Riverton city parks employee Roy Clyde allegedly entered the Center of Hope, an alcoholism treatment center, and shot two patients in the head at close range with a .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol on Saturday, July 18. Stallone Trosper was killed. Sonny Goggles was critically injured. The shooter was white. Both victims were Native American.
In the aftermath, perceptions of and reactions to the crime and its victims differed dramatically, with points of view primarily diverging along racial lines. This disparity of community experiences highlighted for many central Wyoming residents a troubling and persistent divide between Fremont County’s native and non-native populations. It also ramped-up latent tensions and inspired fresh fears.
A single common theme has emerged in the aftermath, however, from the anguish, anger and heated words: Something worthwhile must come from the tragedy. The community, residents say, must acknowledge and address the deep-seated problems exposed by the shooting and work together to fix them.
A heavy burden
On the Wind River Indian Reservation, which surrounds Riverton, the week following the shooting was characterized by grief and swelling resentment.
The collective sentiment threatened to overrun George Abeyta. As a public school teacher of 22 years, esteemed community leader, and uncle of Stallone Winter Eagle Trosper, Abeyta was called on to serve as the family’s spokesperson and the de facto voice of the Eastern Shoshone response to the shooting. By Wednesday morning, as circulation of the victims’ identities widened, his phone was ringing continuously.
Both Stallone Trosper and Sonny Goggles were popular in the reservation’s tight-knit community prior to the shooting. Both are enrolled members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe and each hails from a prominent family. Goggles is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he served in Operation Desert Storm, and is the cousin of Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Dean Goggles. Stallone was a direct descendant of both the Eastern Shoshone’s famed Chief Washakie and the Northern Arapaho’s Chief Friday. He was also the grandson of Chairman Goggles.
Sequestered in the borrowed quiet of an office conference room, Abeyta answered calls from friends and relatives conveying condolences, kind words and remembrances. But callers also voiced frustration and anger. Why, people wondered, were Sonny and Stallone being portrayed as, “You know … homeless drunks,” paraphrased Abeyta.
“People resented that they were being treated like stereotypes, not people. Almost like they’re not even human.”
Incredulity at early reports that the shooter wasn’t racially motivated also peppered calls to Abeyta. “If this guy was hunting the homeless, why didn’t he go to the homeless shelter?” asked Abeyta, echoing what he’d been repeatedly asked. “Nobody buys that for a second. He was hunting Native people. Trying to sweep that under the carpet won’t do anyone any good.”
Amid the converging pressures of planning his nephew’s memorial, meeting media deadlines, and satisfying the increasingly vocal expectations of his community, Abeyta produced a 600 word family statement. The statement pleaded, “Please, let’s not devote any more energy to the cloudy motives of a troubled mind. Let’s instead start doing the hard work of building a better tomorrow, together.”
He released the statement, and it quickly went viral. The statement has since served, more than anything else written or said about the crime, to frame, inform and direct the ongoing discussion, on and off of the reservation. Then, with one difficult obligation met, Abeyta returned his attention to his immediate family and the week’s next hardship — burying Stallone.
A life started and ended on the front page
“Stallone was very humble. He never sought attention,” said James Trosper, another of Stallone’s paternal uncles, explaining the family’s choice of an understated, traditional burial service. He spoke beside his mother, Stallone’s grandmother, Zedora Enos, in the cool afternoon shade of their front yard. “Ironically though, he started his life on the front page,” continued Trosper. “He was the first baby of the New Year  so the papers made a big deal. Now … well, his life ended on the front page, too.”
Their family occupies a collection of homes, nearly a village unto itself, outside of Fort Washakie. They’ve lived there, beside the North Fork of the Little Wind River at the foot of the Wind River Range, since Chief Washakie selected the site for his personal home.
Two nights earlier, Stallone’s body rested in a tepee there. Singers at the wake pounded a heartbeat rhythm from a skin-and-wood drum, then joined wailing voices in traditional songs. Blessings and cleansing rituals were offered. People filed into the tepee to sit, weep and say goodbye.
