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Sacagawea gives birth to her first child

Sacagawea gives birth to her first child

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Sacagawea, the Shoshone interpreter and guide to the Lewis and Clark expedition, gives birth to her first child, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first met the young Sacagawea while spending the winter among the Mandan tribe along the Upper Missouri River, not far from present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. Still only a teenager, Sacagawea was the wife of a French-Canadian fur trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, who had purchased her from Hidatsa kidnappers the year before. The Hidatsa had taken Sacagawea from her homeland along the Continental Divide in modern-day southwestern Montana and southeastern Idaho, where she was the daughter of a prominent Shoshone chief. Viewing such captives as little more than enslaved workers, the Hidatsa were happy to sell Sacagawea and another woman to Charbonneau, who used them as laborers, porters and sexual companions.

That winter, Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter for their projected expedition to the Pacific and back, provided he agreed to bring along his young wife. Lewis and Clark knew they would have to obtain horses from the Shoshone to cross the Continental Divide, and Sacagawea’s services as an interpreter could prove invaluable. Charbonneau agreed, and she became the only woman to join the Corps of Discovery.

Two months before the expedition was to depart, Lewis and Clark found themselves with another co-traveler, who later proved useful in an unexpected way. On this day in 1805, Sacagawea went into labor. Lewis, who would often act as the expedition’s doctor in the months to come, was called on for the first and only time during the journey to assist in a delivery. Lewis was anxious to insure his new Shoshone interpreter was in good shape for the arduous journey to come, and he later worriedly reported “her labour was tedious and the pain violent.” Told that a small amount of the rattle of rattlesnake might speed the delivery, Lewis broke up a rattler tail and mixed it with water. “She had not taken [the mixture] more than ten minutes before she brought forth,” Lewis happily reported.

Named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, the cries of the healthy young boy announced the arrival of a new member of the Corps of Discovery. No one, it seemed, contemplated leaving Sacagawea and her infant son behind—when the party set out up the Missouri in April 1805, Sacagawea carried Jean Baptiste on her back in an Indian cradleboard. Nicknamed “Pomp” or “Pompey” by Clark, who developed a strong attachment to the boy, Jean Baptiste accompanied his mother on every step of her epic journey to the Pacific and back.

Mother and son both were invaluable to the expedition. As hoped, Sacagawea’s services as a translator played a pivotal role in securing horses from the Shoshone. Jean Baptiste’s presence also proved unexpectedly useful by helping to convince the Indians the party encountered that their intentions were peaceful-no war party, the Indians reasoned, would bring along a mother and infant.

When the Corps of Discovery returned east in 1805, Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and Jean Baptiste resumed the fur-trading life. Little is known of Sacagawea’s subsequent fate, though a fur trader claimed she died of a “putrid fever” in 1812 at a Missouri River trading post. True to a promise he had made to Sacagawea during the expedition, Clark paid for Jean Baptiste’s education at a St. Louis Catholic academy and became something of an adoptive father to the boy. A bright and charismatic young man, Jean Baptiste learned French, German, and Spanish, hunted with noblemen in the Black Forest of Germany, traveled in Africa, and returned to further explore the American West. He died in 1866 en route to the newly discovered gold fields of Montana.

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Expedition


Sacajawea (Bird Woman) was the Indian woman who helped lead Lewis and Clark's famous expedition to the Pacific Ocean.

Sacajawea was born in what is now the state of Idaho, around 1790. She was born into the Shoshone tribe however, when Sacajawea was about 10 years old, she was captured by the Hidatsa tribe, which lived near the present-day area of Washburn, North Dakota. She was reared by the Hidatsa until she and another Shoshone woman were sold to the French-Canadian trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau.

The Lewis and Clark expedition spent the winter of 1804-1805 at Fort Mandan in the Dakotas. Charbonneau and Sacajawea joined the expedition on its passage up the Missouri River. They hired Charbonneau as a guide, and when they discovered Sacajawea would be coming with them, they were pleased. After all, a woman with a child would indicate that the expedition was peaceful, and she could translate for them.

Sacajawea was just 16 years old when she gave birth to her first child at the fort during the winter. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born in Febuary 1805. He was also given the Shoshone name, Pomp, meaning First Born.

The expedition and following Contrary to popular belief, Sacajawea did not "guide Lewis and Clark across the continent." She did translate for them and offered some geographic guidance and confirmation in the Three Forks area, where she had lived as a child. She also showed them edible plants.

On August 15, 1805, while the expedition was crossing the Continental Divide, Sacajawea was re-united with her Shoshone tribe. She learned that all of her family had died except for two brothers and the son of her eldest sister. One of her brothers, Cameahwait, was the chief. The tribe agreed to sell horses and food to the party. Her brother sketched a map of the country ahead to the west and provided them a guide, Old Toby. He led them through the mountains safely on their way to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1806, when the expedition was completed, Sacajawea and her husband and son returned to Fort Mandan. Captain Clark wrote to Charbonneau and invited him to come to St. Louis, Missouri with his family. He agreed and they moved near St. Louis, where Jean Baptiste was schooled. However, in March 1811, Charbonneau sold his land to Clark and returned with Sacajawea to the Dakotas. They left their son in St. Louis with Captain Clark, so he could continue his education. Captain Clark was the Indian Agent of the Louisiana Purchase at that time.

