Friday, July 23, 2010

Sacajawea - Shoshone

Sacajawea or Sacajaweah was born around 1788 in Lemhi, Idaho, into the Salmon Eater tribe of the Lemhi Shoshone Native Americans.  When she was a young girl, her tribe was raided by another tribe, the Hidatsa or Minnetarees, and this battle caused the death of four men of her tribe, four women, and a few boys. At the time, she was taken to a Hidatsa village which was near the present day Washburn, North Dakota.  She was essentially made a slave to the Hidatsa tribe.  However, even though she was made a slave, she learned many valuable skills that helped her later on.

While living with the Hidatsa, she encountered a white man, a trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. He already had another wife, a young Shoshone named Otter Woman, as his wife. Toussaint either purchased Sacajawea from the Hidatsa Indians, or else he won Sacagawea while he was gambling.  Sacajawea then became pregnant with a son. 

Sacajawea, Lewis and Clark

In 1805-18056, while Sacajawea was pregnant, Merriweather Lewis and William Clark came into town.  They were leading a group called the Corps of Discovery which was on an expedition to explore the North Western United States.  The expedition became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition and they needed a translator that could help them as they encountered Native American tribes in their travels.  It so happened that Toussaint could speak English, French and the Shoshone languages and he applied for the job.  However, he asked too much for his services and was initially turned down by Lewis and Clark.  After four days, he was miraculously hired.  Some historians think it was because of Sacajawea.

Sacajaweah and son, Jean Baptiste

Jean Baptiste, the son of Sacagawea and Charbonneau, was born on February 11, 1805. Clark nicknamed the boy "Little Pomp" or "Pompy," and this nickname stuck.

The Significance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Beginning in April 1805, the group left Fort Mandan and began heading up the Missouri River. On this great trek, Lewis and Clark traveled more than 8,000 miles in less than two and one-half years, losing only one member of their party, at a total cost to the American taxpayer of $40,000. The significance of the Lewis and Clark Expedition was far reaching. It strengthened the United State's position in the struggle for control of North America, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Lewis and Clark's trek also inspired explorers, trappers, traders, hunters, adventurers, prospectors, homesteaders, ranchers, soldiers, businessman and missionaries to move westward--spurring a century of rapid settlement which peopled the West with European-Americans.  More information about this great event can be found at Lewis and Clark.

Map Showing the route of the Lewis and Clark Expedition

 The Importance of Sacajawea on this Expedition

Sacajawea was important on this expedition for the following reasons:

She was calm in the face of danger.
She set up camp when they arrived at each destination and broke camp the next day.
She sewed the clothes for all the members of the expedition.
She cooked for the expedition.
Since she was Shoshone, she helped in negotiations with the Shoshone

Her presence, though, was her most important value, as traveling with an Indian woman indicated that their intent was peace.  If they did not have a Native American Woman with a Native American child, they would have been seen as a hostile group and would undoubtedly have been killed.

After the Expedition

After the expedition, Sacajawea and her husband, Charbonneau, spent three years living among the Hidatsa before they accepted the invitation of William Clark to settle in St. Louis, Missouri. They went there in 1809 and entrusted the education of Jean-Baptiste to William Clark, who then enrolled him in the Saint Louis Academy Boarding School. Sacagawea also had a daughter, named Lizette at some point after 1810.


It is not know for sure when or where Sacajawea died.


Because of the recorded bravery of this Native American woman, she has been given many honors:

The National American Woman Suffrage Association of the early twentieth century adopted her as a symbol of women's worth and independence, erecting several statues and plaques in her memory, and doing much to spread the story of her accomplishments.

United States Sacajawea Dollar Coin

In 2000, the United States Mint issued the Sacajawea dollar coin in her honor, depicting Sacagawea and her son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. The face on the coin was modeled on a modern Shoshone-Bannock woman named Randy'L He-dow Teton.

Sculpture of Sacajawea and her son
by Alice Cooper

A sculpture was made in her honor by Alice Cooper and has been placed in Washington Park in Portland Oregon.

Fourteen other statues of Sacajawea are mentioned in the wikipedia.

The same Wikipedia article lists two mountain peaks, a lake, and a river, are named in her honor.


Because of her bravery on the great Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacajawea has become a symbol and an ideal of virtues of womanhood.