The history of the American West recognizes Washakie as one of its most remarkable leaders. Revered for statesmanship and respected in battle, he united his people into a significant political and military force. A skilled orator and charismatic figure who spoke French, English and a number of Native American languages, he successfully negotiated land and education settlements for the Shoshone.
Tradition holds that Washakie was gifted with the ability to foresee the future and work out the destiny of his people to the best possible advantage. He rose to a position of leadership in 1840, bringing together disparate groups of Shoshone warriors. With immigrants pressing along the eastern slope of the Rockies through traditional Shoshone hunting grounds, Washakie sensed that the tide of the White Man could not be stemmed. He believed that if the Shoshone were to retain their lands, they would need to make peace with the immigrants, and he convinced his own people and the U.S. government of the need for a protected Shoshone territory.
On July 2, 1868, Washakie signed the Fort Bridger Treaty, establishing a three-million-acre reservation in Wyoming's stunningly beautiful Wind River country. Thanks to his foresight and leadership, this "Warm Valley of the Wind" remains the home of the Shoshone today.
The Fort Bridger treaty
included pledges for building schools; Washakie was as committed to his people's education as he was to protecting their lands. To this end, he and his good friend John Roberts, the Welsh clergyman, established a boarding school for Shoshone girls. Built on sacred ceremonial grounds along the banks of Trout Creek, the school encouraged traditional and native speech.
Washakie remained an active and respected leader until his death at 102. His wisdom, gained from a century of experience and leadership, was sought by non-Native Americans as well as his own people.
When Washakie died on February 20, 1900, he was accorded a full military funeral, the only one known to be given a Native American chief. The mourning Shoshone, Arapahos and U.S. soldiers formed the longest funeral procession in the history of Wyoming.
Chief Washakie is buried in the old military cemetery at Fort Washakie. The cemetery road leads to the heart of the Wind River Country, the land he loved and fought to protect and preserve for his people.