There’s a new chief watching over Jackson Town Hall.
Traditionally government buildings are adorned with pictures of the United States’ chief executives. Mayor Pete Muldoon, however, recently decided to break with the custom and replaced the pictures of President Trump and Vice President Pence near the entrance of Town Hall with one of former Shoshone Chief Washakie.
“Our town government takes a lot of pride in the details, in getting it right, in working together, in respecting all members of the community, in service to the public and in competence,” he said. “Our current president shows no interest in any of these things, and I think it sends the wrong message when we honor him.
“If I was the CEO of a trusted investment firm,” he said, “I wouldn’t have a portrait of Bernie Madoff hanging in the lobby, and having a portrait of Donald Trump hanging in Town Hall seems like the same thing to me.”
County Commissioner Paul Vogelheim, chairman of the Teton County Republicans, said Muldoon’s executive decision to remove the photos, made with little to no input from the public or his fellow councilors, made him chuckle at first.
“It’s ironic,” he said. “This type of brash action, taken without collaborating or involving the rest of the Town Council, made me say ‘Boy, that’s a kind of action similar to our president.’ ”
On a more serious note, Vogelheim said he was disappointed to see divisive politics rear their head in Jackson.
“Hanging pictures of the president has been a tradition in the community since at least the mid-’80s,” he said. “I find this totally disrespectful and dishonoring of the position of the president. Even more so, the concern is that it’s bringing ugly national partisan politics into our community.”
While Muldoon said he had talked about taking the photos down for a while, it was Councilman Jim Stanford’s idea to replace them with a photo of Chief Washakie, a personal hero of his.
“We’re not a federal building so we’re not required to hang pictures of the president and vice president,” Stanford said. “There’s been a lot of redecorating going on around Town Hall. The mayor and I talked about continuing that trend, and I didn’t particularly like those pictures. Chief Washakie is somebody we can all get behind. Town Hall should be a haven for people from all backgrounds.”
From his birth around 1800 until his death in 1900, Chief Washakie played a pivotal role in the region’s settlement, first as a warrior and later in life as peace broker as he become good friends with fur trapper Jim Bridger.
At the behest of Bridger, Washakie signed the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 in hopes of limiting conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers. It set forth traditional territorial claims recognized by the U.S. government of nine Indian tribes in the region, many of which still exist today.
In 1863, and again in 1868, he signed treaties with the U.S. at Fort Bridger, Utah, establishing boundaries for the Shoshone reservation and creating the Shoshone and Bannock Indian Agency.
For his efforts Washakie has become a hero, the only known Native American to be given a full military funeral.
In Wyoming his likeness can be seen all across the state — Washakie County was named after him, the state of Wyoming donated a bronze statue of Washakie to the National Statuary Hall Collection, and another statue created in his image is also located in downtown Casper. The dining hall at the University of Wyoming is also named after him.
Despite the sentiment behind Washakie’s photo in Town Hall, using it as a replacement for President Trump is seen by some people as disrespectful.
“I never had the pleasure of meeting Chief Washakie, nor President Trump,” Councilman Don Frank said, “but I will say the office of the president deserves our respect.”