Above: Shoshone woman and child

Sacagawea (Sacajawea) was born around 1788 into a Shoshone Indian tribe in the Rocky Mountains of what is now Idaho. She was taken from her Shoshone tribe by a Hidatsa Indian raiding party around the age of eleven, and later sold into slavery to the Missouri River Mandan tribe near Bismark, ND.

At the age of fifteen, that she was sold to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader, making her one of at least two wives. In November 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, appointed by President Thomas Jef ferson to chart a passage way through the western territories and Pacific Northwest to the Pacific Ocean, arrived in the area with the Corps of Discovery and built Fort Mandan. Soon after, on February 4, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to her son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau to act as a guide and interpreter for their expedition, but the explorers were likely more interested in having Sacagawea accompany them because she was Shoshone.

Sacagaewa knew several Indian languages and would prove to be indispensable on their journey. Lewis and Clark knew that they would need to buy horses from the Shoshone in order to cross the Bitterroot Mountains and complete their expedition . The 33-member expedition left Fort Mandan in April of 1805, with Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and infant Jean-Baptiste strapped to her back. Sacagawea proved not only to be indispensable in purchasing horses from her Shoshone tribe (coincidentally, from her long-lost brother Chief Cameahwait), but in numerous other areas as well. She was extremely familiar with the the territory the expedition traversed, and knew much about edible and medicinal plants and roots of which they could take advantage.

More importantly, Sacagawea and her infant acted as a sign of peace for the military and scientific expedition. Because Native Americans knew war parties were never accompanied by a woman and infant, their response was curiosity rather than hostility. Due greatly to Sacagawea's presence, no member of the expedition was lost to host ility - an amazing fact considering most Native Americans at that time had never before seen a white man.

At one point during the expedition, Sacagawea and Captain Clark capsized their canoe in dangerous whitewater, and Sacagawea (with her infant son Jean Baptiste on her back), rescued Captain Clark's journals from the water, saving much of Clark's documentation of the first year of the expedition.

It was these types of actions that earned Sacagawea immense respect from Lewis and Clark. On August 14, 1806 the Corps of Discovery returned to the Hidatsa-Mandan villages, having successfully made it to the Pacific Ocean and back.

While Charbonneau was paid $500.33 and given 320 acres of land for his services, Sacagawea was paid nothing. However, Lewis and Clark were deeply indebted to her. Six years later Clark legally adopted both Jean Baptiste and Sacagawea's second child, a girl, named Lisette born in 1812.

Sacagawea died at the young age of 25 on December 22, 1812 at Fort Manuel, a Missouri Fur Company trading post in present-day South Dakota. She had suffered much of her life from some sort of ailment, which nearly took her life once during the expedition. Sacagawea's contributions as guide, interpreter, and peacemaker were monumental in the success of the Louis and Clark Expedition.

Click Here for Sacagawea's Song by Martha Hart Johns

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