Wind River Indian Reservation
The starting point for a tour of the Wind River Indian Reservation is Fort Washakie, located 14 miles north of Lander on U.S. 287, or 146 miles from Jackson (U.S. 26/89/191 to Moran Junction, then U.S. 287 over Togwotee Pass to Dubois and then on to the reservation).
More than 2 million acres of the Wind River Indian Reservation surround the town of Riverton, encompassing an area that stretches 70 miles east to west and 55 miles north to south. Wyoming's sole reservation is home to more than 2,500 Eastern Shoshone and 5,000 Northern Arapaho tribal members, governed by a council made up of representatives from both tribes.
The Shoshone were given a huge reservation to buffer westward travelers from more hostile tribes to the north such as the Sioux and Blackfeet. A reservation that once included parts of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado was reduced greatly when non-Indians discovered gold, grazing land, and water on tribal lands. Today, the Wind River Indian Reservation is a still-sizable 2.2 million acres, including oil and gas fields, several small communities, and some of the most pristine wilderness -- and best fishing -- in the United States.
The Northern Arapaho came to Wind River in the late 1870s for what they thought was a temporary placement before moving to their own reservation farther east. However, government promises were forgotten or ignored, and the Arapaho settled in to stay. The two tribes have unrelated languages and a history of warfare, but their relationship has gradually improved.
There is poverty and high unemployment on the reservation, but there is pride, too, quite evident at the powwows. Outsiders are welcome at these dances, which are held May through September at various sites (the Wind River Visitors Council can provide a schedule; tel. 800/645-6233; www.wind-river.org), where you'll see a more open, friendly side of the Arapaho and Shoshone, as long as you are respectful. Sun dances are more spiritual affairs, and while visitors are not banned, these moving ceremonies are not for tourists, and no photographs or videos are allowed.
Services for visitors are not well developed on the reservation, but you can learn more about the Shoshone tribe at the Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center (tel. 307/332-9106) in Fort Washakie, and about the Arapaho tribe at the St. Stephen's Mission (tel. 307/856-7806). At St. Michael's Mission, in Ethete (5 miles east of Fort Washakie), there is a museum (tel. 307/332-2660) of Arapaho cultural artifacts.
Sacajawea, the famed Shoshone scout for the Lewis and Clark expedition, is supposedly buried on a reservation that bears her name, west of Fort Washakie. There is some debate about whether she is buried there, but it's a beautiful cemetery on a hill and worth a visit (ask for directions in Fort Washakie). You might also stop by nearby Roberts Mission -- John Roberts was an Episcopal minister who lived most of his life on the reservation and had a tremendous influence on the tribes, founding a school and recording useful historical and anthropological information about the tribes. Chief Washakie, the venerated Shoshone chief, is buried in a cemetery along the Little Wind River on the north side of Fort Washakie. He lived to be more than 100 years old and was buried with full honors by the U.S. Army -- the only Indian chief to be so honored.
In late June, American Indians from around the country converge at Fort Washakie for Shoshone Treaty Day, a celebration of American-Indian tradition and culture. The Eastern Shoshone Powwow and Indian Days follow on the next weekend, with one of the West's largest powwows and all-American Indian rodeos, including thrilling bareback relay horse races.
There are hundreds of lakes in the reservation's high country, and in the summer they come alive with trout -- browns, cutthroats, brook, and golden. You can purchase a reservation fishing permit at local sporting-goods stores and find your way with maps to Bull and Moccasin lakes by car, or pick up USGS topographical maps and head for the high country on foot. Check with the fly-tying experts at Rocky Mountain Dubbing Company, 115 Poppy St. (tel. 800/866-4094 or 307/332-2989; www.rmdstore.com), off U.S. 287 just south of Lander, for permits, maps, equipment, and advice.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.