WASHINGTON _ Throughout the 19th century, Chief Washakie put his Shoshone people first.
Now, Wyoming – with the help of Washakie’s people – will return the favor and place his likeness in the nation’s Capitol.
“The people will get to know the qualities he possessed and what he did for his people,” said James Trosper, a descendant of Washakie and member of the state’s Chief Washakie Sculpture Committee. “We were always taught to do some good and make things better for our people – we got that from him.”
Retired state Rep. Ray Harrison says Washakie’s contribution to the state of Wyoming makes him an ideal figure to represent the state in the Capitol’s majestic Statuary Hall. “It will be great to get Chief Washakie to Washington,” Harrison said, “and put him on a pedestal in the Capitol where he rightfully belongs.”
Each state may send two figures to the 135-year-old National Statuary Hall collection. By May 2000, Washakie will join women’s suffrage leader Esther Hobart Morris as Wyoming’s representatives.
Wyoming is one of only four states without a second statue. North Dakota, New Mexico and Nevada are the others. Both North Dakota and New Mexico also have chosen American Indians as their second representatives to Statuary Hall in the next few years.
North Dakota’s choice is Sacajawea, the Shoshone-born woman who helped guide Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their expedition west. New Mexico’s Pope was a Pueblo Indian leader.
Washakie and the other new additions will stand out as among the few American Indians in the collection. They will join two Cherokees from Oklahoma: Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee alphabet; and Will Rogers, the broadcaster and actor with Cherokee roots.
Washakie’s legacy is rooted in both his skills as a hunter and his commitment to his people.
“He had foresight and this desire to keep the peace at all costs,” said great-great grandson Trosper. “But at the same time, he was never subservient to anyone.”
In a 1868 treaty, Washakie secured 3 million square acres in central Wyoming as his tribe’s homeland. The U.S. government took some of the land back. But the Shoshone people still share more than 2 million square acres of the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming, with the Arapaho tribe.
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful places as far as Wyoming is concerned,” Trosper said. “He fought to get this land for his people.”
Author and historian Henry Stamm says Washakie became a Shoshone leader for his skills as a buffalo hunter and warrior.
“Buffalo was a source of power for the people, and finding the buffalo was no easy task,” he said. “As far as I can tell, Washakie always did.”
Throughout his 60-years as a Shoshone leader, Washakie used his skills as a negotiator to help his people. He forged a relationship with settlers by allowing travelers to pass through Shoshone land on their way to the west coast.
“He knew that the white settlers were too numerous to avoid, and that the best way to deal with them was to take an attitude of accommodation,” Stamm said. “So he would negotiate deals with the government. And he was brilliant at it.”
He signed a treaty that won the tribe food from the U.S. government. Washakie and other Shoshone warriors became scouts for the army. That doubled the rations for his people. In 1876, when Gen. George Crook was fighting against the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes in northern Wyoming, Washakie saved the army from a Sioux ambush.
“Being a scout was an honorable way of maintaining his people’s warrior status,” said Stamm, who just completed a book about the Wind River Reservation and Shoshone people. “And he was able to keep the tribe’s cultural identity and get paid for it.”
Washakie’s military contributions were recognized by the U.S. government at his funeral. In February 1900, Washakie became the first American Indian to be buried with military honors.
“The memory of his love for his own people will linger to assist them in their troubles,” wrote Lt. Clough Overton in Washakie’s obituary on Feb. 22, 1900. “And he will never be forgotten so long as the mountains and streams of Wyoming, which were his home, bear his name.”
Nearly a century later, Harrison, the former state representative, conceived the campaign to get Washakie to the nation’s capitol during a 1996 tour of Washington. “I saw that we had the opportunity to put another statue in there,” he said. “And it all fell into place like a bunch of blocks.”
He pitched his plans to other willing Wyoming officials. In 1997, the legislature passed Harrison’s bill naming Washakie as Wyoming’s second figure in Statuary Hall. This winter, the legislature approved $180,000 in state money for the project.
The money will pay for three statues: one for Statuary Hall; one outside Wyoming’s Capitol in Cheyenne; and one on the grounds of Fort Washakie in the Wind River Reservation. Extra money will go into a scholarship fund for students in the Wind River Reservation.
Trosper and other family members were there to see Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer sign the bill into law on Feb. 20 – exactly 99 years after Washakie died. “It was a neat thing,” he said, “the way it all worked out.”
The sculpture committee now must choose an artist for the statue. Then, committee members will spend the fall soliciting private donations to match the state’s share.
State Sen. Bob Peck (R-Riverton), who also is a committee member, says the fundraising campaign will reach far and wide. “If we need $180,000,” he said, “then we need a dollar from almost every man, woman and child in the state.”
Many of Washakie’s descendants plan on making the trip. And for his great-granddaughter, Zedora Enos, it will be an especially emotional time. She was raised by her grandmother – Washakie’s daughter-in-law.
“I feel very close to him,” she said. “It was so special to know that the same hands that prepared food for Chief Washakie also helped feed and raise me.”
And Trosper, Enos’ son, sees the statue in the Capitol as a way for future generations to learn of Washakie’s contributions to his people, the state and the country.
“We’re really happy,” Trosper said, “that our decendants will know that he is in Statuary Hall for the qualities he possessed.”