Speakers at Stallone’s well-attended funeral — both native and non-native — shared similar observations. Boyhood friends described a gentle but powerful spirit that drew people into Stallone’s orbit. Pallbearer and friend Raymond McKing called Stallone the most thoughtful and intelligent person he’d ever known.
Enos produced an enormous photo album the following day to demonstrate the point. Pictured inside were six generations of her family. Meticulously curated, the album began with a sepia-toned photograph of her grandmother, Josie Trehero Washakie, in buckskins, feathers and beadwork. The round, smiling face of a preadolescent Stallone beamed from a page near the middle.
“See there how red his face is?” she asked, pointing. “Stallone always looked like that. Because everything he did, he did all out … playing in the river with his brother…. He played racing games with his cousins in the yard here. He was all effort.”
“He wasn’t homeless, and he comes from a good family,” she continued. Five of her seven children graduated college, she explained, three have master’s degrees, and most are engaged in service-focused professions. James served 10 years as a University of Wyoming Trustee, on appointments from two different governors, and still maintains ceremonial responsibilities for his people.
“Doreen [Whiting, Stallone’s mother] just got work in Casper and she went over there a few days before. Liz [Trosper, Stallone’s aunt] was expecting him at her house. He was going to spend some time with me.”
“Homeless …” she added with a dismissive wave of her hand. “We knew he drank. It’s a disease. An awful disease. He had respect for his family, though. … I never saw him like that…. He had too much respect to come here [intoxicated].”
She paused for a moment before adding with a sigh and gentle headshake. “I just don’t understand the hate.”
After waiting to be sure his mother had finished speaking, James picked up her thought. “Why did this happen, and will anyone care? People need to know what kind of person he was. He had qualities that we should all emulate…. He can’t have died for no reason. Something good must come.
“It really is hard, this hatred and misunderstanding that we call racism. It’s hard…. Riverton is in the middle of the reservation. The people who hate us have the whole rest of the world to live in. But this is our home. My [great, great] grandfather negotiated for this place, so that we would have a home forever. We’re not going anywhere. If you want to live with us, and learn from us, and respect our ways, then we welcome you. We open our homes. That is our way. That has always been our way. We are a loving, welcoming people, all native people. But why come here if you hate us?”
A town on edge
Riverton, Wyoming is a high-plains crossroads town of 11,000 people. The city lost its utility as an intersection of trade generations ago and now lives on trickle-down extractives industry money, light industry, retirement savings and an atrophied agriculture sector. It’s lost the steady flow of fresh perspectives that came with being a waypoint, but it kept the frontier grit.
The land under Riverton was once part of the Wind River Indian Reservation. It has, however, been considered, and managed, as an inholding of non-tribal property, an island of Wyoming State domain surrounded by the reservation, for over a century. A much debated, yet little understood December 2013 ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes have “state status” regarding the air quality within reservation borders, calling into question the legitimacy of that state-tribes arrangement. The matter is currently under litigation. Regardless of the ultimate legal outcome, the resulting uncertainty and rhetoric has placed unwelcome strain on already tense native/non-native relations in town.
Riverton City Park is, for many residents, the place where those tensions come to life. A broad green space right on the edge of downtown with mature trees, a bandshell, playground and skate park, the park looks in many ways like a modern day Norman Rockwell setting. But City Park is also the preferred loitering spot of the town’s small long-term homeless population known derisively as “park rangers.” It is also a regular destination for drinkers, many of them Native American, while on multi-day benders. Panhandling, intimidating language, public drunkenness and lewd behavior have long been common in the park.
Some whites see the situation as a Native problem, referencing it obliquely as evidence of tribal shortcomings and as justification for racist beliefs. Tribal leaders point out that alcohol is neither sold on the reservation nor welcome in their communities. Riverton is glad to profit from liquor sales, they argue, but unwilling own up to its contribution to substance abuse problems.
