A Lander native with a penchant for Wyoming history might have stumbled across an extremely rare artifact – a sterling silver peace medal given to the legendary Eastern Shoshone leader Chief Washakie by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1876.
Kim Redding said that he was recently browsing items on eBay when he came across the medal, priced at $2,000. If it’s authentic, it’s probably worth far more than that, he said.
Washakie’s great-grandson, John Washakie, told Cowboy State Daily there’s a good chance the medal is authentic. There are family stories of Chief Washakie receiving such a medal from Grant, but no details about what became of it after his death.
“So much of the stuff he received went elsewhere,” John Washakie said.
Redding said he found the medal up for sale by an eBay dealer on the East Coast who specializes in historical items.
“I was searching for items related to Chief Washakie. Up came this peace medal, and I thought, ‘What the Hell?’” he told Cowboy State Daily. “I ain’t letting that go, that’s the real deal.”
Redding, who now lives in Boise, Idaho, said he wants to see the medal come home to Wyoming.
“It’s a huge part of our history in Wyoming, and it should be in Wyoming. I want it to stay in the state,” he said.
If the medal truly is the real deal, it’s not known for certain how Chief Washakie received it, Redding and John Washakie said, although it’s highly unlikely that Grant gave it to him in person.
John Washakie said he’s not aware of any family stories of the medal arriving with much fanfare or ceremony. It was probably delivered to the chief via mail or a courier.
A Longstanding Tradition
Redding said he’s done some research into peace medals and discovered they were presented as symbols of good will to Native Americans as far back as the 1600s.
Prior to the formation of the United States, peace medals were issued by British royalty, and then by U.S. presidents after Americans won their freedom from British rule.
The medal he bought has all the telltale signs of being authentic, including engraved images of a tomahawk and peace pipe.
“They’re all the same in that regard. They all have the pipe-tomahawk,” he said.
What makes Chief Washakie’s medal special is that it’s engraved with his name, Redding said.
Most medals like these were addressed generally to a tribe or a people, not a specific person, he said. And that speaks to just how unique and significant Chief Washakie was.
Letters sent from the frontier to Washington, D.C., regarding Native Americans weren’t always flattering, Redding said. But as near as he can tell, Chief Washakie always received the highest praise – which is likely why he got a personalized peace medal.
“If I had read more about him growing up in Lander, I would have known more about how important and progressive he was and how much he did for this area,” Redding said.
Won’t Sell It To Just Anybody
Redding said he’s willing to sell the medal for $3,000, even though it’s probably worth far more than that. But he won’t sell it to just anybody. He wants to see it get its proper due as a piece of history that honors one of Wyoming’s historical giants.
“I’ll be picky about who buys it. I’d be more interested in the county (Fremont) buying it for it, or the tribe buying it,” he said. “I don’t think it should be owned by just one person. It needs to be in Fremont County. I live in Boise. It shouldn’t be there in my house where nobody can see it or know the significance of what it is.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.