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Posted Date: 09/01/2020


CHUG !!           chugwater

The sound a Bison makes when it hits the ground at the bottom of a cliff.

Chugwater - an area of lush meadow and cottonwood shade trees along the creek below the cliffs in which to camp while processing meat and hides where Bison go Chug.

Source: The unabridged Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux Dictionary of Indian Language, 1837.

The "legend of chug water" by  Mr. Dean Powell, first grade teacher in the early 1970's.

Having a strong interest Wyoming History, Dean was eagerly digging up good history about our home state, Wyoming. When not teaching school, he spent summers collecting ancient artifacts, making rattlesnake belts and hatbands, and enjoying Wyoming's rich history.

The story he told, which is consistent with historical records and local Chugwater lore, goes something like this:

Buffalo jumps were common across the Rocky Mountain region from Texas to Canada and everywhere between. The area of the Chugwater being one of the most noted, was primarily occupied by Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux.

chugwater bluffsFor several thousand years, after the conclusion of the last ice age, the Indians of the plains subsisted on buffalo, trailing their migration north in the spring and back south in the fall. Prior to the introduction of the horse, Indians worked up an ingenious plan to kill the bison.

This method was to construct a long V shaped trap that covered a couple of miles. Along each side of the V every hundred yards or so they stacked rock piles and concealed them with sage brush, giving a place to hide.

As a herd of a hundred or more buffalo would wander across the plains on their annual migration, Braves would gently haze them toward the V trap. Once the buffalo were in position, Indians would incite them to move towards the cliffs from behind. As the buffalo began to panic and run, the Indians would increase pressure from both sides by jumping up from behind the rock piles to wave blankets, yell and whoop.

The buffalo would stampede in fright, being pushed toward the point of the V, which directed them over a cliff. The lead buffalo would be pushed over by the trailing bison until most ended up falling over the edge, making a loud "CHUG" as each landed at the bottom.

We can only imagine the sound of a hundred "Chugs" echoing off the canyon walls.

These cliffs and the nearby creek at the base were known as "chug water" to the Indians, and the name remains to this day at the town of Chugwater, Wyoming.

The first person to record this activity was Alfred Jacob Miller in 1837. While en route to the Mountain Man rendezvous, A. J. Miller visited, and was the only person to make images of the original Fort William (Fort Laramie). While there, he was invited to travel with a band of Sioux to Chugwater, where he witnessed a buffalo drive and jump, and sketched his view. Later at his studio in Baltimore he converted his drawings into a painting of Chugwater.

One of the earliest settlers along the Chug was Hiram Kelly, who married Red Cloud's great niece, Elizabeth Richard [Reeshaw]. Their eldest son, Hiram Jr., was known as "Chug" Kelly, no doubt in honor of his mothers ancestors and their deeds along the Chug.