Matt Wright, co-founder of the Central Wyoming Skate Association and an engaged park projects volunteer described it this way: “I’ve spent more time in the park than 90 percent of Riverton’s residents, and yeah, I’ve seen some pretty disturbing behavior. We have wonderful facilities here for kids. But there are also things happening that no 8-year-old should ever see. It’s up to the community to find a solution.”
Before the shooting, Mayor John “Lars” Baker, believed the community was making progress toward that solution. “Chief of Police [Mike] Broadhead is right in saying the we can’t arrest our way out this problem.”
He cited the July 2014 replacement of the city’s alcohol crisis center with the Volunteers for America-run Center of Hope as evidence of an effective change.
“That’s what’s so crazy,” he said. “That this individual would [allegedly] attack the Center of Hope where they’re probably the most active group working on the problem he’s complaining about — homelessness, public intoxication.” Baker estimated the Center of Hope served 84 people in its treatment program in its first year — significantly more than the former alcohol crisis center did over several years. “There’s nothing rational about this.”
Mayor Baker was equally blunt when asked how he thought the shooting had affected race relations in his city. “I think there are a lot of Native American people who are very fearful, and who think that they are once again victims of some conspiratorial plot, and that this shooting is a part of that. But I just don’t think that’s true. What you hear when you go out on the reservation is that white guys are hunting down Natives to kill them. Well it’s just not true…. Well, I guess it was true, in this case but….
“I think most people in Riverton are just as upset about — I’m talking non-native people here, okay — are just as upset as Native people.”
Baseless or not, the fear is real.
Riverton resident, enrolled Northern Arapaho member and Fremont County Democratic Party Chairman Ron Howard’s efforts to organize a peace march for Saturday August 8 have met with a tepid response. Citing negative comments posted on an online community news site, and saying they fear further violence, many Native Americans have been noncommittal.
“One gentlemen from the reservation,” said Howard, “told me he’d be there, then called back and said he wasn’t coming. He thought there was going to be a drive-by. It won’t happen, of course, but people are definitely scared right now.”
The Riverton Police Department has, according to Howard, committed to attending the march and maintaining public safety.
Jean Harris knows City Park as well as anyone. It’s where she went when she was drinking. And it’s where Sonny Goggles saved her life.
She’d sustained a head injury, she said, following an altercation and a fall in the park. Goggles took her to a safe place, secured medical care for her, and stayed with her until it was clear that she’d recover. “I had a subdural hematoma and was in and out of it for four days,” said Harris. “I would have died without his help, no question.”
Now clean, sober and living in Lander with her young children, Harris still visits the park. As often as she can, she and her children bring backpacks loaded with hygiene items and non-perishable food. Then she quietly sets out a meal and breaks bread with with those who haven’t yet found their own way out.
“When you’re homeless,” she said, “the little things really matter. You’d go to detox and they’d give you a toothbrush and a comb and it’s like treasure. It’s hard to explain, but it can change your whole outlook.”
When Harris heard about the shootings, and the victims, she decided on impulse to invite the rest of the community to her next City Park picnic. Riverton resident Ramsey Armajo created a Facebook page for the event and invited everyone he knew. News of the impromptu, informal gathering spread online and by word of mouth.
An estimated 200 people showed up for the potluck last Saturday, July 25.
Gary Lincoln, and James Arthur Sr. opened the gathering with an honor song for Goggles and Trosper. Rev. Mark Rader of Riverton’s United Methodist Church followed the drumming with a Christian prayer. Then an evenly mixed crowd of native and non-native people ate lunch together on the grass.
Conversations covered fear and anger, but when asked why they’d come most people spoke of unity, and a willful refusal to be divided.
“We have so many more similarities than differences,” said Riverton tattoo artist Kim Houle. “The more divided we are, the more freedoms we lose.”