Sacajewa disappears from history

After this point, what happened to Sacajawea is uncertain. Two differing stories exist neither is backed by any proof. The first story is that she died on December 20, 1812. This comes from the records of John C. Luttig, the clerk at Fort Manuel, South Dakota. He wrote "This evening the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake [Shoshone] squaw, died of putrid fever. She was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl." John Luttig returned to St. Louis with a baby whom he called “Sacajawea’s Lizette.” He had applied to be her guardian, along with a boy called “Toussaint,” but the records show his name crossed out and Captain William Clark’s written in. Sacajawea’s son, Jean Baptiste, was also called Toussaint.

The other story comes from Shoshone oral tradition. It avers that Sacajawea did not die in 1813, but eventually returned to her tribe on the Wind River Reservation. This tradition claims she died there on April 9, 1884, a venerated and influential member of the tribe. Her remains are said to be buried between those of her son, Jean Baptiste, and her sister's son, Bazil, whom she adopted. A monument of the woman called Sacajawea is over the grave on the reservation. Numerous accounts by people living at that time indicate that it was Sacajawea who traveled with Lewis and Clark to the great water and that the woman who died at Fort Manuel was another wife of Toussaint Charbonneau.

Sacajawea has been honored by having a river, a peak, and a mountain pass named after her. Monuments and memorials to her stand at Portland, Oregon, Armstead, Montana, Three Forks, Montana, Bismarck, North Dakota, and Lewiston, Idaho.


Reliable historical information about Sacagawea is very limited. She was born c. 1788 into the Agaidika ('Salmon Eater', aka Lemhi Shoshone) tribe near present-day Salmon, Lemhi County. This is near the continental divide at the present-day Idaho-Montana border. [6]

In 1800, when she was about 12 years old, Sacagawea and several other girls were taken captive by a group of Hidatsa in a raid that resulted in the deaths of several Shoshone: four men, four women, and several boys. She was held captive at a Hidatsa village near present-day Washburn, North Dakota. [7]

At about age 13, she was sold into a non-consensual marriage to Toussaint Charbonneau, a Quebecois trapper who about two decades earlier had lived in the Hidatsa village. He had also bought another young Shoshone, known as Otter Woman, for a wife. Charbonneau was variously reported to have purchased both girls from the Hidatsa, or to have won Sacagawea while gambling. [7]

The Corps of Discovery arrived near the Hidatsa villages. They settled near a Mandan village, where Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark built Fort Mandan for wintering over in 1804–05. They interviewed several trappers who might be able to interpret or guide the expedition up the Missouri River in the springtime. Knowing they would need the help of Shoshone tribes who lived at the headwaters of the Missouri, they agreed to hire Toussaint Charbonneau after learning that his wife, Sacagawea, spoke Shoshone. She was pregnant with her first child at the time.

On November 4, 1804, Clark recorded in his journal: [8] [a]

[A] french man by Name Chabonah, who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars (squaws) were Snake Indians, we engau (engaged) him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpret the Snake language.…

Charbonneau and Sacagawea moved into the expedition's fort a week later. Clark nicknamed her "Janey." [b] Lewis recorded the birth of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau on February 11, 1805, noting that another of the party's interpreters administered crushed rattlesnake rattles in water to speed the delivery. Clark and other European-Americans nicknamed the boy "Little Pomp" or "Pompy."

In April, the expedition left Fort Mandan and headed up the Missouri River in pirogues. They had to be poled against the current and sometimes pulled by crew along the riverbanks. On May 14, 1805, Sacagawea rescued items that had fallen out of a capsized boat, including the journals and records of Lewis and Clark. The corps commanders, who praised her quick action, named the Sacagawea River in her honor on May 20, 1805. By August 1805, the corps had located a Shoshone tribe and was attempting to trade for horses to cross the Rocky Mountains. They used Sacagawea to interpret and discovered that the tribe's chief, Cameahwait, was her brother.

Lewis recorded their reunion in his journal: [10]

Shortly after Capt. Clark arrived with the Interpreter Charbono, and the Indian woman, who proved to be a sister of the Chief Cameahwait. The meeting of those people was really affecting, particularly between Sah cah-gar-we-ah and an Indian woman, who had been taken prisoner at the same time with her, and who had afterwards escaped from the Minnetares and rejoined her nation.

…The Intertrepeter [sic] & Squar who were before me at Some distance danced for the joyful Sight, and She made signs to me that they were her nation…

The Shoshone agreed to barter horses to the group and to provide guides to lead them over the cold and barren Rocky Mountains. The trip was so hard that they were reduced to eating tallow candles to survive. When they descended into the more temperate regions on the other side, Sacagawea helped to find and cook camas roots to help the party members regain their strength.

As the expedition approached the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Coast, Sacagawea gave up her beaded belt to enable the captains to trade for a fur robe they wished to bring back to give to President Thomas Jefferson.

Clark's journal entry for November 20, 1805, reads: [12]

one of the Indians had on a roab made of 2 Sea Otter Skins the fur of them were more butifull than any fur I had ever Seen both Capt. Lewis & my Self endeavored to purchase the roab with different articles at length we precured it for a belt of blue beeds which the Squar—wife of our interpreter Shabono wore around her waste.… [sic]

When the corps reached the Pacific Ocean, all members of the expedition—including Sacagawea and Clark's black manservant York—voted on November 24 on the location for building their winter fort. In January, when a whale's carcass washed up onto the beach south of Fort Clatsop, Sacagawea insisted on her right to go see this "monstrous fish."

On the return trip, they approached the Rocky Mountains in July 1806. On July 6, Clark recorded:

The Indian woman informed me that she had been in this plain frequently and knew it well.… She said we would discover a gap in the mountains in our direction [i.e., present-day Gibbons Pass].

A week later, on July 13, Sacagawea advised Clark to cross into the Yellowstone River basin at what is now known as Bozeman Pass. Later, this was chosen as the optimal route for the Northern Pacific Railway to cross the continental divide.

