#Lookback: History of the Wind River Reserve


A County 10 series in partnership with the Fremont County Museum System
where we throw a #Lookback at the stories and history of our community and
presented by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor at Edward Jones.

The Shoshone Indians have the longest prehistory in the Wind River Basin and largely controlled most of what is now western Wyoming. They were the first of the northern tribes to obtain horses from Spanish and southwestern traders, giving them an advantage over other tribes. As other tribes such as the Blackfoot acquired horses, Shoshone dominance over the region faded. Historical records from the 1800s noted additional tribes such as the Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota in the Wind River Basin. However, in the 1820s, the Shoshone began to regain control of the area by trading guns at the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous.

In 1851, despite the Shoshone currently living in the area, the Crow Indians were granted the Wind River Valley under the Horse Creek Treaty of Fort Laramie. In 1856 Chief Washakie of the Shoshone Indians challenged Crow Chief Big Robber to a one-on-one fight. Chief Washakie was victorious and emerged from the battle holding Chief Big Robber’s heart. This left the Crow-occupied Wind River Valley under Chief Washakie’s control, and the land was secured as a Shoshone hunting ground.

In the 1860s, the US government began to regulate the movement of the Shoshone tribe. In 1863, during the first Treaty of Ft. Bridger, approximate boundaries for Shoshone territory were set. The treaty granted the Eastern Shoshone a territory of approximately 44,672,000 acres, covering parts of the states of Utah, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

When gold was discovered in the South Pass area in 1867, American Indian agents hoped to limit raids on mining camps by placing Native Americans on reservations. Chief Washakie preferred the Wind River Basin, so the government created a permanent reservation there for the Shoshone Indians. The Shoshone Indian Reservation was established by agreement between the Eastern Shoshone and the United States at the Fort Bridger Treaty Council of 1868. The reservation, which covers only about 3.2 million acres , was created “for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Shoshone”. Indians…” The reservation stretched from South Pass through the Wind River Valley and the Owl Creek Mountains.

The Gold Rush of 1859 brought an influx of non-native settlers into the lands that were designated as the Arapaho and Cheyenne Reservation under the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1851. Later the Northern Arapaho signed the treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868, giving them room to move. on the Great Sioux Reservation in what is now western South Dakota. However, the tribe did not want to settle permanently in this area because the Sioux chiefs belittled the Arapaho. Not wanting to be culturally absorbed into the Lakota nation, the Northern Arapaho continued to seek their own reservation.

In 1876, Chief Black Coal and the Northern Arapaho Tribe sided with the United States Army to fight their former Cheyenne allies in the Dull Knife Fight. As a result, the Army supported giving the Arapaho their own reservation in eastern Wyoming Territory. However, this did not materialize.

As winter approached, army officers turned to Chief Washakie and the Shoshone reservation to distribute rations to the northern Arapaho, despite the Fort Bridger Treaty Council of 1868, which devised the land specifically for the Eastern Shoshone. It was meant to be a temporary placement, but it became permanent because the government never took any further action to relocate the Northern Arapaho tribe. The government has further strengthened the Arapaho’s place on the Shoshone reservation by including them in cession talks, such as the sale of the Thermopolis hot springs. Although the Shoshone protested their involvement, the Arapaho claimed that since they participated in the land cessions they had rights to the land.

In 1938, the United States Supreme Court case, United States v. Shoshone Tribe of Indians, determined that the government had wrongly given Eastern Shoshone lands and resources to the Northern Arapaho Tribe. A subsequent land agreement secured Arapaho’s claim as half-owners of the Shoshone Indian Reservation, and the reservation was officially renamed the Wind River Reservation.

Before the Shoshone Reservation was renamed the Wind River Reservation in 1938, many changes took place to redefine the boundaries. In 1887, the General Allotment Act, also known as the Dawes Act, allotted parcels of land to individual Native Americans and their families. All remaining unallocated lands were sold to the government and opened up to non-indigenous farmers. The law stated that the head of household could be entitled to 160 acres of viable agricultural land or 320 acres of pasture. Clear title to the land and immediate US citizenship would be given to the owner after 25 years.

After completing the allotment process, the government could legally negotiate with the homesteaders to sell the excess land. The proceeds from the sale of these lands were to be placed in trust and used for the benefit of the tribes, as determined by the government.

In 1905, under the McLaughlin Agreement, the tribes were encouraged to surrender nearly 1.5 million acres of their land holdings north of the Big Wind River for initial cash payments and the promise of future revenue to pay for an irrigation system, water rights, and schools. Although this deal should have brought the tribes more than $2.2 million in revenue, reports say they only received about $500,000 in payments. In August 1906, the lands north of the Wind River were opened for settlement for non-tribal members. This is the land on which the town of Riverton was built.

In 2014, the question was raised whether or not Riverton was located on the Wind River Reservation, given that it is surrounded on all sides by tribal land. In 2017, the 10e The Circuit Court ruled that Riverton was not on the reservation because the land was ceded in 1905 by an act of Congress.

Next stop for the Fremont County Museum

October 2 – November 159-5 at the Pioneer Museum, “Grounded: A Contemporary Exhibition of Art from Northern Plains Tribes”

November 15-October 2022 at the Pioneer Museum, art exhibition “Wind River Memories: Artists of the Lander Valley and Beyond”

November 19, 10 a.m.at the Dubois Museum, “Kids Gingerbread Houses” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop Children’s Exploration Series

Call the Dubois Museum at 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum at 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum at 1-307-856-2665 for more details on their programs.

The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation was created to specifically benefit the Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum. The WRCCF will help provide the long-term financial support our museums need to thrive. In the current economic climate, museums are more dependent than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to offer the quality programs, collections management, exhibitions and services that have become their hallmark over the past four years. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically to benefit the museum of your choice by mailing a check to the Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or handing it directly to the museum you choose to support.


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