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Woman Category: Religion & Ethnic Culture
A Native American guide and interpreter. The only woman on the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Ocean.
Sacagawea (also spelled Sacajawea) was born in Lemhi County, Idaho, the daughter of a Shoshone chief. Around the age of 12, she was captured by Hidatsa Indians, and at 13, she was sold to Toussaint Charbonneau – a French Canadian fur trader who was 20 years older than her. She was forced to marry him, becoming one of his wives. Afterward, they lived in the upper Missouri River area (today North Dakota) among the Hidatsa and Mandan Indians.
In November 1804, the Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, reached the area on their way to explore the newly acquired western lands and finding a path to the Pacific Ocean. They built Fort Mandan and stayed there for the winter. Lewis and Clark searched for an interpreter who spoke Shoshone to accompany them up the Missouri River. They found Sacagawea, who was then pregnant with her first child, can help them in their expedition, so they hired her husband, Charbonneau.
In February 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to her first son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, and two months later, their journey began. She was the only woman among 33 members of the expedition. In addition to been an interpreter, Sacagawea proved to be a valuable asset to the group. She knew how to find and identify plants, roots, and berries for eating and medical aid, and her knowledge of the Shoshone trails in the area helped the team to navigate through the mountain pass. As a native woman with a newborn baby traveling with a group of white men, her mere existence was a symbol of peace. On their journey, the expedition encountered a group of Shoshone Indians, and their leader was Sacagawea’s brother. Thanks to the family reunion, the Corps bought horses from the Shoshone, which helped them cross the Rocky Mountains. In November 1805, the expedition reached the Pacific coast. When they cast a vote where they would build a fort for the winter, Sacagawea’s vote was counted equally to the other members of the Corps.
In 1806, the Corps traveled eastward, and when they reached the Mandan and Hidatsa, Sacagawea left the expedition. Three years later, she and her husband traveled to St. Louis and left their son under the care of Clark, who became his legal guardian. Not long after, Sacagawea had her second child, Lizette Charbonneau.
According to historical documents, Sacagawea died in 1812 at the age of 24. However, some Native American oral traditions suggest that she did not die but left her husband and married into a Comanche tribe before returning to the Shoshone in Wyoming, where she died in 1884.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- The name Sacagawea is a compound of two words: cagáàga – bird and míà – woman.
- Clark nicknamed her “Janey.”
- For his service in the expedition, Charbonneau received 320 acres of land and $500.33; Sacagawea did not receive any compensation.
- Several movies have portrayed Sacagawea and her story; among them are The Far Horizons, Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West, and The Spirit of Sacajawea.
- The National American Woman Suffrage Association embraced her as a female hero and supported the erection of several of her statues across the US.
- The second movement of Philip Glass’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 after Lewis & Clark” is entitled “Sacagawea.”
- Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips wrote a musical named Sacagawea.
- She is one of the heroine figures in Judy Chicago’s art installation, “The Dinner Party.”
- The Sacagawea River in Montana is named in her honor.
- The United States Mint issued the Sacagawea dollar coin in her honor (2000).
- The ship USS Sacagawea is named in her honor.
- Various parks are named in her honor, including Sacajawea Memorial Area, at Lemhi Pass, the Mount Sacagawea at Fremont County, Wyoming, and the Sacagawea Heritage Trail in Tri-Cities, Washington.
- Statues of her are placed throughout the US, including Bismarck, North Dakota, St. Louis, Missouri, Wind River Indian Reservation, Portland, Oregon, and the US Capitol in Washington, DC.
More About Her Legacy
* Inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (1959)
* A Hall-of-Fame Honoree of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas (1976)
* Given the title of Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army by president Clinton (2001)
* Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (2003)
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One of Her Landmarks
The "Lewis & Clark at Three Forks" mural at Montana House of Representatives. Photo credit - courtesy of Edgar Samuel Pax