Wind River Indian Reservation

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Location of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming

Wind River Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation made for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Native American tribes in the central western portion of the U.S. state of Wyoming. It is the seventh-largest Indian reservation by area in the United States, encompassing a land area of 3,473.272 sq mi (8,995.733 km²), or land and water area of 3,532.010 sq mi (9,147.864 km²). The reservation constitutes just over one-third of Fremont County and over one-fifth of Hot Springs County. [1]

The reservation is located in the Wind River Basin and is surrounded by the Wind River Mountain Range, Owl Creek Mountains, and the Absaroka Mountains. The 2000 census reported a population of 40,237 inhabitants. The largest town is Riverton, Wyoming. Tribal headquarters are located at Fort Washakie. The Shoshone Rose Casino (Eastern Shoshone) and the Wind River Casino, Little Wind Casino, and 789 Smoke Shop & Casino (all Northern Arapaho) are the only casinos in Wyoming.


The Wind River Indian Reservation was established by the United States for the Eastern Shoshone Indians in 1868, restricting them from their formerly vast territory. Camp Augur, a military post with troops, was established at the present site of Lander on June 28, 1869. In 1870 the name was changed to Camp Brown and in 1871, the post was moved to the current site of Fort Washakie. The name was changed to honor the Shoshone Chief Washakie in 1878 and the fort continued to serve as a military post until the US abandoned it in 1909. [2] By that time, a community had developed around the fort.

A government school and hospital operated for many years east of Fort Washakie; Arapaho children were sent here to board during the school year. St. Michael's at Ethete was constructed in 1917–1920. The village of Arapahoe was originally established as a US sub-agency to distribute rations to the Arapaho. At one time it also operated a large trading post. In 1906 a portion of the reservation was ceded to white settlement and Riverton developed on some of this land. Under the Dawes Act, communal land was allotted to individual households. Many Arapaho names were anglicized at the time. Irrigation was constructed to support farming and ranching in the arid region. The Arapaho constructed a flour mill near Fort Washakie. [2]

Mid-20th century to present

Of the population in 2011, 3,737 were Shoshone and 8,177 were Arapaho. 1,880,000 acres of Tribal Land with 180,387 acres of Wilderness area, [3] [4] compared to the population in 2000, 6,728 (28.9%) were Native Americans (full or part) and of them 54% were Arapaho and 30% Shoshone. Of the Native American population, 22% spoke a language other than English at home. Sacagawea, a woman guide with the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806, was later interred here. Her son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who was a child on the expedition, has a memorial stone in Fort Washakie but was interred in Danner, Oregon.

In the early 21st century, the media reported severe problems of poverty and unemployment, resulting in associated crime and a high rate of drug abuse. [5] In 2013 the Business Insider produced a photo scrapbook and indicated locals refer to different streets by infamously violent American locations such as Compton near Los Angeles. [6]

At that time the reservation was experiencing a methampetamine crisis that has since been significantly reduced, even while addiction continues to be a problem. Other residents say the Wind River Indian Reservation is a more hopeful place than is often portrayed in press reports. [7] The tribes have re-established populations of big game, such as moose, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope, and have passed hunting regulations to conserve these species. [8]

In November 2016 the Shoshone introduced ten bison to the reservation, the beginning of what is planned as a 1000-head herd. They were the first bison to be seen on the Wind River Reservation since 1885. Area suited as buffalo habitat is estimated at 700,000 acres on the west side and another 500,000 acres on the north of the reservation. [8]

Representation in other media

  • PBS aired the documentary film Chiefs, filmed from 2000-2001 by Daniel Junge about the members of the successful high school basketball team on the Wind River Reservation.



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