The building in Sacajawea Cemetery has a long and significant history that many people don’t remember. Originally, it was located on the banks of Trout Creek. When Fort Washakie was decommissioned in 1909, the plans were to burn it down, but because of its history it was saved and moved to Sacajawea Cemetery in 1916, thereby preserving it.
The Chapel, originally built in 1872 by the United States government, was used as a mission room and schoolhouse. President Grant had assigned responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the Shoshone and the Bannock tribes to the Episcopal Church. At that time the supervision of the building fell to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church. George Maxwell Randall, missionary bishop serving Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and surrounding territories, visited the reservation in 1873. At that time the reservation was very much part of the frontier subjected to constant raids by hostile Sioux. For his safety, four armed guards escorted Bishop Randall from South Pass to the reservation. He was given a shotgun, so he could defend himself if needed during the journey, even though he had never before fired a gun in his life. During the journey from South Pass to the reservation they saw many smoke signal fires along the way, the reality of which only added to the anxiety of the travelers.
On August 19, 1873, Bishop Randall held a service for the Shoshone in the building that was soon to become known as Bishop Randall Chapel. It would be his last service. He died soon after returning to Denver. While the service was being held a party of Sioux Indians stealthily approached the chapel and peered in the windows. Perhaps, they recognized that the bishop was addressing the Great Spirit or perhaps they thought it was a well-armed war council preparing to do battle. Either way the Sioux left quietly without violence. But on their departure they took the Shoshone’s horses. When the service was completed the Shoshones found moccasin prints around the church and where the missing horses had been tied. The Sioux had left for the Lander Valley where only a few weeks before they had killed two Lander City residents, Mrs. Richards and her niece, Mrs. Hall. Interestingly, the two pioneer women are buried in a shared coffin at Sacagawea cemetery close to where the historic chapel is now located.
The next spring James Irwin M.D. the Shoshone Reservation’s first agent, (the first Peace Policy agent for the Wind River Shoshone) was sent to Pine Ridge, South Dakota to establish an Indian Agency for Red Cloud and his Lakota Sioux. Upon his arrival the chiefs were assembled. They asked Dr. Irwin where he was from. He told them he was from the Shoshone Agency.
They said, “We were out there last year.”
The doctor responded, “Yes, I know you were.”
“In some way you knew of our coming and were all gathered together in that log building, armed and ready to fight us.” replied the Sioux.
“No”, said the doctor, “not one of us had a gun.”
The doctor’s reply resulted in a roar of laughter from the chiefs.
Dr. Irwin also found a watch at the sutler’s store that had belonged to one of the murdered women in Lander. Further evidence of the Sioux’s time in the Wind River Country the previous year.
Today, the old Bishop Randall Chapel stands guard in Sacajawea Cemetery, a sentinel to the early history of the Wind River Reservation. It has recently been refurbished by the Episcopal diocese. A foundation has been added, a new roof and new windows and door. In addition to the chapel, visitors are welcome to visit the gravesites of Sacagawea, her nephew Basil, and the common grave of Mrs. Richards and Mrs. Hall. The Episcopal church is still active on the reservation, still ministering to the spiritual needs of both Whites and Native Americans.
Next up for the Fremont County Museum
January 18, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “My Life Caving: Juan Laden” Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series
February 8, 6pm at the Dubois Museum, “Brian DeBolt: Wolves in Wyoming”
Call the Dubois Museum 1-307-455-2284, the Pioneer Museum 1-307-332-3339 or the Riverton Museum 1-307-856-2665 for detail regarding their programs.
The Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation has been created to specifically benefit The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander and the Riverton Museum. The WRCCF will help deliver the long term financial support our museums need to flourish. In the current economic environment, the museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark over the last four years. Please make your tax deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Wind River Cultural Centers Foundation at PO Box 1863 Lander, WY 82520 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.