While Sacagawea has been depicted as a guide for the expedition, [13] she is recorded as providing direction in only a few instances. Her work as an interpreter certainly helped the party to negotiate with the Shoshone. But, her greatest value to the mission may have been her presence during the arduous journey, as having a woman and infant accompany them demonstrated the peaceful intent of the expedition.

While traveling through what is now Franklin County, Washington, in October 1805, Clark noted that "the wife of Shabono [Charbonneau] our interpetr we find reconsiles all the Indians, as to our friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token of peace." [14] Further he wrote that she "confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter" [sic]. [15]

As Clark traveled downriver from Fort Mandan at the end of the journey, on board the pirogue near the Ricara Village, he wrote to Charbonneau: [16]

You have been a long time with me and conducted your Self in Such a manner as to gain my friendship, your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatigueing rout to the Pacific Ocian and back diserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her at the Mandans. As to your little Son (my boy Pomp) you well know my fondness of him and my anxiety to take him and raise him as my own child.… If you are desposed to accept either of my offers to you and will bring down you Son your famn [femme, woman] Janey had best come along with you to take care of the boy untill I get him.… Wishing you and your family great success & with anxious expectations of seeing my little danceing boy Baptiest I shall remain your Friend, William Clark. [sic]


Following the expedition, Charbonneau and Sacagawea spent 3 years among the Hidatsa before accepting William Clark's invitation to settle in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1809. They entrusted Jean-Baptiste's education to Clark, who enrolled the young man in the Saint Louis Academy boarding school. [17] [18] Sacagawea gave birth to a daughter, Lizette Charbonneau, about 1812. [18] Lizette was identified as a year-old girl in adoption papers in 1813 recognizing William Clark, who also adopted her older brother that year. [19] Because Clark's papers make no later mention of Lizette, it is believed that she died in childhood.


According to Bonnie "Spirit Wind-Walker" Butterfield (2010), historical documents suggest that Sacagawea died in 1812 of an unknown sickness. [18] For instance, a journal entry from 1811 by Henry Brackenridge, a fur trader at Fort Lisa Trading Post on the Missouri River, wrote that Sacagawea and Charbonneau were living at the fort. [18] Brackenrige recorded that Sacagawea "had become sickly and longed to revisit her native country." [20] Butterfield notes that in 1812, a Fort-Lisa clerk, John Luttig, recorded in his journal on December 20 that "the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake Squaw [i.e. Shoshone], died of putrid fever." [20] He said that she was "aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl." [18] Documents held by Clark show that Charbonneau had already entrusted their son Baptiste to Clark's care for a boarding school education, at Clark's insistence (Jackson, 1962). [18]

In February 1813, a few months after Luttig's journal entry, 15 men were killed in a Native attack on Fort Lisa, which was then located at the mouth of the Bighorn River. [20] Luttig and Sacagawea's young daughter were among the survivors. Charbonneau was mistakenly thought to have been killed at this time, but he apparently lived to at least age 76. He had signed over formal custody of his son to William Clark in 1813. [21]

As further proof that Sacagawea died in 1812, Butterfield writes: [18]

An adoption document made in the Orphans Court Records in St. Louis, Missouri, states, [19] 'On August 11, 1813, William Clark became the guardian of Tousant Charbonneau, a boy about ten years, and Lizette Charbonneau, a girl about one year old.' For a Missouri State Court at the time, to designate a child as orphaned and to allow an adoption, both parents had to be confirmed dead in court papers.

The last recorded document referring to Sacagawea's life appears in William Clark's original notes written between 1825 and 1826. [18] He lists the names of each of the expedition members and their last known whereabouts. For Sacagawea, he writes, "Se car ja we au— Dead." [17]

Some Native American oral traditions relate that, rather than dying in 1812, Sacagawea left her husband Charbonneau, crossed the Great Plains, and married into a Comanche tribe. [22] She was said to have returned to the Shoshone in 1860 in Wyoming, where she died in 1884. [22]

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau

Sacagawea's son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, had a restless and adventurous life. Known as the infant who, with his mother, accompanied the explorers to the Pacific Ocean and back, he had lifelong celebrity status. At the age of 18, he was befriended by a German Prince, Duke Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, who took him to Europe. There, Jean Baptiste lived for six years among royalty, while learning four languages and fathering a child in Germany named Anton Fries. [23]

After his infant son died, Jean Baptiste returned from Europe in 1829 to the United States. He lived after that as a Western frontiersman. In 1846, he led a group of Mormons to California for the gold rush. While in California, he was appointed as a magistrate for the Mission San Luis Rey. He disliked the way Indians were treated in the missions and left to become a hotel clerk in Auburn, California, once the center of gold rush activity. [18]

After working six years in Auburn, Jean Baptiste left in search of riches in the gold mines of Montana. He was 61 years old, and the trip was too much for him. He became ill with pneumonia and died in a remote area near Danner, Oregon, on May 16, 1866. [18]

Burial place

The question of Sacagawea's burial place caught the attention of national suffragists seeking voting rights for women, according to author Raymond Wilson. [24] Wilson argues that Sacagawea became a role model whom suffragists pointed to "with pride." She received even more attention in the 1930s, after publication of a history novel about her. [24]

Interest in Sacajawea peaked and controversy intensified when Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard, professor of political economy at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and an active supporter of the Nineteenth Amendment, campaigned for federal legislation to erect an edifice honoring Sacajawea's death in 1884.

