Little Bit of Local History: Freighting and fighting on the road to Fort Washakie
By Jean Mathisen Haugen, Lander Historian
(Lander, Wyo.) – Back in the 1880’s Lander and Fort Washakie were both very isolated from getting goods for the people who lived in the area and on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Goods were brought in by freight wagons from the railhead at Rawlins. Although the Shoshone Reservation was established in 1868 and Camp Augur established on the future site of Lander in 1869, Chief Washakie refused to move his people over until more protection from the government was provided to keep raiding Indians from harming his people. By 1871 he had moved them over. In 1877 permission was asked to allow the Arapaho, who had nowhere to go, to stay temporarily on the Shoshone Reservation. Temporary turned to long-term and eventually became permanent–which was rather strange, since the tribes had been hereditary enemies for years.
The government was having hard times financially in 1881 and decided the Indians could freight their own supplies from the railhead at Rawlins to Fort Washakie. They furnished them with wagons, harnesses, and four-pony teams for two wagon trains. Two Indians were assigned to each wagon: one drove the wheeler and the other drove the leaders. One wagon train was manned by Shoshones and the other by Arapahos. A white trail boss supervised each wagon train.
William McCabe, a long-time scout with the Army, bossed the Arapaho train on one trip. He was noted for his honesty and was respected by all who knew him. On this trip he went to “lower town” in Rawlins to have a bit of fun. On his way back to camp two men followed him, knocked him down and robbed him. When Mack recovered consciousness the sheriff asked him if he knew who assaulted him. Mack replied he knew them well. The sheriff repeatedly asked McCabe for their names, but he refused to say. “When I get well, I’ll settle with them without any help from the law.”
And so he did. During the evening Billy McCabe walked up to a man at the bar and asked him to turn around–he wanted to get a better look at him. When the man did, Billy recognized him, pulled a gun and shot him through the head. He then looked around and asked if anyone else wanted to interfere. No one did.
The sheriff arrested McCabe at the Indian camp. The Arapahos saw him coming, got their guns and told McCabe he didn’t have to go. McCabe went quietly with the sheriff. Mack was charged with first degree murder and the venue was changed to Sweetwater County. At the trial, one witness, who had imbibed liberally of booze, made a motion to the judge that he adjourn court so everyone could go out and have a drink. In due process, the jury found Billy McCabe not guilty.
After his rather lively year of 1881, McCabe settled down to a quieter life and remained at Fort Washakie until the military abandoned it in 1909. He moved to an old soldier’s home in Saltillo, California and died there December 8, 1914. Though his exact age was unknown, he was well into his eighties. And thus ended the tale of freighting and fighting on the road to Fort Washakie.
Click on image to enlarge