventual slaughter of the bullalo the Shoshoncs would need help from the government and a home of their own. Government authorities tentatively offered Washakie the Wind River Valley. But he refused, saying, “You gave the Warm Valley to the Crows at Fort Laramie. How can you give it to me now?”

The treaties signed at Fort Laramie in 1851 proved to be a waste of effort. Conditions on the frontier that were bad in the late fifties became much worse in the sixties. More whites hungry for soil or for the gold that might lie under it were crowding in on the domain of the Indian. The fur trade was dead, and with few exceptions the real mountain men were gone. In their place was a new type, the renegade white—outlaws from all over the country. They lived in mongrel communities or traveled with any tribe that would tolerate them. Operating beyond reach of the Army (the only law there was), these renegades peddled wretched whiskey to the Indians and incited them to forays on the emigrants, the stage lines, and the Pony Express. The thin blue lines of the frontier garrisons had all they could do to police their enormous districts. Then the Civil War depleted the frontier posts of all but enough men to do garrison duty. It was indeed a strong wagon train that reached Fort Bridger, or Fort Hall in Idaho, without suffering serions lusses at the hands ol the hostile tribes anJ ihcir renegade allies. Washakie’s braves rode their horses lean on their patrols from South Pass to Fort Bridger. The Shoshone hunters did double duty, hunting lor themselves and their comrades who were on duty on the Oregon Trail.

The government linally recognized the right ol the Shoshones to the land on which they had always lived, in the Green River and Bridger valleys. A commissioner was sent to Fort Bridger to meet Washakie and purchase or trade lor a light ol way through his lands lor the railroad (Union Pacilic) that was soon to be built. Washakie was delighted that the Great White Father was at last ready to treat with him. It was explained to him that the “iron horse” would make traveling lor the whites much saler and relieve his “soldiers” ol many ol their duties on the Oregon Trail. For a lew wagonloads ol supplies—bacon, Hour, doth, and hardware—and a promise ol Tuture annuities, rieht ol wav for the railroad was granted.


The subject of the Wind River Valley was brought up again at this meeting. But Washakie, speaking through an interpreter, told the commissioner: “I would like the Warm Valley for my people. It is the best there is. The treaty signed at Fort Laramie is dead. But you gave the Warm Valley to the Crows there and until you can give title from the Crows, I will not consider going there.”

Then gold was discovered near South Pass at the lower end of the Wind River Mountains. Four camps—South Pass City, Atlantic City, Miner’s Delight, and Lewiston—quickly materialized in the high, semi-arid wilderness. Unfortunately for the miners, the Sioux war trail down the Wind River emerged right in the heart of the diggings. The scattered whites were easy prey to the scalp-hunting braves of the war parties. Besides the war parties of the Sioux alliance, the Blackfeet and Crows also came down for the summer’s fun. Each week brought fresh tales of bloody raids.

The Army moved in and established Fort Stambaugh, a thousand-man cavalry post, near Atlantic City. But even this strong force couldn’t keep the hostiles in check. If they were blocked on the Sioux trail, they approached from other directions. The raiding parties seldom chose to stand and fight. When pursued, the wiry Indian ponies soon outdistanced the larger, heavier-laden cavalry mounts. If by chance the cavalry did get too close, their quarry scattered, leaving nothing behind but pony tracks and thin air. In addition to their troubles in the field, the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were receiving a very bad time at the hands of the nation’s press. They needed help, and they thought of Washakie.

General C. C. Augur, acting for the Army and the Indian Bureau, met the Shoshones and the Bannocks at Fort Bridger on June 30, 1868. He carried treaty papers in his portmanteau and had a stack of presents and goods at his back. He had full authority to give the Shoshones and (if possible) the Bannocks the Wind River Valley as a permanent reservation. He was to make all reasonable concessions to Washakie and place him and his people in their new home as soon as possible.

General Augur told the Shoshones specifically that the White Father was now in a position to give them the Wind River Valley. He forestalled Washakie’s old objection by pointing out that the Crows had broken the treaty of 1851 and that the government was no longer obligated in the matter.

