Eastern Shoshone community gathers to honor fallen soldiersBy Ron Feemster — May 28, 2013
The Eastern Shoshones go all out every year to remember fallen soldiers and recognize veterans who returned from serving the United States, a country the tribe embraces as its own 150 years after signing a peace treaty that ended decades of hostilities.
Festivities begin with a breakfast for tribal members and guests at Rocky Mountain Hall in Fort Washakie, followed by three ceremonies to honor the dead. A group of runners carrying the eagle staff, a symbol of the spirit of Shoshone ancestors, race from the hall to the ceremonies at the war memorial near the Indian Health Service, then on past the Washakie Cemetery and finally to the burial place of Sacajawea, which is the largest local cemetery for tribal members.
One veteran who would never miss Memorial Day is Finn G Snyder. The oldest member of the Shoshone tribe, Snyder will be 98 in July. He served in the 349th Engineer Corps in the Aleutian Islands and was on the island of Okinawa when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945. The local American Legion Post awarded Snyder a certificate recognizing 60 years of service to veterans. His great granddaughter, Heavenly Johnson, 8, pushes his wheelchair.
Graves at both of the cemeteries are festooned with flowers. Mourners sometimes leave coins for cigarettes, so that the departed will have tobacco. The red dirt on the graves glows in the bright sunshine.
At each stop, the Shoshone Boys, a local drum group, play the Flag Song and the Honor Song. A group of veterans stand at attention and salute the dead with rifle fire. Gilbert Jarvis, the commander of the Richard Pogue Post of the American Legion, reads from the Legion’s service for the fallen.
“With one accord and deepest reverence we do them honor,” Jarvis reads. “Comrades, let us pledge ourselves anew to patriotic service.”
The Sergeant of Arms places a red white and blue bouquet in honor of the dead.
“The flowers may wither,” Jarvis reads. “The spirit of which they are a symbol will endure until the end of time.”
By far the biggest crowd — several hundred people — turns out at the Sacajawea gravesite, the largest local Shoshone cemetery, which lies about two miles west of the center of Fort Washakie. At every ceremony, the final sound of the memorial is a solemn bugle blowing taps.
After the ceremonies, mourners wander the cemetery, visiting the graves of family and other loved ones.
— Ron Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at [email protected]
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