Wind River Indian Reservation


Last Updated: 11 months

Wind River Indian Reservation is an Indian reservation shared by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes of Native Americans in the central western portion of the U.S. state of Wyoming. Today, the tribes are offically are known as the Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Reservation and the Arapaho Tribe of the Wind River Reservation.


Wind River Reservation is the seventh-largest Indian reservation by area in the United States, encompassing a land area of 3,473.272 sq mi (8,995.733 km²), or land and water area of 3,532.010 sq mi (9,147.864 km²), encompassing just over one-third of Fremont County and over one-fifth of Hot Springs County.

The reservation is located in the Wind River Basin, and is surrounded by the Wind River Mountain Range, Owl Creek Mountains, and the Absaroka Mountains. The 2000 census reported a population of 23,237 inhabitants. The largest town is Riverton. Headquarters are at Fort Washakie. 

The Wind River Indian Reservation was established for the Eastern Shoshone Indians in 1868. Camp Auger, a military post with troops, was established at the present site of Lander on June 28, 1869.

In 1870 the name was changed to Camp Brown and in 1871 the post was moved to the current site of Fort Washakie. The nickname was changed to honor the Shoshone Chief Washakie in 1878 and continued to serve as a military post until its abandonment in 1909.

A government school and hospital functioned for many years east of Fort Washakie and children were sent here to board during the school year.

St. Michael’s at Ethete was constructed in 1917-20.

The village of Arapahoe was originally established as a sub-agency to distribute rations to the Arapaho and at one time had a large trading post.

In 1906 a portion of the reservation was ceded to white settlement and the town of Riverton evolved on some of this land.

Lands were allotted in the 19th century to the various families and names were anglicized.

Irrigation was brought in to develop farming and ranching and a flour mill was constructed near Fort Washakie. See the tribal links above for more in depth information about this reservation that pertains to each of its member tribes.

The Eastern Band of Shoshone Indians were the original inhabitants of the Wind River Reservation, the only Indian reservation in Wyoming, which was established solely for the Shoshone Indians. 

In 1878, the Arapahos were settled on the reservation when they were in need of a winter home. The Shoshones were rewarded $4,453,000 in 1938 for the eastern half of the reservation occupied by the Arapahos.

The Shoshone Tribal members principally occupy the western areas of the reservation including Fort Washakie, Crowheart, Burris, and the Dry Creek Ranch area. 

The Arapaho Tribe principally occupies the eastern segments of the reservation at the towns of Ethete and Arapaho. 

Members of both Tribes live in the Mill Creek-Boulder Flat areas. 

Wind River Reservation Tribal Government:

The United States Government as defined by the United States Constitution has governmental relationships with International, Tribal, and State entities. The Tribal nations have a government-to-government relationship with the United States.

The Northern Plains Arapaho Tribe signed treaties in the 1800’s with the United States which are the legal documents that established the boundaries and recognized Tribal rights as a sovereign government.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribal lands were originally reduced to a reservation with defined boundaries by the U.S. Congress in the Ft. Bridger Treaty of July 3, 1868. The reservation was further reduced by the Brunot Agreement of 1872 and the McLaughlin Agreement of 1898.

The Tribal governments maintain jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservation including all rights-of-way, waterways, watercourses and streams running through any part of the reservation and to such others lands as may hereafter be added to the reservation under the laws of the United States.

The Tribal government operates under a constitution approved by the Tribal membership which is the General Council and is not under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.

The Business Council of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and four additional Council members which are elected by the Tribal members.

The Tribal Council Chairman is the administrative head of the Tribe and serves a two year term with the Vice-Chairman and the other members of the Tribal Council.

Tribal/Agency Headquarters: Ft. Washakie, WY
Counties: Fremont, Hot Springs, and Sublette Counties
Number of enrolled members: 5,703
Reservation Service Population: 4,297
Labor Force: 3,454
Unemployment rates: 65%
Language: Arapaho and English


Land Status: Acres
Total Area: 2,268,000
Tribal Owned: 1,701,705
Allotted Owned: 101,149
Total Tribal/Allotted Owned: 1,808,854
Government Owned: 1,235
Non-Indian Owned: 463,821

Wind River Reservation Land:

The Wind River Reservation is the only Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The reservation is located in central Wyoming and is named after the scenic Wind River Canyon.

The reservation is an area about 3,500 square miles just east of the Continental Divide. The reservation is bordered roughly on the north by the Owl Creek Mountains which join the Rocky Mountains and east to Wind River Canyon.

The Bridger and Shoshone National Forests and the Wind River Mountains serve as a border for the western segment. From these areas, streams flow south and east into the foothills and plains which constitute two-thirds of the reservation.

The Wind River Indian Reservation is located in central Wyoming and includes portions of Fremont, Hot Springs, and Sublette counties with 99.5 percent of the Indian people residing in Fremont county.

The Arapaho-St. Stevens area of the reservation covers approximately 50 square miles and lies southwest of the town of Riverton and 28 miles east of Fort Washakie. The major share of the homes are located in the vicinity of the Arapaho Public School and along the banks of the Big Wind River and Little Wind River.

