#ThisWeekInWYHistory: Two Nations, One Reservation
An exhibit currently on display at Sheridan and Gillette colleges introduces the story of the treaties, laws, events, and people that shaped the history of the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming.
The exhibit, titled “Two Nations, One Reservation,” is funded by Wyoming Humanities and can be seen at the Kooi Library at Sheridan College as well as the lobby of the Gillette College main building. It focuses on interactions among the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho people and the U.S. government. The two nations came to live in the Wind River Valley of central Wyoming in the wake of various treaties, agreements, historical events, and promises kept and broken.
Historical research conducted by wyohistory.org was supplemented with numerous oral interviews and recommendations provided by tribal members, scholars, and educators to compile the information used in the exhibit and supporting curricular materials.
The exhibit highlights the unique situation the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes findthemselves in as historical enemies forced to share a reservation. In fact, it is not uncommon for their children to have to choose whether they want to belong to the tribe of their mother or their father.
The Shoshone were the first tribe in the Great Basin region to obtain the horse. They ventured northward and, after conflict with other tribes inhabiting the Great Plains, settled in the Wind River Basin. There is growing evidence, however, that Shoshonean speakers, possibly Sheepeater Indians, lived in northwestern Wyoming for millennia.
Arapaho migrations are not well understood, but it is theorized that they are originally from Minnesota and were pushed out when French traders began trading guns with their enemies.
Some significant events leading to the modern Wind River Reservation are listed below.
September 17, 1851:
By signing the Fort Laramie Treaty, the Arapaho and Cheyenne agreed to share land. Damage payments promised to the Arapaho are reduced to only 10 years shortly thereafter.
People seeking gold and land entered the region in increasing numbers, along with the railroad. The 1862 Homestead Act led to 1.6 million approved claims and the settling of 420,000 square miles.
July 2, 1863:
In the Fort Bridger Treaty, the Shoshone accepted specific lands and 20 years of payments and supplies, but the treaty failed to prevent conflict, including the Sand Creek Massacre.
A US Senate Indian Committee report identified loss of land and game by tribes, aggression by lawless whites, and impacts of alcohol and disease on native people as the leading causes of conflict between Indians and whites. A peace commission was formed with the goal of concentrating Indians on reservations.
The second Fort Laramie Treaty reduced land promised to the Arapaho in the original treaty, and they were threatened with losing all compensation unless they agreed to settle with one of three other tribes, with the promise of their own reservation at some later date. None of the options proved tenable.
July 2, 1868:
The Shoshone signed the second Fort Bridger Treaty and accepted lands in the Wind River Valley.
The Arapaho were escorted to the Shoshone Reservation by the US military for a “temporary” arrangement.
Sixty million bison were indiscriminately slaughtered in an effort to deprive Plains Indians of their main food source.
The Shoshone sued the U.S. government for breaking the Fort Bridger Treaty by placing the Arapaho on their reservation.
A Supreme Court ruling allowed compensation of $4.2 million to be paid to the Shoshone for 61 years of Arapaho presence on their reservation. The name is changed to the Wind River Reservation.
The Indian Citizenship Act granted full U.S. citizenship to the indigenous peoples of the United States. Some states continued to deny these rights.
The Arapaho received $2.9 million from the U.S. government for violations of the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty.
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act protected the right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religious rights and cultural practices of Native Americans, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians
May 8, 2017:
The Wyoming State Legislature passed a bill requiring state school social studies standards to include the cultural heritage, history, and contemporary contributions of American Indians. They also require the Wyoming Department of Education to work with the tribes to develop the curriculum.
The 5-foot-tall kiosks include two booklets, one designed for adults and one for children, that guide visitors through the exhibit.
One hundred twenty-five copies of the exhibit kiosks, valued at over $1500 each, were provided and shipped free of charge to every school district, library system, community college and other relevant organizations in Wyoming.
For more information about the exhibit and downloadable guides, go to www.thinkwy.org/twonations/.