Sacagawea    1788 - 1812

    Shoshone Indian and Interpreter for

        the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Sacagawea (c.1788-1812)
Sacagawea was a valuable member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As a teenager, she served the Expedition as interpreter, diplomat, and peace symbol. She did all this while carrying her infant son on her back.

Sacagawea was a Shoshone Indian. She was born in the Idaho area circa 1788. "Circa" means around. Therefore, Sacagawea was born around 1788. Circa is abbreviated as the letter "c," and we write Sacagawea was born c. 1788.

The Spelling of Sacagawea
Sacagawea's name has been spelled many different ways. In the Lewis and Clark journals, her name was spelled "Sah-ca-gah-we-ah" and "Sah-kah-gar-we-a." In 1814, when their journals were first printed, the editor of the journals spelled her name "Sacajawea." This is how her name was spelled for many years.

Recently, historians and official publications have changed the spelling of her name to "Sacagawea." One reason is because "Sacagawea" is a Hidatsa name, and since the Hidatsas gave Sacagawea her name, it is more likely they spelled it with a "g." Also, Sacagawea's nickname is Bird Women. "Sacagawea" means Bird Woman. Whereas "Sacajawea" means Boat Launcher.

The Louisiana Purchase
In 1803, the United States acquired the land west of the Mississippi River in an agreement called the Louisiana Purchase. This land was called the Louisiana Territory.

The next year, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off to explore this new territory. The Expedition began in St. Louis, Missouri. It traveled up the Missouri River towards the Rocky Mountains. Its goal was to reach the Pacific Ocean by land.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition
Sacagawea was kidnapped by Hidatsa warriors when she was about twelve years old. This unfortunate occurrence for Sacagawea led to an exciting adventure.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition met Sacagawea at Fort Mandan in North Dakota. She was asked to join the Expedition because of her knowledge of the terrain and ability to speak different Native American languages.

Sacagawea had just given birth to her son, Jean-Baptiste. His nickname was Little Pomp or Pompy. Sacagawea carried Little Pomp on her back during the entire journey.

Sacagawea's Contribution
At the beginning of the journey, Sacagawea was returning to her birthplace. She was the only member of the Expedition who had seen this territory before. She pointed out certain landmarks to the Expedition which gave assurance they were on the right trail.

Sacagawea taught the men how to find edible plants, berries, and nuts which gave them needed vitamins and nourishment. These foods were previously unknown to Americans and Europeans.

Saving Clark's Journal
Lewis and Clark kept written journals of their experiences. They documented the terrain, rivers, mountains, people, plants, and animals. These journals were a valuable resource to understanding the new territory. Without Sacagawea, the journals may have been lost.

One day, the boat carrying Sacagawea and the supplies tipped over. These supplies were necessary for the success of the Expedition. They included books, instruments, medicines, goods for trading, and Clark's journal. Sacagawea's quick thinking saved the supplies. She picked them up one by one until they were safely back in the boat.

Peace Symbol
Sacagawea and Little Pomp were symbols of peace and protected the Expedition from Indian attacks. Indians may have thought the strange white men were a war party. However, war parties did not travel with women or children. From a distance, the presence of Sacagawea and Little Pomp signaled to the Indians the Expedition was a peaceful party.

Finding Horses
Sacagawea had knowledge of many Native American languages, customs, and tribes. She helped the Expedition by translating and negotiating at important Indian councils.

The most important council was the negotiation for horses with the Shoshone Indians. The Expedition needed these horses to cross the Rocky Mountains.

During the negotiation for horses with the Shoshone Indians, what Sacagawea knew was not as important as who she knew. She had not seen her family for many years. As it turns out, the chief of the Shoshone Indians was Sacagawea's brother. Sacagawea was successful in getting the horses for the Expedition and happy to see her family again.

The Pacific Ocean
The Lewis and Clark Expedition had traveled up the Missouri River, crossed the Rocky Mountains, and followed the Clearwater and Columbia Rivers toward the Pacific Ocean.

The Expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in November, 1805. Lewis and Clark allowed the men and Sacagawea to vote on where to camp during the winter. This is the first time a woman was given the opportunity to vote. It would be over 100 years before women in the United States were given this right.

The Oregon Trail
In the spring of 1806, the Expedition returned to Fort Mandan. Sacagawea said good-bye to Lewis and Clark.

The route taken by the Lewis and Clark Expedition became the basis of the Oregon Trail and was used by future pioneers traveling west. Sacagawea had made an important contribution to establishing this trail and to American history.

Remembering Sacagawea
Like Sacagawea's birthday, it is uncertain when Sacagawea died.

Sacagawea's husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, had two wives. We know one of his wives died on December 20, 1812, at Fort Manuel, South Dakota. It is believed this wife was Sacagawea.

Some records, however, state a French speaking Indian woman with specific knowledge of the Lewis and Clark Expedition lived on the Wind River Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming. This woman died on April 9, 1884, If this were Sacagawea, she would have been 96 years old. This is a difference of 72 years!

It is believed Sacagawea died in 1812, at the age of 24, because the next year, William Clark became legal guardian of Sacagawea's two children, Pompy and Lisette. Also, in 1820, Clark compiled a list which reported the status of the members of the expedition. On this list, Clark stated Sacagawea had already died.

Remembering Sacagawea
Sacagawea will live forever in America's history. Today, there are twenty three statues honoring Sacagawea. She has more statues in her honor than any other woman in America. There are also mountains, lakes, and rivers named for her.

In 2000, the United States Mint commemorated Sacagawea on the Golden Dollar coin. On the front of the coin is a picture of Sacagawea carrying Little Pomp.

Sacagawea was a valuable member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

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©  2009 D. K. Malowney