This fabled butte is quite real and rises up out of the landscape in the Wind River Valley, just northeast of Crowheart, Wyoming. It can be seen for miles, taking on the look of a pyramid, with a shaved-off top. This landmark on the Wind River Indian Reservation is most-unique and comes by its name from the historic battle that was fought on its small mesa.
Crowheart Butte was where a four-day battle had raged at its base in 1866. It was here where the Shoshones and Bannocks fought the Crows over hunting rights on the lands. As it was, the Crows had been given the valley in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. The Shoshones and Bannocks were given the valley in the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1863. Now, three years later, the Nations went to war. And after four bloody days of battle, there was a stalemate. And it was then that the enemies agreed to one final battle, a one-on-one, man-on-man, fight to the death. And the two warriors in this final showdown would be two Chiefs. Shoshone Chief Washakie and Crow Chief Big Robber fought to the death that day on Crowheart Butte.
Why was it named Crowheart Butte?
But why Crowheart Butte? Well, after a fierce hand-to-hand fight, it was Chief Washakie (see below) who was the victor. And the story goes that the victorious Shoshone Chief and warrior removed the heart of his foe and displayed it on his lance. Hence, the name Crowheart Butte.
Crowheart Butte is still a sacred sight to many locals, to this day used as a place of spiritual renewal for young men on a vision quest. And non-Indians are legally forbidden to climb Crowheart Butte.
The Great Chief Washakie
No one has ever been more revered by his people. And more respected by all during the tumultuous age of Indian Wars and the massive immigrant migration of the 1800s in the Wyoming Territory. The Great Shoshone Chief Washakie, born in 1798, would live a life of courage and leadership up and until he died in 1900.
He was born to a Flathead father and a Shoshone mother and named Pina Quanah, “the smell of sugar” in Shoshone. It was later, now a young warrior, that Pina Quanah took the name Washakie. It means “the rattler”, and was taken from a rattle he used to scare Sioux ponies during raids. After the young Washakie’s father was killed in a battle with the Blackfeet, he and his mother would flee to the safety of the Lehmi Tribe and eventually the Green River Snake Tribe. But he would eventually return to his native land and his native people and would become Washakie, Chief of the Shoshone Nation, in 1850.
Twenty years earlier, Washakie had met and become friends with Jim Bridger. Washakie made it a point to learn English, and he would come to understand and fully realize what was coming to his land. The Shoshone way of life was in for a major change, and Washakie, the future Shoshone Chief, knew it.
The great Shoshone leader, once the fearless and battle-hardened warrior, would press for a peaceful existence with neighboring Indian nations, and would help guide his people into the formation of the Shoshone Reservation. Chief Washakie dealt with the white man on an equal footing of respect and friendship, and would eventually cede lands for the Shoshones near Thermopolis that contained healing waters.
Chief Washakie died at age 102, on the Wind River Reservation on February 22, 1900. The Great Chief and was buried with full U.S. Military honors, the only Indian chief to be so honored. He had served his nation as it’s leader for 60 years. His name lives on, with more than a dozen places in Wyoming, that take the name Washakie.
Chief Washakie, one of the great warriors and peacemakers in American history. And, of course, a true Wonder of Wyoming.