“I’m afraid,” said Myra Ridgley while holding her granddaughter. “My brother wasn’t homeless, but he drank, and he was in detox a lot. It could have been him killed. But I bring my grandkids to the park every day anyway. It’s important that they be out here. You can’t live scared.”
“The shooter is my best friend’s brother,” confided Ramsey Armajo, who is Native American. “I get why people don’t want to hear that it’s not about race. Some guy yelled at me in the Walmart the other day, ‘go back over the bridge’ whatever that means. But, on the other hand, I know my friend and I know his family and I know they’re not like that. We can’t let this tear us apart.”
Chrissy Nardi and Nicole Antelope agreed it was “pretty cool that it’s a 50-50 crowd” that attended the Saturday picnic. “I think it was a hate crime,” continued Ms. Antelope. “But people are messed up, people hate all kinds of groups. Who’s next? Single moms because we’re different, too?”
“I just hope people wake up,” said Zelma Weed Bell. “People need help, they need love and care.”
The Northern Arapaho tribe is pursuing a federal hate crime indictment. Northern Arapaho Business Council Chairman Goggles flew to Washington D.C. on Monday, along with co-chair David “Ron” McElroy and councilman Ronald “Ronnie” Oldman, to speak directly with federal officials about the matter.
The Riverton Police Department has turned “every stitch of evidence so far” over to the FBI, to facilitate a hate crime investigation, according to Mayor Baker. “The Justice Department has it all,” he said.
City of Riverton and Tribal Leadership have agreed to convene a committee of stakeholders at an as yet undetermined time, with the intent of easing tensions and finding common ground. Mayor Baker and Northern Arapaho Business Councilman Oldman have volunteered to co-chair.
“Will it make a difference?” asked Mayor Baker. “I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll produce a nice statement, maybe a pretty report. Hopefully the different leadership groups will come out of it communicating better with each other. But if we’ve got a small minority, say 5 percent of the population — I’m talking militant natives and racist whites, okay — who hold deep-seated prejudices, I don’t know how you change that.”
Wonderful article! Thank you for bringing some of the struggle people face to life.
Etta Place . . . . you know who you are and what you represent. You know your words come from a fear based existence, shallow, pitiful,lacking soul and the likelihood of you taking ownership is minimal. I am a Human Being first having been born into the Northern Arapaho people, my mother is Ruth Frances Spoonhunter and my father Andrew C. Maldonado. I too know very well that sick people exist and possess a hatred for others. All too often they do not even possess a legitimate reason for their hatred, perhaps self loathing? Extremely tragic incident in the murder of Brother Trosper and the assault on Brother Goggles. We all grieve for them but we all know that this happens across this country. Racism and hate crimes must come to an end. Etta, you know who you are . . . . your time will also come to an end and i pray that you seek forgiveness from the Creator prior to your meeting with him. Life is so beautiful, people, even tribal are so beautiful. Together let’s work to make this a beautiful place . . . . . be well
Sergio A. Maldonado, Sr.
Etta Place is of course not real, The writer not only displays their racism in the comments but also does a dis service to a woman who touched the hearts of many in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. While this writer falsified their name, they probably do represent the feeling of many who do not understand either Native people or the Wind River Indian Reservation and how it has been so often mistreated by so many in Riverton. A good question to ask is how many Native officers does the Riverton Police Department have? Trained multicultural officers would go a long way toward developing peaceful interchange.
Wow Etta, you started a comment showing a little concern for yourself and others’ cars, homes, etc being vandalized, and even more worse, possibly even your children being beat up! How can you have the nerve to post your comment as if you were invincible? All you did, was show your true colors and lowered yourself into a such low area of life! As for our checks we recieve, I couldn’t say it any better than Mr. Trooper put it! As for you or anyone’s questions about our financial situations or tax paying, last I knew, our country is the land of the free!
I really don’t know where a good Christian falls in place here, but what I do know, is that heavenly father has a plan for us all, and we have a big part of it by our own actions and comments!
