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The Eastern Shoshone
people belong to Uto-Aztecan linguistic family, which once stretched from the Cascades in the northwest, to the northern plains of Wyoming, and southward to Mexico. Except for the Washos of California, this linguistic group included all the Indians in the Great Basin Area, including the Shoshonis, the Paiutes, the Bannocks, the Commanches and the Utes.
The Eastern Shoshone formerly roamed freely between their summer homes in eastern Idaho and their ancestral hunting grounds in the Wind River Valley in Wyoming. The tribe was influenced by the diversity of its home territories and culturally they showed attributes associated with Plains Indians—the use of horses, reliance on bison, tipis for housing, etc.—as well as the influence of their Great Basin and Colorado Plateau kin. Their relatives, the Sheepeaters, were mountain Indians who lived in Wind River Country year round, following the annual migration of bighorn sheep from the high peaks of the Wind River and Absaroka Mountains down to the foothills for the winter.
As pressure from white settlement began to push tribes out of their traditional homelands, Chief Washakie determined that his people were best off moving permanently into Wind River Country, which was known for its mild winters, abundant game and plentiful mountain-fed streams.
In the early 1860s, however, other tribes were also vying for control of the Wind River Valley, in particular the Crow Indians, who lived in the northwestern corner of what is now Wyoming. Under Chief Big Robber, the Crow began encroaching into territory the Eastern Shoshone considered their own. Chief Washakie sent a message to the Crow offering a compromise, but Chief Big Robber ignored the request and killed the messenger sparking a fierce war between the tribes, which also included the Shoshone’s allies, the Bannock.
The fighting was inconclusive and finally the two chiefs agreed to a dual to determine the outcome and control of the Wind River Valley. The battle was hard-fought but ultimately Washakie prevailed and killed Big Robber. According to local legend, Washakie cut out Big Robber’s heart and put it on the end of his lance as a sign of respect for his fallen foe’s valor. Crowheart Butte, in the northwestern part of Wind River Country, is named in honor of this famous encounter.
In 1868, Washakie and a council of tribal elders signed a treaty formally establishing the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Unlike most American Indian tribes, the Eastern Shoshone were the only one to have a say in the location of their permanent home. Today there are approximately 2,650 Eastern Shoshone living on the Wind River Reservation.