Wasaki: leader, warrior, diplomat


A still from the film “Sons of the Big Dipper”. The Indian chief in the headdress looked, of course, impressive!

“Winnetou can’t wait any longer! He cannot allow Shetterhand and Tuyunga to be killed! “
“Winnetou, the leader of the Apaches”

Wasaki: leader, warrior, diplomat
Sioux Oglala Real Headpiece (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

In the same year, two hundred Sioux attacked the Shoshone summer camp near the Sweet Water River and stole about 400 horses from them. Washaki with a detachment of soldiers rushed to pursue them, but lost the battle, and his eldest son Sioux was killed and scalped in front of him, and he could not do anything.


And here is the Prairie Indian headdress, which can be seen at the National Museum of the American Indian. Acquired on the Hualapai Reservation, Mojave County, Arizona (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

Saddle of bunnies. (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)


After that, he engaged in constant training of his soldiers, and he did not disdain what his friends, army officers, taught him. The Sioux were more numerous, so he had no hope of defeating them, but he decided to get even with his enemies in any way, eleven years later, such an opportunity finally presented itself to him!


Arapaho: Women’s leggings paired with moccasins. (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

It happened in the spring of 1876, at the height of the so-called War of the Black Hills, when the American General George Crook was put in charge of the troops aimed at pacifying the Sioux and their loyal Cheyenne allies.


When one comes out from behind the stones, and before you have time to blink an eye, you will find yourself without a scalp! A still from the film “Trail of the Falcon”.

Crook was an experienced and intelligent man, and he well understood that “only Indians can hunt down Indians.” In addition, the experience of the civil war, in which many Indians participated on the side of the southerners and proved themselves to be unsurpassed masters of guerrilla warfare, unequivocally testified that the white army needed the support of friendly Indians. And Crook began to look for such support against the Sioux rebels and found it in the person of the Shoshone. When Krook’s emissaries came to Wasaki, he willingly promised them his assistance. And Colonel John Gibbon of Fort Ellis met around the same time with the chiefs of the Crow on Yellowstone, and they also promised to send him scouts.


Cheyenne Tomahawk (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)


Sioux Applied Mace (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)


Mace of the Yankton Dakota (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

At the same time, unprecedented measures were taken in Washington to strengthen the alliance with friendly Indians. On July 28, 1866, by a special act of Congress, the Indian Scout units in the US Army received official status. “The President of the United States has the right to enlist for service in the United States army forces of Indians not exceeding one thousand people as scouts, whom he relies on to be paid for, and also to equip …” – said in this document. Scout scouts who took the oath of office and enlisted in the US Army were entitled to a salary of $ 30 a month, that is, the same as the cowboys earned at that time, and this income was considered very good, and for an Indian, such money was just something unthinkable. In addition, especially for them, the Colt company released a “signature” revolver “Colt Frontier Scout” with an engraved image of the head of an Indian in a ceremonial headdress. This revolver was issued only to Indian Scouts, and they were very proud of this privilege.


Flatheads (“flatheads”) headdress, 1883-1955 (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

And so it happened that the Crow Indians stood shoulder to shoulder with the Washaki warriors during the Battle of Rosebud Stream.

Then, on June 14, on the eve of the battle with the Sioux, 176 Crow warriors, led by the leaders Magic Crow, Old Crow and Good Heart, approached his camp, a day later another 86 Shoshone Washaki. Lieutenant John Gurke from General Crook’s detachment later wrote: “The Shoshone galloped towards the main headquarters, then turned around and galloped gracefully with the left front, surprising everyone with their skillful dressage of horses. No warriors of civilized armies moved so beautifully. With an exclamation of surprise and delight, this barbaric platoon of harsh warriors greeted their former enemies, today’s friends – the Crow. It is said that there is no more hatred than the hatred of one brother for another. The Redskins were people of the same clan-tribe, of the same culture, but … they did not want to understand this, fortunately for the whites, who, naturally, immediately took advantage of this enmity.


Tomahawk tube of the Nez Perce Indians. (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

As a result, Crook now had a large force of 1,302 under command: 201 infantry, 839 cavalry and 262 Indian scouts. At the council of war, Washaki and the Crow chiefs asked him to allow them to fight the Sioux “by their own methods” of action, and the general agreed to give them complete freedom of action.

When more than 1,500 Sioux warriors attacked Crook’s positions, the Shoshone and Crow were not scared or confused, but were the first to take the fight.

Lieutenant Gurke later wrote:

“The Shoshone leader rode forward on a hot horse. He was stripped to the waist, and on his head was a beautiful headdress of eagle feathers, the train of which fluttered behind his horse. The old leader was everywhere: he and General Crook discussed tactics through an interpreter, at the front he encouraged his soldiers, consulted with his leaders and even helped protect the wounded officer – squad leader Captain Guy Henry.