My prayers go out to both families and I truly ask for a quick and easy healing, but I know that losing a loved one is very hard and not easy to get over. As for the gunmans family, I pray for mercy on his soul.
Yes this is going to be a big tragedy that’s going to dwell on lots of people, but as many of you said, it’s time that we all put hateful racial comments behind us and love one another. For years I carried it within myself for the way I was treated in a community that I was adopted to off the reservation, but I grew to learn that we’re all equal and that not everyone is like that!
With that I hope everyone can come together for the best resolution possible for everyone! God bless you all!
Thank you for the compassionate well written article.
I wonder if the faith communities of Fremont County may be helpful in recognizing and working of the problem of ‘racialism’.
Thank you for speaking out Mr. Trosper!
Etta’s “comments” are definately not needed or wanted. She is part of the problem with her closed-minded attitude. And things will never be “right” as long as people like her are in this world.
This Planet of ours (and I say “ours” whether you are black/red/tan/orange/white/purple/green/whatever color) needs us to unite because we have FAR WORSE problems facing us today them a stupid-*ssed color bios.
Our Earth is being destroyed right before our eyes by a “select few” and as long as we continue to be divided due to color we are going to lose this Beautiful Mother Earth….and if anyone cares to trouble themselves for a few moments out of their busy/cosy lives to look up into our skies you will see what I am saying.
Look around, see the truth and wake the frack up!
We are ONE SPECIES!!! We are the Human Race. We need each other because as the saying goes “no-one gets out of here alive”……
I am deeply, deeply saddened by the hate crime in Riverton City Park. I do not understand racism and violent hatred. That mind set violates every precept of a civilized society. I hope I can say without sounding patronizing, I truly respect the history and culture of Native Americans. I want to be part of the recovery and bringing together for a better future.
I don’t know if this family is related to the Timothy (8-names I can’t remember here) Abeyta of Colorado I knew in the Coast Guard many years ago, but you have my deepest sympathies.
Disclosure, my family had it’s own involvement in the King Phillip’s War and the French and Indian Wars on the European’s side.
I think he confessed and admitted both his crime and his motive.
Thank you for this beautifully written article. This is vital commentary and the most important piece of journalism I have read this year. The thought provoking, compassionate story reminds me of the intelligence, courage, kindness and gentle spirit of Stallone Trosper. Thank you for including a tribute to his life while reporting on the repercussions of the hate filled crime perpetrated on the two young men and the community at large.
Thank you very much for your excellent coverage of this tremendous tragedy. I graduated from High School in Lander, WY, back in 1962 and had many native friends and my parents had a small cafe where everyone was welcomed…oh, for those simpler times when people were taught to learn to live together in peace and understanding! It breaks my heart to see that a tragedy like this can even happen in the state we all live in. I have always believed that we are more alike than different and hope that all of us soon realize that we are all brothers and sisters, what harms one of us harms all of us! My deepest sympathies to both families, and may peace and understanding heal us all. Peace and solidarity with all my brothers and sisters!
Yes in the police blotters you read primarily the people are native and yes I’m sick and tired of all the drugs and alcohol in our community. I’m fairly certain that the people living on the reservation don’t want that crap out there, either!
But if people are going to continue to think like “Etta Place” you are part of the problem!
Bottom line —- it’s all of our problem!! Help one another!!
***FYI City Park is a public park—meaning it is open for everyone, even if you’re native!
Stacy Murphy Hutchins
Thank you for this report. I was born & raised here. In Eastern Shoshonie. I’ve seen many ugly things happen here & a lot of beautiful things. It’s so sad to see something so uncalled for happen & I don’t know how to cope with this. I’m uneasy going to town now, it makes me think & I’m more watchful. But I still have to shop as Hines dosent cary some item I need.
I’m just so sorry for the family’s & I admire their strength & respect even though they are so broken hearted. We must follow their lead.