An account of the expedition published in May 1919 noted that "A sculptor, Mr. Bruno Zimm, seeking a model for a statue of Sacagawea that was later erected at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, discovered a record of the pilot-woman's death in 1884 (when ninety-five years old) on the Shoshone Reservation, Wyoming, and her wind-swept grave." [25]

In 1925, Dr. Charles Eastman, a Dakota Sioux physician, was hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to locate Sacagawea's remains. [26] Eastman visited various Native American tribes to interview elders who might have known or heard of Sacagawea. He learned of a Shoshone woman at the Wind River Reservation with the Comanche name Porivo ('chief woman'). Some of those he interviewed said that she spoke of a long journey wherein she had helped white men, and that she had a silver Jefferson peace medal of the type carried by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. He found a Comanche woman named Tacutine who said that Porivo was her grandmother. According to Tacutine, Porivo had married into a Comanche tribe and had a number of children, including Tacutine's father, Ticannaf. Porivo left the tribe after her husband, Jerk-Meat, was killed. [26]

According to these narratives, Porivo lived for some time at Fort Bridger in Wyoming with her sons Bazil and Baptiste, who each knew several languages, including English and French. Eventually, she returned to the Lemhi Shoshone at the Wind River Reservation, where she was recorded as "Bazil's mother." [26] This woman, Porivo, is believed to have died on April 9, 1884. [27]

Eastman concluded that Porivo was Sacagawea. [28] In 1963, a monument to "Sacajawea of the Shoshonis" was erected at Fort Washakie on the Wind River reservation near Lander, Wyoming, on the basis of this claim. [29]

The belief that Sacagawea lived to old age and died in Wyoming was widely disseminated in the United States through Sacajawea (1933), a biography written by historian Grace Raymond Hebard, a University of Wyoming professor, based on her 30 years of research. [30]

Mickelson recounts the findings of Thomas H. Johnson, who argues in his Also Called Sacajawea: Chief Woman's Stolen Identity (2007) that Hebard identified the wrong woman when she relied upon oral history that an old woman who died and is buried on the Wyoming Wind River Reservation was Sacajawea. Critics have also questioned Hebard's work [30] because she portrayed Sacajawea in a manner described as "undeniably long on romance and short on hard evidence, suffering from a sentimentalization of Indian culture." [31]

A long-running controversy has related to the correct spelling, pronunciation, and etymology of the Shoshone woman's name. Linguists working on Hidatsa since the 1870s have always considered the name's Hidatsa etymology essentially indisputable. The name is a compound of two common Hidatsa nouns: cagáàga ( [tsakáàka] , 'bird') and míà ( [míà] , 'woman'). The compound is written as Cagáàgawia ('Bird Woman') in modern Hidatsa orthography, and pronounced [tsakáàkawia] ( /m/ is pronounced [w] between vowels in Hidatsa). The double /aa/ in the name indicates a long vowel, while the diacritics suggest a falling pitch pattern.

Hidatsa is a pitch-accent language that does not have stress therefore, in the Hidatsa pronunciation all syllables in [tsaɡáàɡawia] are pronounced with roughly the same relative emphasis. However, most English speakers perceive the accented syllable (the long /aa/ ) as stressed. In faithful rendering of Cagáàgawia to other languages, it is advisable to emphasize the second, long syllable, rather than the last, as is common in English. [32]

The name has several spelling traditions in English. The origin of each tradition is described in the following sections.


Sacagawea ( / s ə ˌ k ɑː ɡ ə ˈ w iː ə / ) is the most widely used spelling of her name, pronounced with a hard "g" sound, rather than a soft "g" or "j" sound. Lewis and Clark's original journals mention Sacagawea by name seventeen times, spelled eight different ways, each time with a "g". Clark used Sahkahgarwea, Sahcahgagwea, Sarcargahwea, and Sahcahgahweah, while Lewis used Sahcahgahwea, Sahcahgarweah, Sahcargarweah, and Sahcahgar Wea.

The spelling Sacagawea was established in 1910 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as the proper usage in government documents. It would be the spelling adopted by the U.S. Mint for use with the dollar coin, as well as the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and the National Park Service. The spelling is also used by numerous historical scholars. [33]


Sakakawea ( / s ə ˌ k ɑː k ə ˈ w iː ə / ) is the next most widely-adopted spelling, and is the most-often accepted among specialists. [34] Proponents say the name comes from the Hidatsa tsakáka wía ('bird woman'). [35] [36] Charbonneau told expedition members that his wife's name meant "Bird Woman," and in May 1805 Lewis used the Hidatsa meaning in his journal:

[A] handsome river of about fifty yards in width discharged itself into the shell river… [T]his stream we called Sah-ca-gah-we-ah or bird woman's River, after our interpreter the Snake woman.

Sakakawea is the official spelling of her name according to the Three Affiliated Tribes, which include the Hidatsa. This spelling is widely used throughout North Dakota (where she is considered a state heroine), notably in the naming of Lake Sakakawea, the extensive reservoir of Garrison Dam on the Missouri River.

The North Dakota State Historical Society quotes Russell Reid's 1986 book Sakakawea: The Bird Woman: [37]

Her Hidatsa name, which Charbonneau stated meant "Bird Woman," should be spelled "Tsakakawias" according to the foremost Hidatsa language authority, Dr. Washington Matthews. When this name is anglicized for easy pronunciation, it becomes Sakakawea, "Sakaka" meaning "bird" and "wea" meaning "woman." This is the spelling adopted by North Dakota. The spelling authorized for the use of federal agencies by the United States Geographic Board is Sacagawea. Although not closely following Hidatsa spelling, the pronunciation is quite similar and the Geographic Board acknowledged the name to be a Hidatsa word meaning "Bird Woman.

