The name “Wyoming” comes from an Indian language, an Algonquian word meaning “at the big river flat.” The Crow, Arapaho, Lakota and Shoshone were some of the original inhabitants when European explorers first entered the region in the late 18th century.
In 1868, the Shoshone chief Washakie signed a treaty with the government creating the Wind River Reservation. Ten years later, the government moved the Northern Arapaho from Colorado into the Wind River area, and in 1928 the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapaho formally agreed to share the reservation: the Shoshone are concentrated in the western half of the reservation, around Fort Washakie, and the Arapaho live in the east, near Ethete. Today the sprawling Wind River Indian Reservation is the seventh largest Indian reservation in the U.S.
In the summertime, the must-see events are powwows: multi-day celebrations centered around dancing and drumming. Indian Days, hosted by the Eastern Shoshone on the last weekend in June, is the largest Native American celebration in Wyoming. The Northern Arapaho Powwow in July is just as impressive. During nights, haunting drumbeats and chanting voices fill the air; during the day participants take part in dance competitions, games and socializing and feasting.
Pre-historic Native American artifacts are scattered throughout the Red Desert, a sprawling high desert in southwestern Wyoming that has been identified as an ancient trading spot for Shoshone, Crows, Ute and Blackfeet tribes. View petroglyphs along the Green River that tell the stories of these Plains Indians. Other pre-historic artifacts, some estimated to be more than 10,000 years old, have been found in the Red Desert’s Killpecker Sand Dunes.
Visitor centers and tribal websites are excellent starting points to gather information on historical and cultural sites in the state, and also to view powwow schedules. Here are Native American stops to include on your visit:
In the Wind River Reservation. Visit the graves of Chief Washakie and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Site of the 1866 battle of the Shoshone and Bannock against the Crow tribes, located in the northern part of the reservation.
Arapaho Cultural Museum, Ethete
Shoshone Tribal Cultural Center, Fort Washakie
Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody
Wind River Visitor Centers