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Sacajawea (ca. 1784? -1884) Expedition Guide: Born a Shoshone Indian, Sacajawea was betrothed as a baby, but was captured by Minnetarres when she was still a child. Her Minnetarre name, Tsa-ka-ka-wias, means "Bird Woman," and was sometimes spelled "Sacagawea" or "Sahcargarweah." Her Shoshone name, "Bo-i-nair," means "Grass Maiden." The young girl was gambled away to a French trader named Toussaint Charbonneau, who married her. The couple were living in the Dakotas when Capts. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived there. Hired as guides, they spent the winter at Fort Mandan, where their son Baptiste was born on February 11, 1805. Sacajawea was the only woman on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Proving herself to be an excellent guide, she led the explorers to Shoshone country, which she had not seen since her childhood. At one point, she rescued the records of the expedition from an overturned canoe. She also saved the lives of the explorers when she dissuaded the Shoshone from killing all the white men for their goods. When she met the Shoshone, she was recognized immediately. Her only surviving relatives, however, were her brother and the child of her deceased sister, whom Sacajawea adopted according to Shoshone custom. Sacajawea accompanied the expedition to the Pacific Ocean, which they reached on November 7, 1805. After they returned through Yellowstone and reached Minnetarre country, Charbonneau refused to go further with the explorers. Sacajawea stayed with him, then mysteriously disappeared. She was later discovered in the Shoshone Agency, an elderly woman. She died at the Shoshone Agency, in Wyoming, on April 9, 1884.
Sacagawea was an important figure in American history who went on the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition. Sacagawea was a Lehmi Shoshone Indian woman who spoke Shoshone, Hidatsa and the English language. Thus, she had an essential part in the success of this expedition, being a guide as well as an interpreter. She is deemed a symbol of women’s merit and independence by the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). To honor her memory and to acknowledge her significant contribution to the history of the United States, the US Mint issued the Sacagawea dollar coin in 2000 It depicted her and Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, her son. She was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1977 and she was awarded in 2001 the title of Honorary Sergent by President Bill Clinton.
The Lewis and Clark expedition recruited Charbonneau and Sacagawea to accompany them westward, expecting to make use of Sacagawea's ability to speak to the Shoshone. The expedition expected that they would need to trade with the Shoshone for horses. Sacagawea spoke no English, but she could translate to Hidatsa to Charbonneau, who could translate to French for Francois Labiche, a member of the expedition, who could translate into English for Lewis and Clark.
President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 asked for funding from Congress for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the western territories between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. Clark, more than Lewis, respected the Native Americans as fully human, and treated them as sources of information rather than as bothersome savages, as other explorers too often did.
The Corps of Discovery route from Fort Mandan to the Pacific, 5,000 miles, 16 month journey.
c.1788 – Sacagawea was born in Lemhi County, Idaho. She belonged to the Agaidika band of the Northern Shoshone tribe also known as Snake Indians.
c.1800 – In a confrontation between the Hidatsas and Sacagawea’s tribe, the Shoshones, Sacagawea and other young women were kidnapped. The Hidatsas sold Sacagawea to French Canadian fur-trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, who made her one of his wives.
July 4, 1803 – The U.S. government announced the acquisition of new land in the northwest know as the Louisiana Purchase.
Summer 1803 – President Jefferson ordered the Corps of Discovery, led by William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, to explore the newly acquired lands in the American Northwest.
Fall/Winter 1803 – Lewis and Clark set up Camp Wood in Illinois for the new recruits of the Corps of Discovery.
May 1804 – The expedition departed from Camp Wood and started its journey up the Missouri River towards the Pacific Ocean.
November 2, 1804 – The expedition settled for the winter in the land of the Mandans and Hidatsas in present day North Dakota. They set up Fort Mandan named after the Mandan Indians.
November 4, 1804 – Lewis and Clark met Toussaint Charbonneau and hired him as their Hidatsa interpreter. Sacagawea would accompany her husband in the journey as she spoke the Shoshone language. Sacagawea was pregnant.
February 11, 1805 – Sacagawea gave birth to a baby boy named Jean Babtiste (“Pompy”). The birth was assisted by Lewis.
April 7, 1805 – The expedition leaved Fort Mandan. Sacagawea, with 55days old Jean Babtiste in her arms, accompanied the expedition in a journey that would cover 5,000 miles or 8,000 km and last 16 months. Sacagawea started sharing her knowledge of local food.
May 14, 1805 – A wind storm almost overturned one of the expedition’s boats. They lost some medicine, gun powder, garden seeds and culinary articles.