Irving W. Anderson, president of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, says: [9]

[T]he Sakakawea spelling similarly is not found in the Lewis and Clark journals. To the contrary, this spelling traces its origin neither through a personal connection with her nor in any primary literature of the expedition. It has been independently constructed from two Hidatsa Indian words found in the dictionary Ethnography and Philology of the Hidatsa Indians (1877), published by the Government Printing Office. [38] Compiled by a United States Army surgeon, Dr. Washington Matthews, 65 years following Sacagawea's death, the words appear verbatim in the dictionary as "tsa-ka-ka, noun a bird," and "mia [wia, bia], noun a woman.


The name Sacajawea or Sacajewea ( / ˌ s æ k ə dʒ ə ˈ w iː ə / ), in contrast to the Hidatsa etymology, is said to have derived from Shoshone Saca-tzaw-meah, meaning 'boat puller' or 'boat launcher'. [9] It is the preferred spelling used by the Lemhi Shoshone people, some of whom claim that her Hidatsa captors transliterated her Shoshone name in their own language, and pronounced it according to their own dialect. [39] That is, they heard a name that approximated tsakaka and wia, and interpreted it as 'bird woman', substituting their hard "g/k" pronunciation for the softer "tz/j" sound that did not exist in the Hidatsa language. [39]

The use of this spelling almost certainly originated with Nicholas Biddle, who used the "j" when he annotated the journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition for publication in 1814. This use became more widespread with the publication in 1902 of Eva Emery Dye's novel The Conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark. It is likely that Dye used Biddle's secondary source for the spelling, and her highly popular book made this version ubiquitous throughout the United States (previously most non-scholars had never even heard of Sacagawea). [40]

Rozina George, great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Cameahwait, says the Agaidika tribe of Lemhi Shoshone do not recognize the spelling or pronunciation Sacagawea. Schools named in the interpreter's honor and other memorials erected in the area surrounding her birthplace use the spelling Sacajawea: [41]

The Lemhi Shoshone call her Sacajawea. It is derived from the Shoshone word for her name, Saca tzah we yaa. In his Cash Book, William Clark spells Sacajawea with a "J". Also, William Clark and Private George Shannon explained to Nicholas Biddle (Published the first Lewis and Clark Journals in 1814) about the pronunciation of her name and how the tz sounds more like a "j". What better authority on the pronunciation of her name than Clark and Shannon who traveled with her and constantly heard the pronunciation of her name? We do not believe it is a Minnetaree (Hidatsa) word for her name. Sacajawea was a Lemhi Shoshone not a Hidatsa.

Idaho native John Rees explored the 'boat launcher' etymology in a long letter to the U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs written in the 1920s. [9] It was republished in 1970 by the Lemhi County Historical Society as a pamphlet entitled "Madame Charbonneau" and contains many of the arguments in favor of the Shoshone derivation of the name. [39] [9]

The spelling Sacajawea, although widely taught until the late 20th century, is generally considered incorrect in modern academia. Linguistics professor Dr. Sven Liljeblad from the Idaho State University in Pocatello has concluded that "it is unlikely that Sacajawea is a Shoshoni word.… The term for 'boat' in Shoshoni is saiki, but the rest of the alleged compound would be incomprehensible to a native speaker of Shoshoni." [9] The spelling has subsided from general use, although the corresponding "soft j" pronunciation persists in American culture.

Some fictional accounts speculate that Sacagawea was romantically involved with Lewis or Clark during their expedition. [ which? ] But, while the journals show that she was friendly with Clark and would often do favors for him, the idea of a romantic liaison was created by novelists who wrote much later about the expedition. This fiction was perpetuated in the Western film The Far Horizons (1955).

Film and television

Several movies, both documentaries and fiction, have been made about, or featuring, Sacagawea: [42]

  • The Far Horizons (1955) – played by Donna Reed
  • Lewis & Clark: Great Journey West (2002) – played by Alex Rice
  • Jefferson's West (2003) – played by Cedar Henry
  • Journey of Sacagawea (2004)
  • Bill and Meriwether's Excellent Adventure (2006) – played by Crystal Lysne
  • Night at the Museum (2006) – played by Mizuo Peck
  • The Spirit of Sacajawea (2007)
  • Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) – played by Mizuo Peck
  • Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014) – played by Mizuo Peck

In 1967, the actress Victoria Vetri, under the name Angela Dorian, played Sacajawea in the episode "The Girl Who Walked the West" of the syndicated television series, Death Valley Days. [43]


Two early twentieth-century novels shaped much of the public perception of Sacagawea. The Conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark (1902), was written by American suffragist Eva Emery Dye and published in anticipation of the expedition's centennial. [44] The National American Woman Suffrage Association embraced her as a female hero, and numerous stories and essays about her were published in ladies' journals. A few decades later, Grace Raymond Hebard published Sacajawea: Guide and Interpreter of Lewis and Clark (1933) to even greater success. [13]

Sacagawea has since become a popular figure in historical and young adult novels. In her novel Sacajawea (1984), Anna Lee Waldo explored the story of Sacajawea's returning to Wyoming 50 years after her departure. The author was well aware of the historical research supporting an 1812 death, but she chose to explore the oral tradition.

