Wes Wiginton has a plan for his 1.12 acres of private land inside the Wind River Indian Reservation.
He wants to sell beer on it.
Wiginton is the owner of the Burris Roadhouse and Trading Company. It’s a small restaurant and outfitter on U.S. Highway 26/287 five miles south of Crowheart. His grand opening was last weekend. He wants it to appeal to hunters who are coming back from a day in the wilderness.
There’s a “Harley and ATV” garage and a gun shop in the roadhouse. His restaurant serves giant sausages, burgers and other unabashedly artery-clogging foods. The tribes don’t own the land. The federal government bought it for homesteaders around the turn of the 20th century. It’s known as deeded land, and Wiginton’s plot is boxed in by the reservation.
Wiginton said he would not sell liquor but is considering whether he will apply for a permit to sell packaged beer for take-out. His reasons are clear for trying to get the malt-beverage license.
“I am not looking to start a bar because I don’t stay up that late, and I don’t want drunks here,” he said. “My deal is that we serve burgers and BBQ and sandwiches. A guy should be able to come here and have a beer or two and then go.”
No one will be stumbling out of his roadhouse, he said.
Wiginton has support from the Fremont County Commission. It voted 2-1 to grant him a malt-beverage license for his restaurant (two members of the commission were absent for the vote). Commissioners Stephanie Kessler and Keja Whiteman, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa whose husband is Arapaho, voted yes on the proposal.
The commission’s vote wasn’t the deciding factor on whether Wiginton could sell beer on his property.
“Our decision is solely contingent on tribal approval,” Kessler said.
Federal law requires the Burris Roadhouse to comply with tribal liquor code and obtain a tribal liquor license, according to a letter given to county commissioners by Steven Campbell, assistant attorney general for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. The Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes’ Joint Business Council has the authority to issue tribal liquor licenses and is scheduled to vote on Wiginton’s license on Wednesday.
Businesses aren’t prohibited from serving alcohol on land surrounded by the reservation. Riverton and many bars are adjacent to tribal land. The Rezeride Roadhouse Saloon sits within the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Kinnear.
Wiginton’s facility is in a barren part of the county, Kessler said. Most of the traffic is hunters coming out of the mountains.
“It’s a nice place to stop,” she said.
The restaurant is located 50 Miles from Ft. Washakie and farther from Arapahoe, which means it is far from the towns that comprise the heart of the tribal population.
No matter the distance, some are opposed to the idea of having malt beverages on the reservation.
State Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, is opposed to Wiginton’s proposal. He is a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and called the effect of alcohol on the tribe devastating.
“I would oppose the expansion of liquor sales on the reservation,” he said. “To say it is just beer is minimizing the effects on people’s lives.”