Washakie: a Shoshone Ghost Town

The Northwestern Band of Shoshone called Washakie home for generations as they sought to rebuild their community after the tragic events of the Bear River Massacre. With land and assistance provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Shoshone created a new way of life while still preserving connections to their culture and heritage.

After the tragic assault by Colonel Patrick Conner and his California Volunteers on a peaceful encampment of Shoshone at Bear River on the morning of January 29, 1863, the drastically reduced band of Shoshone spent years roaming Northern Utah without a viable means of subsistence. Eventually, over a hundred members of this small band of Shoshone, led by Chief Sagwitch, converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After several years on their own, Sagwitch appealed to the Church, whose members offered assistance and allowed the band to settle and farm on Church-owned land near the modern Utah–Idaho border in 1880. In addition to the farmland provided by the Church, many members of the band also appealed to the federal government and received land close by under several homesteading acts of the late-nineteenth century. The Shoshone named this community Washakie after a respected leader in the greater Shoshone community who remained an integral part of their nation for almost a century.

While at Washakie, the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone adapted to the farming lifestyle of the nearby settlers. While doing their best to preserve elements of their culture through regular cultural gatherings and celebrations, the Band also learned new skills and practices from their white neighbors, many of whom came to them from the Church. The Washakie residents learned skills such as carpentry, farming, sheepherding, and firing bricks. They built a church house in the community to use as a place of worship and gathering. The Shoshone at Washakie even used the building as a schoolhouse for a few decades, though the teachers at the Washakie school were White. During Washakie’s heyday, the community thrived as a small city.

As time drew on, however, outside pressures pushed many of the Shoshone residents of Washakie out of the community. With the onset of the Second World War, Utah became a center for supporting the war effort. For some Shoshone, better-paying jobs drew them out of residence in Washakie and into areas where they could work Utah’s booming defense industry. This exodus of residents curtailed the Washakie community life possible with the remaining Shoshone population. Because the Church of Jesus Christ still considered itself the owner of Washakie’s land, they began reclaiming it in the summer of 1960 by burning seemingly abandoned homes to the ground so they could sell the plots to nearby farmers. However, many of the homes that appeared to be abandoned were only seasonally empty, as the Shoshone residents often visited their northern relatives on a Shoshone reservation in Idaho or were away for other reasons. The home burning marked the end of the Washakie community and marked the beginning of a tense relationship between the Northwestern Band of Shoshone and the Church. The Northwestern Band of Shoshone, who had been devastated by the violent events of the Bear River Massacre in 1863, once again became victims of whites pushing them off their land and out of their homes. Today, the Washakie community is gone. Only a few structures remain, including the church building and a cemetery.

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Map

These coordinates lead to the community cemetery maintained by the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation in Washakie, Utah.