Music and theatre

  • In Philip Glass's "Piano Concerto No. 2 after Lewis & Clark", the second movement is entitled "Sacagawea".
  • Sacagawea is mentioned in the Schoolhouse Rock song "Elbow Room" as the guide for Lewis and Clark. [45]
  • Sacagewea is referenced in Stevie Wonder's song "Black Man" from the album Songs in the Key of Life (1976). 's 1988 album Legends includes a piece entitled "Sacajawea". [46]
  • Sacagawea is the name of a musical by Craig Bohmler and Mary Bracken Phillips. It was commissioned by the Willows Theatre Company in northern California and premiered at the annual John Muir Festival in the summer of 2008 at the Alhambra Performing Arts Center in Martinez. [47][48][49][50]
  • In 2010, Italian pianist and composer Alessandra Celletti released Sketches of Sacagawea, a limited-edition tribute box set with an album and accompanying book, on Al-Kemi Lab. [51]

Other media

The Dinner Party, an artwork installation by feminist artist Judy Chicago, features a place setting for Sacagawea in Wing Three, part of American Revolution to the Women's Revolution. [52]

The first episode of the history podcast, The Broadsides, includes discussion of Sacagawea and her accomplishments during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. [53]

Sacagawea was an important member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The National American Woman Suffrage Association of the early 20th 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. [5]

In 1959, Sacagawea was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. [2] In 1976, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. [3] In 2001, she was given the title of Honorary Sergeant, Regular Army, by President Bill Clinton. [54] In 2003, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. [4]

USS Sacagawea, one of several United States ships named in her honor.


Sacagawea’s actual day of birth is not known. Scholars think she may have been born around 1788 in Lemhi County, Idaho among the Agaidikas or Salmon-Eater Shoshones of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe. The Lemhi Shoshone belonged to the north band of Shoshones that lived along the Lemhi and Salmon Rivers banks.

The Shoshones were constantly attacked by the Hidatsa Indians also known as Minitaree Sioux or Gros Ventre, allies with the Mandans, and by the Blackfeet. These tribes carried rifles provided by white traders which gave them advantage over the Shoshones. Most of the times the Shoshones were defeated, had their possessions raided or destroyed and their members killed or kidnapped. Around 1800 when Sacagawea was between 11 or 13 years old, the Hidatsas raided her camp and kidnapped her and other young Shoshone women making them their prisoners. They took them to their encampment on the Missouri River, about twelve miles from current Washburn, North Dakota. Scholars estimate that there were approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Hidatsas and Mandans living along the Missouri River at that time.

Toussaint Charbonneau

Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian, who had been living with the Hidatsas and Mandans since 1796 took an interest in Sacagawea. He acquired Sacagawea “Bird Woman” and another Shoshone girl “Otter Woman”, and made them his wives. Charbonneau was about 37 years old and Sacagawea 16. Charbonneau was born near Montreal, Canada and was an independent trader, he obtained goods on credit and traded them with the Indians. He lived among the Mandans and Hidatsas and adopted their way of life.

Sacagawea and Charbonneau lived in this cluster of earth lodges at the Hidatsa village. Painting by George Catlin. National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison Jr.

Lewis and Clark at Fort Mandan

On December 21 st , 1804 Lewis and Clark and his group of Corps of Discovery explorers decided to settle in Fort Mandan for the winter. Here is where they met Toussaint Charbonneau, who lived among the Mandans. He applied for the job of Hidatsa/Mandan interpreter. When Lewis and Clark found out that he had a Shoshone wife they took interest in him as they would need their help acquiring horses once they reached the Shoshone nation. Sacagawea, who was pregnant, spoke both Shoshone and Hidatsa, Charbonneau Hidatsa and French but did not speak English. Lewis and Clark resorted to Private Francois Labiche, who spoke French and English. The English-Shoshone communication would require a four language chain interpretation.

Picture of Toussaint Charbonneau introducing one of his wives, Sacagawea, to Lewis and Clark. Painting by Split Rock

Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste “Pompy”

Sacagawea gave birth on Monday, February 11, 1805 to a healthy baby boy named Jean Babtiste Charbonneau, nicknamed “Pompy”. His birth was aided by Lewis who described her labor as tedious with violent pain. Lewis wrote in his journal that she was administered small pieces of rattle snake added to a small quantity of water to speed up her delivery. During the expedition Clark became very fond of Jean Babtiste and offered Charbonneau and Sacagawea to give him an education and raise him as his own child.

Sacagawea and new born son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

The following is the journal entry made by Lewis on February, 1805 about the birth of Jean Babtiste:

“about five Oclock this evening one of the wives of Charbono 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 Mr. Jessome informed me that he had freequently admininstered a small portion of the rattle of the rattle-snake, which he assured me had never failed to produce the desired effect, that of hastening the birth of the child having the rattle of a snake by me I gave it to him and he administered two rings of it to the woman broken in small pieces with the fingers and added to a small quantity of water. Whether this medicine was truly the cause or not I shall not undertake to determine, but I was informed that she had not taken it more than ten minutes before she brought forth perhaps this remedy may be worthy of future experiments, but I must confess that I want faith as to it’s efficacy.”

Sacagawea gives birth to her first child - HISTORY

Sacagawea was an interpreter and guide for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition westward from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast. T hough spelled numerous ways in the journals of expedition members, Sacagawea is generally believed to be a Hidatsa name ( Sacaga means “bird” and wea means “woman”). In that case, the third syllable starts with a hard g , as there is no soft g in the Hidatsa language. However, many Shoshone Indians maintain that it is a Shoshone name meaning “boat launcher” and spell and pronounce it “Sacajawea.”

Sacagawea was born circa 1788 in what is now the state of Idaho. When she was approximately 12 years old, Sacagawea was captured by an enemy tribe, the Hidatsa , and taken from her Lemhi Shoshone people to the Hidatsa villages near present-day Bismarck , North Dakota. Following her capture, French -Canadian trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who was living among the Hidatsa , claimed Sacagawea as one of his wives.

