The Lander Front – Gateway to the Wind River Range

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This is Shoshone country and has been for centuries. As early as the 1500’s, the Shoshone had a large presence in what is now Wyoming and Idaho. A loosely knit tribe that consisted of four divisions, they roamed the vast territory, unbothered by pretty much anything but the cruel environment and hostile wildlife. Their story and the life they knew, like those of all the Indigenous People of this country, ended with the Treaty of 1863 that created a reservation in what is now the county of Fremont in central Wyoming. Not a pretty moment in our history, but the redeeming fact is that while the efforts to crush the spirit of these people eventually succeeded, the culture, the history and the land itself remains as vibrant as ever.

We first ran into Sacajawea in our first motorhome trip out west, a two month journey along the coasts of Oregon and Washington State. Check out my blogs – great pictures and a little history. We were in Astoria where the Lewis and Clark expedition had arrived after being tasked by Thomas Jefferson with finding the mythical Northwest Passage, a route from the central part of the country to the Pacific Ocean. It would be a journey of some two years, fraught with weather, hostile Indians, even more hostile Grizzlies, and a lot of second guessing which is what pioneering is all about. Jefferson had just fleeced the French in what was to become the Louisiana Purchase, and exploration of this vast territory was also assigned to the two men.

Sacajawea was born to a Shoshone chief and eventually was captured by another tribe during a battle and who in turn sold her to a French-Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charboneau, who made her one of his wives. She learned English and French, and with her husband became acknowledged experts in the territory of the Wind River Range, the natives who lived there and their languages. They were hanging out in Fort Mandan along the Missouri River in the winter of 1804 when they met Captain Clark, also riding out the winter, and who after learning about their history and expertise hired them to help guide the expedition through the territory. Pregnant at the time, it was thought foolish and dangerous to have a woman and a new-born child along on such a challenging venture but the response, probably well-founded was that any Indians encountered along the way would consider the expedition peaceful because of the presence of Sacajawea and her newborn child.

With the invaluable help of Sacajawea and her husband Toussaint, the expedition arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River, just before the winter of 1805. They built Fort Clatsop near what is now Astoria, Oregon, spent the winter, taking notes and exploring the area that eventually served as a guideline for the American push out west which would begin in earnest with the next generation. Lewis and Clark returned to St Louis amid a great reception with many honors, bestowed lands and a fame that has endured for several hundred years.

Toussaint and Sacajawea took leave of the expedition upon their return to Fort Mandan and returned to trapping and exploring. Sacajawea’s son, born at Fort Mandan in the winter of 1805 was named Jean Baptiste Charboneau, and he was to become as famous as his mother. However, for the mother and father, future fame was elusive at best. Toussaint’s reputation was problematic and any history of him staying with Sacajawea is murky. He eventually died some time in the 1830’s, relatively poor and bereft of his family. Sacajawea’s later life is equally mysterious. She gave birth to a daughter, Lizette, of which nothing is really known. One story has Sacajawea dying in 1813 and another has her returning to the Wind River Reservation where she continued to live until her death in 1884, becoming a venerable and cherished elder of her tribe.

Jean Baptiste on the other hand would continue the Charboneau legend. Captain Clark had taken a liking to the infant during the expedition and several years after his return to St Louis contacted Sacajawea and Toussaint and offered to educate him. They accepted and Jean Baptiste would live a semi-privileged life for the rest of his life. He was educated in Europe learned to speak Italian, Spanish and German in addition to his native tongues from his mother, and French from his father. He would return to the West where he became even more renowned than his father as a fur trader, guide and trapper. He was sought after; Jim Bridger was a friend as was Kit Carson. He was instrumental in helping discover and tame the West, from New Mexico to California. He was thought to have gotten the gold rush bug but died near what is now Danner, Oregon in 1866 of undetermined causes. However, Shoshone history says that he returned to the Wind River Reservation and his mother, dying a year after her.

This whole area has natural, cultural, historical and recreational resources. The Red Canyon Wildlife Habitat Management Area was created in 1958 to serve as a refuge for elk during the winter months. However, because of the diversity of the vegetation in these 1785 acres, you can find in addition to elk, moose, pronghorn antelope, grouse, mule deer, songbirds and many mammals. Outside of the refuge, there are scenic drives and hikes, short drives to authentic ghost towns like South Pass City, trails that the pioneers plied with their wagon wheels still etched into the rugged earth stretching as far as the eye can see. Recreation is found in the alpine spaces of the Wind River Range and in the mountain desert offering some of the finest fishing and hunting. You can find the final resting place of an iconic Indian maiden and it all adds up to a sustainable environment that would not be hard to call home.

Last weekend was Easter and we came up with a rather untraditional meal. Lamb is favored by half the household so that wasn’t in the cards. Vegetables are limited but usually accommodated and desserts are easy. Lemon is a Spring resource so we came up with a main, a veggie and a dessert using lemon in all three.

For the main we turned to salmon. First time making this particular dish and it turned out great!

The veggies was an easy compromise for me. I LOVE peas. Add lemon, pancetta and some cream and I’m all in!

Again, all things sweet and lemony are gonna find a way into my stomach. Pasta, veal, seafood – all good, but this twist on a traditional Italian dessert was awesome.

Enjoy! And a belated Happy Easter to all!

3 Replies to “The Lander Front – Gateway to the Wind River Range”

  1. What a great History lesson of the Sacajawea family’s contribution to the exploration of our West! Thanks so much- XO Michael


  2. Well done Jer…my love of Sacajawea and her contributions and sacrifices in the expansion of our Country are UNDENIABLE! I love her story.


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