There is some farming and ranching in this area. There are approximately 2,067 Indian people residing in this area.

The total land area of the Eastern Shoshone reservation is 2,268000 acres with 1,701,795 acres Tribally owned and 101,149 acres individually owned. The land is an integral part of the Arapaho culture and the economic base of the reservation.

Wind River Reservation History:

The reservation was originally established by the Fort Bridger Treaty of July 2, 1863, and included 44,672,000 acres in Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. This area was reduced to 3,054,182 by the second Fort Bridget Treaty of July 3, 1868.

The Brunot Agreement, dated September 26, 1872, ceded 710,642 acres from the southern border of the reservation to the United States. In 1957, the Shoshones received $443,013 for the land lost under this agreement.

The McLaughlin Agreement of April 2, 1898, transferred 55,040 acres from the northeast comer of the reservation to the United States. The second McLaughlin Agreement, April 21, 1904, ceded 1,480,000 acres to the United States for homestead purposes and the Riverton Reclamation Withdrawal that covered 325,000 acres.

In 1938, the Shoshones restored to the reservation the land alienated under the second McLaughlin Agreement. These lands, with the exception of the Riverton Reclamation Withdrawal, now belong to the reservation. Through these transactions, the reservation has been gradually reduced to its present size.

The reservation is now the home of 2 Tribes, the Eastern Band of the Shoshones and the Northern Band of the Arapaho.

The Shoshones are original inhabitants of the reservation, which was established solely for that purpose. In 1878, the Arapahos were settled on the reservation when they were in need of a winter home.

The Shoshones were rewarded $4,453,000 in 1938 for the eastern half of the reservation occupied by the Arapahos and used part of this settlement to restore to the reservation the land mentioned above.


 Wind River Reservation Climate:

Climatic conditions in the area of the Wind River Indian Reservation vary greatly due to the diversity of the land characteristics – mountainous terrain and plains. The annual mean temperature is 45oF.

The temperature in January is approximately 18oF and in July 72oF, with an annual precipitation averaging between 15 to 20 inches. During a normal year, the sun shines 70 percent of the possible hours.

 Transportation on the Wind River Reservation:

The Shoshone and Arapaho Nation Transportation Authority (SANTA) provides public transportation carrying persons to various parts of the reservation or to Lander or Riverton.

There are public bus lines that connect in Shoshoni for connections to Casper, Thermopolis, Worland, Cody, or Sheridan within Wyoming and to Billings, Montana.

There are three small charter flight companies which operate single and multi-engine aircraft out of Riverton and Lander Municipal Airports.


Wind River Reservation Economy:

Many of the tribal members work on expansive ranches and farms, including the Eastern Shoshone Ranch as agriculture is a big part of the economy of the people.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Service and the Tribal government provide employment for many tribal members. Leases in oil and gas are another large source of income for the reservation. Some private business and tourism also contribute to the economy.

Shopping and housing on the reservation itself is somewhat limited, although day-to-day amenities can be purchased there. The larger cities on the outskirts of the reservation, Lander, Riverton and Thermopolis, provide residents with more specialized shopping needs for their families.

Recreational facilities such as swimming pools, golf courses, libraries, churches, and movie theaters are available in these three towns. Tribal government headquarters are located at Fort Washakie, as are the Indian Health (IHS) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

Wind River Reservation Recreation:

For the outdoorsman, the reservation and surrounding areas offer a variety of sports including fishing, boating and water skiing on Boysen State Reservoir, or on any of the mountain streams and rivers.

Camping, hiking and backpacking are always popular. The Wind River Canyon will provide hours of educational exploration for the amateur rock hound or geologist, as some of the oldest rock formations in the United States can be found there.

Wind River Reservation Community Services:

Grades K-12 are available on the reservation, or in any of the three surrounding towns. For those choosing to go further in school, but do not want to leave the area, Riverton’s Central Wyoming College offers a number of associate degree programs in association with the University of Wyoming.

Ambulatory medical specialist services are provided at the Arapaho Health Center. Full time optometry and dental services are available to all patients.

The Eastern Shoshone Tribe operates the Community Health Representative Program providing services as paraprofessionals in quality outreach care, health promotion/disease prevention services throughout the communities.

Housing on the Wind River Reservation:

There are approximately 2,996 Indian homes located on the Wind River Reservation. The majority of available housing is provided through Mutual Help home ownership or Low Rent housing through the Department of Housing and Urban Development programs managed by the Tribal Housing Authority.

BIA or IHS employees may choose comfortable, affordable housing at Fort Washakie, or they may choose to live in the larger communities of Thermopolis, Lander or Riverton. None of these three towns are more than an hour and a half drive from the reservation. Private housing stock is limited on the reservation.

In 1997, the Tribe’s environmental management staff identified the degradation of the water system that services 150 families at Boulder Flats as the primary environmental problem facing the Tribe.