In 1803, t he Louisiana Purchase of western territory from France by President Thomas Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the United States. With the acquisition of so much land , it was necessary to determine the actual boundaries of the country . Jefferson hired Virginia’s Meriwether Lewis to explore th e land . Lewis sought out frontiersman William Clark and together they led about 40 men in three boats up the Missouri River . D uring the winter months , L ew is and Clark made the decision to build their encampment, Fort Mandan, near the Hidatsa -Mandan villages where Charbonneau and Sacagawea were living.

Charbonneau proposed that L ewi s and Clark hire him as a guide and interpreter. Charbonneau knew Hidatsa and the sign languages common among the river tribes . Additionally, h is marriage to the Shoshone Sacagawea w ould be useful as they traveled west , where they would likely encounter and need to trade with the Shoshone . L ew is and Clark hired Charbonneau as a member of their expedition, the Corps of Discovery , while Sacagawea was expecting her first child. The Americans stayed in their relatively safe and warm camp through the winter of 1804-05 and waited into the spring so that Sacagawea could accompany them west. On February 11 , 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to a son, Jean -Baptiste Charbonneau , whom Clark later nicknamed "Pomp," meaning "first born" in Shoshone. With her her baby on her back and her husband by her side, Sacagawea and the men left Fort Mandan on April 7 , 1805.

At about 17 years of age, she was the only woman among 31 older men on this portion of the expedition. Each member of the Corps of Discovery was hired for a special skill such as hunting, woodworking, blacksmithing, and sailing. Though Saca g awea ’s role as a guide was limited to the Idaho/Montana region where she had grown up (rather than the entirety of the expedition) , she still proved critical to the Corps . Her knowledge of the Shoshone and Hidatsa languages was a great help during their journey. She communicated with other tribes and interpreted for Lewis and Clark. She was also skilled at finding edible plants , which proved to be crucial to supplementing their rations along the journey. Further, Saca g awea was valuable to the expedition because her presence signified peace and trustworthiness. A group of men traveling with a woman and her baby appeared less menacing than an all-male group , which could be mistaken for a war party . Saca g awea and her baby helped those they encountered feel it was safe to befriend the newcomers. However, d espite all her contributions, only Sacagawea’s husband ever received payment for work on the expedition.

Sacagawea faced the same dangers and difficulties as the rest of the expedition members, in addition to caring for her infant son. During a crisis o n May 14, 1805, Sacagawea showed bravery and clear thinking that earned L ew is and Clark’s praise and gratitude. Charbonneau was steering a boat through choppy waters when a sudden gust of wind caused the boat to tip sideways and fill with water. The expedition ’ s valuable supplies fell into the water and Charbonneau froze. Sacagawea stayed calm and rescued instruments, books, gunpowder, medicines, and clothing from the water . Without these supplies, the expedition would have been in serious trouble.

In July of 1805, the Corps was trave ling up the Missouri River when Sacagawea recognized the three forks of the Missouri River . They were near an area where her people camped. On August 15, 1805, the expedition encountered the Shoshone tribe. Lewis and Clark arranged for a meeting with the chief, Cameahwait, and Sacagawea served as the translator. As she began interpre ting, she realized that the chief was in fact her brother. She ran to embrace him and wept from joy. Though she was moved to tears, she resumed her duty as interpreter. She convinced the Shoshone to provide additional guides and horses to the expedition members.

Sacagawea continued with the Corps of Discover y and the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean on November 15, 1805. Soon after, they needed to determine where they would establish their winter quarters. Clark’s journal shows that Sacagawea contributed to this decision , a sign of the respect the white, male crewmembers held for her knowledge of the land . They built Fort Clatsop near the Columbia River and stayed there until March 23 , 1806.

For the return journey, the Corps divided into two groups , one led by Lewis and the other by Clark. Traveling with Clark, Sacagawea guided his group south of the Yellowstone River by recommending a route through the Rocky M ountains (known today as Bozeman Pass). Clark wrote in his journal on July 13 , 1806:

“The Indian woman . . . has been of great service to me as a pilot through this country.”

The two groups reunited on August 12, 1806 . They arrived at the Hidatsa villages two days later, where Sacagawea and her family departed the expedition. L ew is and Clark prepared for their journey back to St. Louis, but before they left , Clark offered to take Sacagawea’s son Pomp back to St. Louis with him. He would see that Pomp received a good education and would raise Pomp as his own . Sacagawea and Charbonneau felt Pomp was too young ( he was not yet two) but indicated they would bring him to St. Louis when he was older .

Little is known about Sacagawea’s life after the expedition . W hen Pomp was five , Sacagawea and Charbonneau brough t him to St. Louis and left him with Clark to oversee his education. Sacagawea and Charbonneau then went back to the Upper Missouri River area and worked for Manuel Lisa, a Missouri Fur Company trader.

Sacagawea likely gave birth to a daughter named Li s ette in 1812. There is some ambiguity around Sacagawea’s death. Records from Fort Manuel (Manuel Lisa’s trading post) indic ate that she died of typhus in December 1812 . However, according to some Native American oral histories, Sacagawea lived for many more years in the Shoshone lands in Wyoming , until her death in 1884 .

3. Major Contributions

Sacagawea was pivotal in the successes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. She helped them survive by skillfully finding edible plants and, when a boat they were riding on capsized, Sacagawea rescued important documents and supplies of Lewis's and Clark's, who then spoken even more highly of her. When the expedition group encountered a group of Shoeshone indigenous peoples along the way, it was in desperate need to trade for horses in order to cross the Rocky Mountain. Sacagawea soon realized that the leader of the group was actually her brother, Cameahwait, and she facilitated the trade needed in order to help the expedition to move on. She accompanied the expedition until they reached the Mandan people's villages in Oregon.