Phyllis Le Clair
Etta Place just flashed the same racial hatred of the native peoples we talk about, and Riverton residents insist doesn’t exist. its truly appalling that even after such a horrific act as this murder of a native man and the attempted murder of another she has the Gall to spout this crap. needlessly I shall remind her even though she isn’t worth my time…Riverton built the park from tax dollars, tax dollars the Native people pay also and more so…not withstanding the sales tax we pay, or the property tax on property owned by natives within Riverton, the tribes pay millions more in minerals tax to the state of Wyoming then we could ever hope to receive back, tax dollars that is then allocated to Riverton, lander, Fremont county governments, BUT NOT TO THE TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS. Then you have the wind river school district, crow heart school, Riverton school district and so on that receive tax funding from tribal mineral…..so I’m sorry the natives are a Burden to such an fine Christian woman such as yourself, even though this land was Indian country long before your ancestors immigrated.
as for blowing my big check…you mean my $60 dollar per cap…or my work check from working five days a week. if blowing that is to put food on my table, keep the heat, lights and water on, keep my children clothed and in school, then yes I blow it twice a month.
and now because a man, who probably had the same mental make up as yourself took it upon himself to alleviate the “burden” that natives place on your God fearing Christian back….suddenly you have become the victim …my it must be nice in your own little bigoted world.
Kenneth j Trosper
All crimes should be addressed, I sat 6 months before released, from FCDC, because the RPD needed a scapegoat, a week before trial I got released. Natives always prosecuted in Fremont County.
Thank you for your sensitive, thoughtful reporting.
This is one sided. Unfortunately those who would voice a different opinion are afraid to do so because of retaliation. Your cars, homes will be vandalized and your kids beaten up. It’s not fair that the city of Riverton built the park but it has been taken over by drunks and homeless. The natives don’t pay taxes but enjoy all the nice things that the city or county of Fremont supply. Read the police blotters and all you see is drunken natives arrested for various crimes. Overwhelmingly the murders of natives are committed by natives. The stores are constantly being ripped off or those who do go there to actually shop and not steal in turn become victims. The natives get big checks and blow it on drugs and alcohol. If they want to do something then how about taking care of your own mess and stop burdening the rest of the communities. The casino brought in a lot of the drugs and crime .Now they are building another one just 4 miles outside of Lander. They say these homeless and drunks have family and homes. Then why don’t they take them home and treat them on the rez? It’s only going to get worse because hard working people who pay taxes are not going to stand by and let their towns be victimized. Look at the latest survey of the crime rate in 25 Wyoming towns. Riverton is last and Lander is also at the bottom.
An article about the cold-blooded, unprovoked, bullet-to-the-head murder of a man is too “one sided” in favor of the victim? Is that what you are saying here?
Jason Stenar Clark
I respectfully suggest that you do your part to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Hyperbole gets attention but does little to help find solutions.
It has come to WyoFile’s attention that “Etta Place” might be an alias — unless the commenter was named after the Sundance Kid’s girlfriend. I was a little too trusting on the name provided, and didn’t perform my due diligence before approving the comment. For that I apologize. I have reached out to the commenter seeking confirmation of a real name, and have not received a response as of this writing. At this point, I have decided to leave the comment in place because others have responded to it. WyoFile will make reasonable attempts to confirm the information provided regarding commenters’ identities before approval. Please review WyoFile’s commenting policy here: https://www.wyofile.com/about/commentingpolicy/
— Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief
Excellent reporting!! So sorry for Etta and her hateful mind…More empathy and compassion is needed by all of us. Hope to see her at the Peace walk this Saturday with a renewed spirit.
Thank you for your unbiased, well-researched article of this horrible event.
Matthew, great story! You represented the people well. It was a pleasure talking to you..
Really a good article.
Thank you for a compassionate, well-written report of a horrific event. Let all who care, pray for understanding, forgiveness, unity and compassion and actively engage in the pursuit of unity.
Nicely written article
Excellent article – well said.