Sacagawea acted fast and caught most of the lighter articles such as research notes, books and instruments.
May 20, 1805 – In recognition for Sacagawea’s action a river was named after her. The Sacagawea River is a tributary of the Musselshell River and is located in north central Montana. It is 30 miles (48km) long. The River is also known as the Bird Woman’s River.
June 10, 1805 – Sacagawea became sick for seven days. Clark and Lewis tended her during her recovery, they attributed her improvement to sulphur water from a nearby spring.
August 8, 1805 – Sacagawea recognized Beaverhead Rock and the river banks where the Shoshones lived.
August 17, 1805 – The expedition arrived at Shoshone lands. Sacagawea recognized her brother, Chief Cameahwait, and a woman who had been taken prisoner with her.
Sacagawea helped the expedition get horses which were needed for the next part of the journey. Sacagawea translated from Shoshone to Hidatsa, Charbonneau from Hidatsa to French and Labiche from French to English.
November 15, 1805 – The expedition reached the Pacific Ocean.
November 24, 1805 –Members of the expedition voted for a place to camp for the winter. Sacagawea was in favor for a place where there is lots of potas (potatoes). They chose Fort Clatsop in Astoria, Oregon.
March 23, 1806 – After the winter had passed, the expedition packed up and prepared for their way back.
May 23, 1806 – Jean Babtiste (Pompy) fell ill, he suffered from fever and swollen neck, he was treated by Clark with cream of tartar, sulphur and onions.
July 25, 1806 – During the trip back on the Yellowstone River, Clark climbed a 200-feet tall rock and named it “Pompy’s Tower” after Jean Babtiste, Sacagawea’s son.
August 17, 1806 – Sacagawea and Charbonneau arrived home in the Mandan village on the upper Missouri River. Charbonneu was paid $533.33 and 320 acres of land for his service as interpreter. Sacagawea got nothing.
August 20, 1806 – In a letter to Charbonneau and Sacagawea, Clark offered to raise their son as his own and give him an education.
September 6, 1806 –The Lewis and Clark expedition reached St. Louis.
October 30, 1810 – Charbonneau took possession of the 320 acres he earned for his services to the Corps of Discovery.
March 23, 1811 – Charbonneau did not adjust to the life tilling the land and sold his property to Clark for $100. Charbonneau and Sacagawea moved to Ford Manuel Lisa. They left Jean Babtiste with Clark who enrolled him in a boarding school.
August 12, 1812 – Sacagawea gave birth to a baby girl named Lizette.
December 20, 1812 – One of the wives of Charbonneau, probably Sacagawea, died in South Dakota. The cause of death was putrid fever or typhus. She was about 25 years old.
1813: Clark signed the adoption papers for Lizette and Jean Babtiste.
1875 – A woman living in the Wind River Reservation claimed to be Sacagawea.
1884 – The woman claiming to be Sacagawea died. It is not clear whether Sacagawea died in 1812 or 1884.
Why did Sacagawea accompany Lewis and Clark on their expedition?
Sacagawea (right) with Lewis and Clark at the Three Forks | Mural at Montana House of Representatives
Tasked by then-U.S. president Thomas Jefferson to explore and collect data in the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, the Corps of Discovery set out on an expedition in 1804. The leaders of the Corps were Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. Upon arriving at a place near the Hidatsa village, Lewis and Clark built a fort called Fort Mandan to house them for the 1804/05 winter months. While there, the explorers canvased the area to find a trapper who could aid them in their expedition.
Captains Lewis and Clark settled on Toussaint Charbonneau because they reasoned that he was the best person capable of helping them navigate through the unknown region. Charbonneau came with an added advantage in the sense that he had two wives – Sacagawea and Otter Women – who were natives of Shoshone. Lewis and Clark desperately needed to be in good terms with Shoshone tribes in order to make their way up the headwaters of the Missouri River.
Another very important reason for choosing Charbonneau and Sacagawea was that the latter was pregnant. The explorers figured that being in the company of a native Shoshone pregnant woman would make their team look less threatening or hostile. As a result, the explorers would less likely be attacked by Native Americans in the region. This likely explains why the Otter Woman did not tag along, as Sacagawea’s pregnancy was enough reason to alley any fears in Native Indians that could harm the expedition group of Lewis and Clark.
Another added advantage was the fact that Sacagawea spoke the language. This meant that communication between the American explorers and Native Americans would be way easier than had they embarked on the expedition alone.
Did you know: Captain Clark nicknamed Sacagawea “Janey”?
