Chief Washakie was a leader of the Eastern Shoshone tribe in present-day Wyoming during the 19th century. He was influential not only in leading his Eastern Shoshone tribe but also in his role in the development of several states, his relationships with well-known Trail figures, and his place in multiple treaty negotiations. The California Trail Interpretive Center seeks to highlight his influence and inspiration on our history and present.
The Story Of His Early Life Is Disputed
Although his exact birthday is disputed among historians, he was born to a White Knife Shoshone mother named Lost Woman, possibly sometime between 1798-1804, though some historians place it as late as 1808-1810 based on information from interviews late in his life. As a young child, he tragically lost his father to an attack organized by the Blackfeet tribe, which impacted him deeply and likely contributed to his pacifist mindset as an adult.
It was only after the loss of his father when he was sixteen that Chief Washakie joined the Shoshone tribe. This was around the same time that he met Jim Bridger, whose life is comparatively better documented.
A Valiant & Skilled Warrior
In his youth, Chief Washakie became a valiant and skilled warrior after the traumatic death of his father. He was so talented and dedicated that the U.S. Army named a fort after him in 1878 and a naval ship after him in World War II. He was the first Native American to have an Army outpost named after him and to receive a full U.S. military funeral.
A Peacemaker & A Diplomat
In addition to being a skilled warrior, Chief Washakie was a peacemaker and diplomat who helped his people maintain their independence and cultural heritage despite the challenges posed by white settlers. Washakie was dedicated to preserving the heritage and way of life of the Eastern Shoshone people. He worked tirelessly to protect their rights, resources, and lands and preserve cultural traditions for future generations.
Worked Tirelessly To Protect His People
Chief Washakie was a skilled negotiator who worked tirelessly to secure treaties with the United States government to protect his people’s rights and interests. In 1851, he attended council meetings about the Treaty of Fort Laramie at the suggestion of trapper and mountain man Jim Bridger. Through his continuous efforts, the Eastern Shoshone people could live more peacefully with less interference from the white settlers ruthlessly obsessed with westward expansion.
Signer Of The Fort Bridger Treaties
He signed the Fort Bridger Treaties of 1863 and 1868, which established the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and the Shoshone and Bannock Indian Agency. It was the treaty of 1863 that first established peace and land for the Shoshone, but it was the treaty of 1868 that created the reservation. This treaty was sparked by the building of the first transcontinental railway and the discovery of more gold, two major reasons people moved west.
He Valued His Cultural Heritage
In addition to negotiating peace treaties for his tribe, the honorable Chief was a traditionalist who valued the cultural heritage of the Shoshone people. He encouraged the continuation of traditional practices, such as the Sun Dance ceremony, and took an active role in preserving the history and stories of his people. A skilled painter, he created a beautiful elk hide painting depicting this epic ceremony.
Supported Access To Education For His People
When it came to matters of education, Chief Washakie fervently believed in equal opportunities for Native children. Notably, he donated a generous portion of land to support the construction of a culturally-attuned boarding school for Shoshone girls. The Episcopal missionary, John Roberts, had become friends with Chief Washakie over the years and opened the school in 1887.
Forged Diplomatic Connections Between Tribes
Despite his background as a warrior, Chief Washakie was ultimately a pacifist at heart who firmly believed in cooperation between tribes. He worked to forge diplomatic connections between the Eastern Shoshone and other tribes and helped mediate disputes between rivaling Native American communities.
The Many Roles Of Chief Washakie
Throughout his leadership, Chief Washakie played a critical role in helping the Eastern Shoshone peoples preserve their heritage and maintain their independence in the face of westward expansion along the California Trail. To this day, historians remember him as a respected and influential leader and a hero to the Eastern Shoshone and other Indigenous communities.
- A Military Hero
- Treaty Negotiator
- Cultural Preservation Advocate
- Education Advocate
- Inter-Tribal Diplomat
His Legacy Continues To Inspire
Chief Washakie’s long life was full of important historical events that shaped the way we remember the California Trail and the west today. Visit us at the California Trail Interpretive Center to learn more about how his legacy continues to inspire Native American communities in the 21st century.