Guy Henry held the defenses at a height, which was heavily attacked by the Sioux. A bullet hit him in the left cheek and went right through his right eye, his whole face was covered with blood, and he fell from his horse, losing consciousness. His soldiers retreated, leaving him high. Noticing this, the Sioux soldiers galloped to the wounded officer, hoping to remove the scalp from him. But the leader Washaki, along with a Shoshone warrior named Little Tail and other Indian scouts surrounded Captain Henry and fired back from the Sioux until soldiers came to their aid and carried the wounded man to the rear.


Colt frontier scout 1873 in a modern version

And it would not be an exaggeration to say that on that day only the vigilance and dexterity of the Crow and Shoshone Indians saved Crook and his soldiers from an imminent catastrophe, which, by the way, would have been even more impressive than the defeat of General Caster at Little Bighorn. And so Kruk could report on the victory, because the battlefield remained with him. Although, on the other hand, for this battle, his soldiers shot 25 thousand cartridges, while killing only … 13 Indians! However, he could console himself with those, these were only those whom the Sioux could not take, as well as the wounded and killed they most likely had much more.


The famous “Winchester” with an under-barrel magazine was far from the only example of such a weapon of the Prairie Indians. Very similar to it was the .45 1876-1877 Borges rifle belonging to a Nez-persce (“pierced noses”) Indian (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)


Case for a similar gun

Crook’s casualties were 28 killed, including several Indian scouts, and 56 seriously wounded. Sioux chief Raging Horse was ready for a new battle the next day, but chose to retreat, and after eight days, thirty miles north, to Little Bighorn, he also destroyed Caster’s detachment. But the Sioux gave their own name to the Battle of Rosebud, which sounded like this: “The battle with our Indian enemies.” That is, they simply did not take into account the fact that the soldiers from Crook’s detachment were also fighting on Rosebud!


Shoshone together with the leader Washaki in 1861. (Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution) (National Museum of the American Indian, Washington)

The exceptional role of the chief of the Shoshone in the Battle of Rosebud was noted by the Whites. President Grant himself soon presented him with a saddle personally, which moved Washaki so much that he even shed a tear.


Pierre Bryce as Chief Winnetou. Well, the leader Wasaki was no worse than him in all respects!

After that, he continued to fight the Sioux and Cheyenne on the side of the United States army until the defeat of the latter in November 1876. After that, his military career ended, but as a scout he continued to receive army rations for the rest of his life. Well, in 1878, as a token of his merits, Fort Camp Brown was renamed Fort Washaki by the decision of the US government, and this once again pleased the old leader.


Rabbit Tail, Shoshone Scout of Captain Ray’s Company. (US National Archives)

Nevertheless, Vasaki defended the interests of his tribe with honor. So, already at the age of 90 years, he defended the Shoshone rights to the land, on the territory of which springs with hot mineral water, the so-called Great Hot Springs (“Great Hot Springs”), were discovered. He never allowed the Shoshone to be moved to the so-called Indian territory and outlived all those who once tried to kill him!


Washaki, Chieftain of the Shoshone (US National Archives)

Contemporaries described the leader of Vasaki as a very brave man, intelligent and at the same time ingenuous and very, so to speak, “humane”, with quite understandable weaknesses of the “son of the prairie”. For example, he was proud of his own log cabin, which he built with his own hands. Its walls were covered with paintings depicting his exploits, which his son painted for his father, and he always showed them to his guests. On his hat was attached a silver plate with the inscription: “Our child”, which at that time were usually nailed … on coffins and which he exchanged for a bow and arrow with the son of a furniture dealer. He was also very proud of the medallion and beautiful saddle presented to him by President Ulysses Grant. He liked the photographs in which he was captured and his portraits painted by artists. Interestingly, in one of them, Washaki was depicted with his favorite decoration – a beautiful pink seashell, which served as a fastener for his tie. There was some kind of secret meaning in this shell, but which Vasaki did not tell anyone. Missionary teacher A. Jones wrote in 1885 that he had a “pleasant and open face” that became so mobile and expressive during his talks that it was truly pleasant to look at him. And his smile was like “a ray of soft light in a beautiful picture.”

At the end of his life, he went blind and was bedridden in his home on the Little Wind River. On the night of February 20, 1900, he gathered his family around him and said: “Now you have what we have fought for so long and bravely. Keep it forever in peace and with honor. Now go and rest. I won’t talk to you anymore. ” He died soon after, and two days later he was buried with military honors in the fort of his name.


But this eight-meter statue of the leader Washaki by sculptor Dive McGary in 2005 was installed on the university campus of the University of Wyoming in Larama

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