Biography of SACAJAWEA - History
The Native American woman Sacagawea, born of the Shoshone tribe, is certainly a remarkable woman in American history. In 1804, she joined the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark. She proved to be a major element both in the success and the survival of the expedition members.
Sacagawea’s Early Years
Because the Indians of the late 18th century kept no written records of births, the exact date or year of Sacagawea’s birth is unknown. However, the most accepted dates are 1788, 1789, or 1790. She was born in Idaho among the Lemhi Shoshone people. When she was approximately 12 years old, she was captured in a raid by Hidatsa warriors and was taken back to live among the Mandan in what is present-day North Dakota.
Becoming a Wife
At the young age of about 12 or 13, she was taken as wife by a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, who had been living among the Mandan. Some accounts say that Charbonneau purchased Sacagawea, but other stories say he won her as a gambling debt. Sacagawea became pregnant in about 1804, and was still with child when Lewis and Clark arrived at the village where she lived.
Value to Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark hired her husband to act as a guide. They quickly realized that Sacagawea would be an invaluable additional member of the expedition because of her ability to speak the languages of the Indians to the west. Sacagawea learned enough French and English to become an extremely versatile member of Lewis and Clark’s exploration team. Her value as such would later prove to be a critical element of the expedition’s success.
Sacagawea gave birth to a son, named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, in February of 1805, while the Lewis and Clark expedition remained in the winter camp at the North Dakota site. When the group continued its expedition in the spring, Sacagawea traveled along while carrying and nursing a newborn. The baby quickly became a beloved member of the expedition and was nicknamed “Pompy.”
Contributions to the Mission
Sacagawea proved to be a woman of extraordinary strength, courage, and intelligence. It can be said that she saved the lives of every man on the Lewis and Clark team in a variety of ways, including facilitating tricky diplomatic language with certain Natives, including those that may have been hostile to the white men. But other acts of quick thinking and bravery also stand out.
For example, on May 14, 1805, a sudden storm capsized one of the expedition boats. Sacagawea single-handedly recovered a number of valuable supplies, without which the expedition would have been crippled. Her interpretation and negotiation skills later proved valuable in trading for much needed horses among the Shoshone.
On many occasions, Lewis and Clark encountered a wide diversity of tribes and peoples. Her contribution to negotiations with the Nez Perce and intercessions with other hostile tribes were valuable beyond measure.
It can also be said that Sacagawea saved the Lewis and Clark expedition members from outright starvation. When their supplies were depleted to the point that the men had resorted to eating candles made of tallow, Sacagawea showed them how to forage for natural edible plants, including camas roots.
Finally, her very presence among the expedition made many Native American tribes assume that Lewis and Clark were not a war party because warriors never traveled with women — and the fact that she was of the Shoshone was also significant.
Later Life and Death Controversy
Upon the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806, Sacagawea and her husband resumed their lives among the Hidatsa or Mandan people in North Dakota. She gave birth to a second child, this time a daughter, which they named Lizette.
William Clark had become so attached to Sacagawea’s son “Little Pompy” that he wrote a letter to Sacagawea and her husband offering to take the child into his care in the city of St. Louis. There the boy could be enrolled in school and get a first-class education. The offer was accepted and Jean Baptiste was sent to St. Louis.
In about 1812, Sacagawea reportedly became ill with the “putrid fever” and died in a fort near present-day Mandan, North Dakota. She was about 24 years old at the time. However, other and perhaps more controversial historians contend that Sacagawea did not die in 1812, but she lived to a very advanced age, dying in 1884, when she would have been in her 90s.
While this latter scenario is compelling, Sacagawea is generally considered to have died in 1812.
The Legend of Sacagawea
Sacagawea would later become a significant figure among women, especially among those groups who were fighting for women’s rights and women’s suffrage in the last 19th and early 20th centuries. Her example was held up as a paramount example of female fortitude, intelligence, and remarkable strength.
How We Write About Her
The following is a passage from Wikipedia about Sacajawea (please note, they spell her name with g instead of j – I have chosen j.)
“While living among the Hidatsa people, Charbonneau purchased or won a Shoshone girl: Sacagawea (Bird Woman) from the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa had captured Sacagawea on one of their annual raiding and hunting parties to the west. It is possible that Sacagawea had little choice in the matter, or that she chose it because it was preferable to her previous position. Native women hardly felt forced into marriage as most marriages to French traders were beneficial. Gender imbalance was a problem among native tribes as men would often lose their lives in war. Another benefit was the access to goods native women otherwise may not have been able to afford. ” – as written on Wikipedia’s article about Toussaint Charbonneau on December 14, 2018.