In his gracious but firm acceptance, Washakie carefully outlined the conditions under which he would move his people to the Wind River Valley. He asked for schools, churches, and a hospital. They would need instructors to teach them agriculture and livestock raising for the day when the buffalo would be gone. An Army post would be necessary to help the Shoshones protect themselves against the powerful enemies who would come raiding there. He said: “We prefer to live in skin or canvas lodges, but skin and canvas will not turn bullets; we will have to build log houses until it is safe to move back into our old lodges.” His last and strongest stipulation was that this reservation must be for none other than Shoshones, or people of their choosing.

A the end of the lengthy negotiations Augur was amazed at Washakie’s astuteness in analyzing each part of the long treaty. He was completely illiterate, but through two excellent interpreters he traced each sentence and paragraph and demanded an explanation. Finally, on July 3, 1868, General Augur, with a nervous forefinger, pointed to the place on the white document. Beside him the tall, white-haired, scarfaced Washakie, in buckskin leggings and moccasins, gingerly accepted the proffered quill and with tentative strokes made his X.

In making his mark Washakie was swearing that “for as long as the Sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,” the eastern Shoshones would keep peace with the United States government. In return the government guaranteed that the eastern Shoshones could have forever, under designated boundaries, the Wind River Valley for their exclusive home.

Augur sent his reports to Washington and marched northeast, to begin establishing a military post and agency on the newly designated Shoshone reservation. The miners on South Pass were elated to know that they would soon have the Shoshones as protection against the hostile raiders. Neither Augur nor the miners, however, had allowed for government red tape. Three years were to elapse before the small post and temporary agency buildings were completed at Fort Augur, site of the present town of Lander, and Washakie with his proud Shoshones could move into their new home. The post was renamed Fort Brown in 1871 and moved to the Little Wind River; eventually it became Fort Washakie.

But the frontier was still in a highly unsettled state. True to Washakie’s predictions, the enemy tribes continued their murdering, kidnapping, and horse-stealing raids. A strong garrison of Regular Army and the veteran Shoshone warriors had their hands full. The Shoshone braves spent many hours in mounted drill and dismounted manual of arms, and kept their weapons spotless and in perfect working order. A great admirer of the United States military, Washakie had memorized complete manuals of drill and maneuver. By the use of horse runners and smoke signals he maintained an intricate communication system over his own domain and with the Bannocks nearly two hundred miles to the west, thus saving Indian and white settlements from the shock of surprise raids.

In spite of all these precautions, one Crow chief in particular began systematically to attack the small summer hunting camps of the Shoshones. When Washakie learned this man’s identity he took to the field with a crack troop of warriors and sent the Crow a warning: “I’m looking for you. When we meet I will cut out your heart and eat it before your own braves.”

Washakie and his warriors met a strong war party of Crows in front of a sheer butte at the north end of the Wind River Valley. There was a pitched battle. In the middle of the fight Washakie located the chief and drove his war horse toward him through the melee. The Crow saw him coming and shouted a challenge. They met with a shock that unhorsed them both and they fought on the ground with knives. Though Washakie was considerably older than his adversary, the Crow soon lay dead at his feet.

Some insist that Washakie did eat his enemy’s heart; others deny it. When asked about the incident in his old age, Washakie always answered: “When a man is in battle and his blood runs hot, he sometimes does things that he is sorry for afterwards. I cannot remember everything that happened so long ago.” Finley Burnett, agricultural instructor, and Yarnell, the government scout, both stated that they did see the chief of the Shoshones dancing with a heart impaled on his lance the night after the battle. At any event, the battle of Crow Heart Butte ended the wars between the Crows and Shoshones.

During that last engagement the Shoshones were surprised to see that the Crows had quite a number of young women with them. This was unusual for a war party. The Shoshones captured most of these women, and later Washakie made one of them the last of his several wives. True to Indian custom, Washakie had married young, and by several wives he fathered a large number of sons and daughters. He was very devoted to them. His almost snow-white hair, a feature that distinguished him throughout the second half of his life, was attributed to his grief over the tragic death of a favorite son, for which he held himself responsible. Two of his sons, Dick and Bishop, were the flag bearers for his arrival at Crook’s Goose Creek camp in 1876. Charlie, the last of the old chief’s children to survive, was killed by a train in 1951.


