Written by Samantha James
This is part three of the Lewis & Clark Series. If you missed part one, Click Here. If you missed part two, Click Here.
Sacajawea is one of the most inspirational figures behind the Lewis and Clark story. She was the daughter of a Shoshone Chief and a very crucial person to the Expedition. It is believed that she was born around 1788 in the rocky mountain’s of Lemhi County, Idaho. During Sacajawea’s childhood, the Shoshone’s would be constantly at war with another tribe. Due to these hostilities with the tribe known as Hidatsa . This enemy tribe was based near Bismarck, North Dakota. Sacajawea’s young life was already very difficult due to the traditions of her tribe. She was a female and they were not favored among the people. Meriwether Lewis notes these practices and the inconsistencies of treatment given between the genders in his journal. He writes …
“They seldom correct their children particularly the boys who soon become masters of their own acts.” Lewis continued, “They give as a reason that it cows and breaks the spirit of the boy to whip him, and that he never recovers his independence of mind after he is grown. They treat their women but with little rispect (respect), and compel them to preform every species of drudgery.”
Sacajawea’s already troubled existence would only get worse. The animosity between the Shoshones and Hidatsa Indians would mean tragic implications to the young Sacajawea. She was kidnapped and taken hostage at the young age of twelve or thirteen; however, Sacajawea would be sold to a french-Canadian trapper who would make the girl his wife. Sacajawea’s new husband was named Toussaint Charbonneau. They lives on the Missouri River Upper Area relatively close to Hidatsa and Mandan Indians. According to all accounts I can find of the girl. It does not seem like she never really had any options. In some accounts Toussaint Charbonneau is thought to have won her during a game. Whether he had purchased or won her really is not clear. Charbonneau also was married to another Shoshone woman and considered both to be his wife.
While Sacajawea is pregnant with her first child an opportunity emerges that will change life forever. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark meet her husband Charbonneau while holed up at the newly made Fort Mandan for the winter. The Corps of Discovery officially hire him as a guide and interpreter for their trip moving west further into the mountains. It is decided that Sacajawea will accompany the group along with her husband. She was good with languages and it was thought she would prove to be helpful on their journey.
In the early months of 1805 Sacajawea would gives birth to a son that would be named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau while traveling with the Corps Of Discovery. Lewis writes in his journal the noteworthy addition to the party. He says …
“About five oClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono [Sacajawea] was delivered of a fine boy. It is worthy of remark that this was the first child which this woman had boarn, and as is common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent . . .”
Sacajawea was able to prove herself valuable to the group despite carrying a new born baby throughout the trip. On the simplest of levels she was able to point out edible plants, herbs, and berries to the expedition. Clark takes a note of this in his journal. He writes …
“The men who were complaining of the head ake and cholick yesterday and last night are much better to day. Shabonos Squar gathered a quantity of fenel roots which we find very paliatiable and nurushing food”
She was a quick thinker and when disaster struck one of the boats she was there to aid. Sacajawea managed to save important documents and supplies the group would need. The most useful thing about Sacajawea was what it symbolized to tribes and those they crossed. The Shoshone’s very presence made others less suspicious of the group.
William Clark describes one situation that Sacajawea’s presence and that of her child was able to diffuse a possible hostile meeting in his journal. He wrote …
“In the greatest agutation, Some crying and ringing there hands, others hanging their heads”. As soon as they saw the Squar wife of the interpreter they pointed to her and informed those who continued yet in the Same position I first found them, they imediately all came out and appeared to assume new life, the sight of This Indian woman, wife to one of our interprs. Confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter”
As Clark notes in his journal, Sacajawea was vital to how successful the group could be with the tribes and Indians they were to meet.
During the expedition the group comes across some Shoshones and need a horse in order to travel through the Rocky Mountains. The chief they meet turns out to be Sacajawea’s brother Cameahwait. They enjoy a small reunion and the group makes the trades they need.
As noted on the timeline. his was August 17th, 1805.
“Having discovered a village of Shoshones, Lewis tries to negotiate for the horses he now knows are all-important to cross the daunting mountains. On this day, Clark and the rest of the expedition arrive and Sacagawea is brought in to help translate. Remarkably, the Shoshone chief, Cameahwait, turns out to be her brother. The captains name the spot Camp Fortunate. “
The expedition would eventually make it to the Pacific Ocean and Sacajawea would be allowed to add her vote into the decision of where to build a Fort. They would need to settle in for the winter. While traveling with Sacajawea and her son it is said that Clark became especially fond of Jean Baptiste. Sacajawea would later leave Jean in Clark’s care a few years after the expedition in 1809 after going to St. Louis to see him.
Sacajawea would wide up at Fort Manuel near what is now Kenel, South Dakota. She had a second child three years later, a little girl named Lisette. A few short months after the birth Sacajawea died. William Clark would ultimately raise and educate both of her children. He would have eventual custody of them. Jean Baptiste would grow up into a well known explorer traveling on his own expedition across oceans.