Even if living with Charbonneau was preferable to living as a captive with a rival Native tribe, let us be absolutely clear – Sacajawea had NO choice in the matter. No one asked her what she thought or what she wanted and more importantly, no one cared. But for most of human history, there is a perception that women enjoy being recused. Women may make the best of bad situations but that certainly doesn’t mean they like it.
“Native women hardly felt forced into marriage as most marriages to French traders were beneficial.”
This may be the most offensive sentence I have read regarding women in history. Women who are forced into marriage have always felt and will always feel forced into marriage regardless of their skin color or ethnicity. Native women did not rejoice when they discovered they were “married” to white men the same way they did not rejoice when they discovered they were “married” to any man. They most often accepted their fate as most women in history have.
This also perpetuates the idea that Native Americans were cruel, abusive people. It perpetuates the savages ideal that we have been conditioned to accept all these years later. Native American tribes were no more cruel than their European counterparts and did not treat their women with any less contempt and abuse than European men did.
“Gender imbalance was a problem among native tribes as men would often lose their lives in war. Another benefit was the access to goods native women otherwise may not have been able to afford.”
Gender imbalance was true and still is true everywhere and I can guarantee you that no Native American woman thought to herself, “I would rather marry a Frenchman than a man from my own tribe because he might lose his life in war.” This particular passage is disturbing because it proves our continuing discrimination against Native people. Native American women had pride in their civilizations just like any woman in any civilization today has. Native American women would not have turned their backs on their entire way of life because they had fear of losing their spouses (or brothers or fathers). They would have supported their warriors and made the sacrifices necessary to help ensure victory.
“Another benefit was the access to goods native women otherwise may not have been able to afford.”
There are more important things in life than pretty dresses and makeup. Women have many interests and would not give them up for such frivolous things. To believe that a woman would trade her life as she knows it for a beautiful silk gown is to believe that women have no rational thought.
The known history of Sacajawea may be short but it is entirely unfair to her as a human. Historians have dehumanized her and have made us believe a false narrative when the real story about the perils of her journey make her accomplishments more impressive. The fact that she is a Native American woman also jeopardizes her value as Americans have a long history of ignoring and dehumanizing the stories of Native Americans.
Although this article is not a complete biography of Sacajawea, which she deserves, I do hope, you walk away thinking about how we write about her and other women. #realwomenshistory
Captured by Hidatsa War Party
In 1800, when the Shoshone girl, Boinaiv, was about 12 years old, her band was camped at the Three Forks of the Missouri River in Montana when they encountered some Hidatsa warriors. The warriors killed four men, four women and a number of boys. Several girls and boys, including Boinaiv, were captured and taken back to the Hidatsa village. At the Hidatsa camp, Boinaiv was given the name Sacagawea by her captors, which means "Bird Woman." There is more than a little argument over the derivation and spelling of Sacajawea's name. Sacajawea is a name meaning "Boat Launcher" in Shoshone. The Original Journals of Lewis and Clark support a Hidatsa origin. On May 20, 1805, Lewis wrote of "Sah-ca-ger-we-ah or Bird Woman's River" as a name for what is now Crooked Creek in north-central Montana. Sometime between 1800 and 1804, Sacajawea and another girl were sold to (or won in a gambling match by) trader Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian who was residing among the Hidatsa. He eventually married both girls.
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Sacagawea is big in Ecuador
Do you remember when the Sacagawea dollar coin was introduced in 2000? No? You're not alone. The U.S. Mint was evidently keen to repeat the failures of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and decided to put Sacagawea's face on the new coin, never mind the part where no one actually knows what Sacagawea looked like. The mint did at least have the courtesy to use a Shoshone model and to consult with the Native American community before deciding on the final design.
According to the Sacagawea Historical Society, the coin has been minted every year since 2000, and yet you probably still haven't ever actually had one in your wallet. So where did all the Sacagawea dollars go? Ecuador, as it turns out. According to the Miami Herald, Ecuador adopted the dollar in 2000, and Ecuadorians prefer dollar coins over paper dollars. Since 2002, the United States has shipped about $150 million in dollar coins to Ecuador, where they are widely circulated. (The ones that remain in the United States are usually set aside as keepsakes, which explains why you hardly ever see them.) Because Ecuador has a large indigenous population, it seems fitting that Sacagawea is truly appreciated there, even though many Ecuadorians aren't familiar with her very courageous and sometimes weird story.