After a few years, reservation life became difficult for the Shoshones. Game, especially buffalo, was getting scarce; soon the buffalo would be gone forever. It was hard for the proud, horse-riding Shoshones to think of turning to the white man’s plow to feed their families. Cattle raising, which would have been much more to their liking, was not encouraged by Indian agency personnel, nor was the promised breeding stock forthcoming. Food allowances were slow to arrive and often half spoiled. Hunger, the eternal terror of the Indian, faced them. Washakie preached patience. His brother-in-law, Tigee, had lost his leadership of the Bannocks and along with his immediate followers had come to live on the Wind River reservation. Some Shoshones didn’t think that this should have been allowed. The victory at Crow Heart Butte was soon forgotten and restless young men began to talk. They thought that their chief was too soft in his dealings with the whites and that he was too old to lead them in battle any longer. They thought he was too strict in his handling of tribal affairs. Perhaps, they mused, they should have a new chief.

Washakie overheard some of the talk, and one night he disappeared. When he returned a few days later, seven fresh scalps hung from his shield, and there was no more talk about a new chief.

Washakie’s request for Christian training for his people was answered when Father John Roberts, an energetic Welshman, was sent to the Wind River reservation by the Episcopal Church. The chief of the Shoshones and the bearded little priest, whom he called “White Robe,” became great friends. Washakie had an amazing knowledge of Biblical lore, which he had acquired from Marcus Whitman, Father De Smet, and Brigham Young. He himself was not baptized until late in life, but his co-operation was a great help to Father Roberts’ efforts in the raw wilderness.

Early in the winter of 1878, a bedraggled band of Arapahoes, escorted by two troops of the Fifth Cavalry under Major G. A. Gordon, appeared on the Wind River reservation. Under the able leadership of Sharp Nose, Black Coal, Yellow Calf, and Wallowing Bull, they had escaped the previous spring from the Indian territory in Oklahoma, where they had been exiled as a punishment. They were captured by troops under Stephen W. Kearny in northern Wyoming and with the cavalry escort headed back south. The Arapahoes had covered a thousand miles in their flight from Oklahoma, and when they reached the Shoshone reservation they were in a desperate condition. They could travel no further. Gordon asked the commanding officer and the agent at Fort Washakie for permission to hold his charges there until they were strong enough to travel again. Both officials were anxious to assist; but they insisted that Washakie must be consulted before permission could be granted.

Washakie had known of the presence of the Arapahoes before he received the agent’s message summoning him to the post. His answer to Gordon’s request was a flat “No.” But Gordon was desperate, and he asked the chief if he would inspect the Arapahoes before he made his decision final. Washakie agreed to this but insisted that the agent and commanding officer and an interpreter go along.

It was a raw, cold day. When they rode through the forlorn camp Washakie refused to speak to the Arapahoe chiefs, all of whom he knew; but he took note of the emaciated women and children and the starving, lifeless horses. Turning to the officials he said: I don’t like these people; they eat their dogs. They have been the enemies of the Shoshones since before the birth of the oldest old men. If you leave them here there will be trouble. But it is plain that they can go no further now. Take them down to where the Popo Agie walks into the Wind River and let them stay until the grass comes again. But when the grass comes again take them off my reservation. I want my words written down on paper with the white man’s ink. I want you all to sign as witnesses to what I have said. And I want a copy of that paper. I have spoken.

The grass has come and gone many times since that bleak day in 1878, and the Arapahoes still remain on the Wind River reservation. Yet each year, throughout the rest of his life, Washakie formally demanded their removal from Shoshone soil.

When government officials attempted to insinuate the Arapahoes into reservation affairs (having mostly to do with land cessions) by inviting them to sign all treaties made on the ground (as United States treaty practice required), Washakie protested. His words were always the same: “The Arapahoes have nothing here to sign for.”

His most famous protest was made over the treaty of 1896, the last one he was to sign. State and federal officials, recognizing the medicinal values of the mineral hot springs at what is now Thermopolis, Wyoming, asked the Shoshones to cede these waters and about fifty thousand additional acres for public use. Washakie and his fellow tribesmen were willing. But they asked that part of the waters be developed and set aside, always with an Indian attendant, for the free use of all men of all races, creeds, and colors. This was included in the treaty.

The signing was held with much ceremony. There were many state and federal notables present. Most of the Shoshones were there, and the proud hierarchy of the Arapahoes stood by. Washakie, regal in his blue silk robe, with Tigee at his side, walked up to the treaty table. Norkuk, an important subchief who had signed at the treaty of 1868, had to be carried, though he was younger than Washakie. When they had made their crosses, the Arapahoes were asked to come forth and sign. Then Washakie spoke: “Why are the dogeaters asked to this table?”

