The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Tribal Hunting Rights and U.S. Law

Tribal Hunting Rights and U.S. Law

October 2020

Two off-reservation hunting episodes become U.S. Supreme Court cases
This month, we offer a report on the sweeping changes in federal Indian law that flowed from two instances of tribal people hunting in Wyoming but off their reservations—in 1895 and 2014. For extra background and context, we offer two more articles from our archives, one on a similar, 1903 clash between civil authorities and tribal people hunting off their out-of-state reservation, and a another on the travel, trade and hunting routes used by Native people across Wyoming for thousands of years.

A threat to treaty rights

In July 1895, a posse of non-Indians, mostly outfitters, attacked a peaceful band of Bannocks south of Jackson Hole. One old man was killed and an infant child was lost in the confusion. The Bannocks were charged with violating Wyoming state game laws. 
The Indians believed they were legally hunting elk off their Idaho reservation, but the same U.S. Supreme Court that ruled against African-Americans in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled in this case that state law overrode the Bannock treaty rights, a huge blow to tribal sovereignty. In 2019, the court finally upended that ruling, in a case involving a Crow Tribe member, also hunting elk in Wyoming and off his nearby Montana reservation. Read more in John Clayton’s article “Tribal Hunting Rights and U.S. Law.

A fight on Lightning Creek 

Just before sunset, on Oct. 31, 1903, a sheriff’s posse and a band of Oglala Sioux families from the Pine Ridge Reservation engaged in a brief, sharp gunfight near Lightning Creek, northeast of Douglas, Wyo. Seven people died. Nine native men were charged with murder, but charges were eventually dropped. Read more in WyoHistory.org former Assistant Editor Lori Van Pelt’s 2018 article, “Trouble at Lightning Creek: ‘A Stained Page in Wyoming’s History.’” 

Native travel routes

Many trails, roads and highways in present Wyoming follow centuries-old Native American hunting and trade routes. Among the many people who, tracking large game and hunting plants along watercourses and over mountain passes in their seasonal patterns of subsistence, were generations of Shoshone, Bannock, Northern Arapaho, Cheyenne and Crow. Read more in Greg Nickerson’s article “Before Wyoming: American Indian Geography and Trails.”