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Washakie: A Wyoming County History

Washakie: A Wyoming County History - Ray Pendergraft
“Red Turtle lay very still in the dark. Knowing the general direction his people had gone, and the direction taken by the retreating attackers, he started out in the dark, feeling along on the ground to determine which horse tracks were made by the cavalry’s shod horses and which were made by the bare hoofs of his own people’s horses. He followed those tracks all night, traveled all the next day and most of the next night. Near the close of the second day, near Mahogany Buttes on the Nowood, the Indians saw an object coming toward them and sent out a party to see what it was. It was the boy. He showed them how he had felt the tracks and followed the trail in the dark. When asked if he had had anything to drink he said, “No.” Asked if he had eaten anything, he said, “Yes,” and made a sign for three little birds in a nest on the ground, that he had eaten them, and “they ran all down my chin.” So he was reunited with his people.”

When traveling, I always look for books about the history and lore of a place. I’m talking about intimate and colorful insider accounts, rare finds. And one of the nicest things a traveling friend can do for me, short of taking me along, is get me such an account. A friend on a Wyoming trip got me this one. The author was born there in 1905 in a pioneer cabin, grew up as the son of the county’s first sheriff, and became its first justice of the peace. He’d been writing about the region for years when the state historical society offered him a grant in exchange for this book.

It opens in 1742 and closes in 1972, with all manner of characters and predicaments in between. As you’d expect there are trappers, prospectors, pioneers, cowboys, Indians, ranchers, miners, bankers and eventually politicians. The greater historical context is backdrop to the personal stories of the families and individuals who settled here, and it can get brutal. The territory itself is a challenge, but you’d think it’d be wide open enough to accommodate all. But by 1900 there was not a cattleman who could abide a sheepman. Sheep were said to ruin land for cattle grazing, and on the night of April 1, 1909, a posse of cattlemen slaughtered a camp of sleeping sheepmen who’d ventured too far into cattle territory. Rarely was violence that extreme, but conflict was ongoing – over land use, water rights, mineral rights, development, conservation – pretty much everything.

I wish there was more about contemporary Indian lives -- the Wind River Reservation is right next door -- but I recommend this for anyone interested in frontier stories and settlement of the American west.