“Why,” the agent explained, “they have to sign the treaty in the cession of this land.”

Washakie replied, “They don’t have to sign. This is Shoshone land. The Arapahoes own nothing here.”

“But,” the agent persisted, “it is the White Father’s wish that the Arapahoes sign too. It is part of the regulations.”

In one of his amazing rages, Washakie crashed his fist down on the table and shouted, “All right! if that is the way it must be, let them sign. But under their marks write it down that Washakie says no.”

Long after his death, Washakie’s careful study of the treaties and his strongly worded protests proved of tremendous value to the Shoshones. When George M. Tunison, an attorney, took up the Shoshone case in 1929, Washakie’s records were powerful weapons in his hands. After a long delay Congress allowed the Shoshone case to be presented to the United States Court of Claims. Tunison argued the case in December, 1936, and in January, 1937, the court awarded the Shoshones four and one-half million dollars in damages suffered from the presence of the Arapahoes on their lands. With the accrued interest from the original claim and additional claims, this has grown into a tremendous sum.

Old age, the civilizing tendency of the times, and the gentle counsels of Father Roberts did much to quiet the warlike nature of the old chief. But his promise never to shed white blood was nearly broken when his son Bishop was treacherously murdered by a drunken renegade white. The murderer was still at large, and the outraged Washakie was preparing to hunt him down when Father Roberts persuaded the old chief to let the law punish the murderer.

When he was past ninety Washakie suffered a light paralytic stroke. To give him better care the post surgeon had him placed in the hospital. On one of his daily calls Father Roberts found him morose and discontented. Washakie explained that though he was receiving wonderful care, the soft bed was making him die. He asked Father Roberts to help him down on the floor where he could get well. After a great deal of discussion, the priest compromised by removing the mattress and putting a door in place of it under the chief of the Shoshones. Within a short time the patient was showing remarkable signs of recovery. During Washakie’s convalescence Father Roberts presented him with an old-fashioned reading robe. This quilted, down-filled garment was covered with blue silk and lined with pink satin. It became one of the old chief’s favorite pieces of apparel, and he often wore it on state occasions.

After his discharge from the hospital, as soon as his strength allowed, Washakie resumed the active life that his illness had interrupted. He devoted much of his time to reservation affairs and the welfare of his people. His rides took him all over the reservation and to the nearby town of Lander. But now he had to be helped on and off his horse. He continued his rides until his vision was destroyed by a furious sandstorm.

Finally, on the evening of February 20,1900, Washakie called his family to his bedside in the snug log cabin on the Little Wind River. His voice was only a whisper and his hands moved feebly in the sign language. “You now have that for which we so long and bravely fought. Keep it forever in peace and honor. Go now and rest, I shall speak to you no more.” When the grieving family left the room they saw his lips silently moving. They knew that he was singing his death song.


On the morning of February si, the wires carried a message to the office of the Adjutant General in Washington: “Chief Washakie of the Shoshones died at eight thirty last night. Recommend full military funeral. Overton commanding—please advise.”

The wires replied: “Commanding Officer, Fort Washakie, Wyoming: Order full military burial for Chief Washakie of the Shoshones, rank of Captain. Extend our deepest to members of family. Office Adjutant General, Washington, D. C.”

On February 22, there had been a light snow during the night, but the Wyoming sun was shining when the cortege, a mile and a half long, reached the military cemetery at Fort Washakie. Troop E of the First U. S. Cavalry snapped to attention. The Indian police dismounted and stood rigidly opposite. The pallbearers, both red and white, gently removed the flag-draped coffin from the caisson and placed it at the grave. At a sign the keening of the women died down, and Father Roberts, assisted by the Reverend Sherman Coolidge (a full-blooded Arapahoe), read the Episcopal burial service. The coffin was lowered into the grave, and a squad from the First Cavalry fired the three volleys in salute. Bugler Veribloom, Troop E, First Cavalry, placed his bugle to his lips, and the long notes of “Taps” reached out over the valley and were echoed back by the foothills. All that was mortal of the battle-scarred chief rested deep in the snowcovered soil of his beloved Warm Valley.

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