Sacagewea’s Early Years

Born around 1788 or 1789 into the Lemhi Shoshone band of the Northern Shoshone, Sacagawea was part of the Agaidika people, or "Salmon-eater" Shoshone, and grew up in what is present-day Idaho. Although some accounts suggest that her name is Hidatsa in origin, with "sacaga" meaning "bird" and "wea" meaning "woman," many Shoshone people maintain that it’s a Shoshone name that means "boat launcher" and is pronounced more like "Sacajawea" (via National Women’s History Museum).

"Cagaagawia'sh, in Hidatsa, or Birdwoman, in English, has become an important figure in both American Indian history and identity and as an icon of the women’s suffrage movement," Alisha Deegan (Hidatsa/Sahnish), a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota, and the interpretation and cultural resource program manager at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, told Teen Vogue. Deegan goes on to note that, "There are many questions about Cagaagawia'sh and her life, but what we do know demonstrates that she was an amazing and strong woman."

Around 1800, when she was just 12 years old or so, Sacagawea and several other young Shoshone girls were kidnapped by Hidatsa warriors and, later, enslaved. Over the next few years, Sacagawea became fluent in the Hidatsa language, a form of Siouan language spoken in what is now considered present-day North Dakota.

It’s around this point in her story that details get a bit murkier. However, it is known that around 1803 or 1804, Sacagawea was sold as an enslaved person to, or "won" by, a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. Along with several other unknown Indigenous girls, Sacagawea was made to be one of Charbonneau’s "wives." Although many history textbooks shy away from the truth, playwright and activist Carolyn Gage does not, writing that this was "a formalized child-rape arrangement brokered by adults," adults who also enslaved said child.

The Rulebreaker: Hatshepsut

Rulers in ancient Egypt were male by default, but one woman changed all that. After Pharaoh Thutmose II died in 1479 B.C., Queen Hatshepsut’s two-year-old stepson was named heir, and she became regent. At least, that was the plan. Debate over the exact timing is heated, but scholars agree that Hatshepsut gradually began to rule as a king, crowning herself pharaoh within the first five years of her regency.

For 21 years, Hatshepsut ruled. She made offerings to the gods, negotiated trade, and constructed massive monuments. To solidify her position, she began presenting herself as male in artwork. Statues and reliefs of Hatshepsut depict her wearing pharaonic headdresses, attire, and false beards. A careful manager of public relations, she repeatedly proclaimed that she had taken the throne because the god Amun had willed it.

Later published Sacagawea (1933) novel by Grace Hebard only helped the story of a small Indian woman who showed the way to Lewis and Clark across America.

Feminists and suffragist embraced her as an modern day heroine highlighting the role of women in modern day America.

What started as a minor detail in the tale of Corps of Discovery, soon ended up as an important story in the American history.

Born July 28, 1784 in a Agaidiku tribe of the Lemhi Shoshone. At age of twelve taken or adopted by a Hidatsa tribe.

Sacagawea began her life as a daughter to a Shoshone chief, kidnapped or adopted by Hidatsa tribe then sold and married to a much older French Canadian trapper at her teens.

Sold to her future husband, Toussaint Charbonneau as a slave, Sacagawea accompanied him to an expedition.

She served as a translator, navigator and a medicine woman. She gained trust of the entire party and soon was treated as equal by the other members of the expedition.

She gave birth to her son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, during the trip that covered more than 4500 miles.

Expedition lasted for three years until it reached its conclusion at Fort Clatsop.

Sacagawea returned with her husband to Fort Mandaine after a brief period when they lived at St. Louis where she stayed for period of several years.

Her life ended, by one account, at age of 25 due to a putrid fever complication, and by another, peacefully at an old age in a Shoshone tribe where she supposedly returned.

Modern day America continually pays her tribute with many statues, memorial centers, parks and even a commemorative mint dollar.

She has been a matter of historical debates, figure portrayed in feature length movies, publications and many other art forms.

Lewis and Clark History

Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born Feb.11,1805 in present day North Dakota with the help of Captain Lewis and some rattlesnake tail. 54 days later Sacagawea wrapped Jean Baptiste onto a cradleboard, strapped him on her back and they began the laborious journey to the coast.

  • Lewis and Clark Biography
  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark
  • Thomas Jefferson and Purchase
  • Corps of Discovery
  • Sacagawea
  • Lewis and Clark Among the Tribes
  • York, Clark's man-servant
  • Clark as Cartographer
  • Lewis as Botanist
  • Lewis's Air Rifle
  • E-learning Vignettes
  • Medical Aspects
  • Courts Martial
  • Geology on the Trail
  • 1804 Timeline
  • 1805 Timeline
  • 1806 Timeline
  • Seaman - Lewis's dog
  • Teaching and Lesson Plans
  • Learning Page (LOC)

The first part of Jean Baptiste's life was well documented in the journals of Lewis and Clark.

William Clark took a real liking to the boy and called him "Little Pomp" probably taken from a Shoshoni word meaning "Leader". At the end of the Lewis and Clark adventure, Captain Clark made an offer to Sacagawea to help raise the boy in St. Louis and to give him an education. Sacagawea took him up on the offer and brought Jean Baptiste to St. Louis in 1809, when he was four years old.

By the time Jean Baptiste turned 18 he was living in Kansas City, Kansas area working at a trading post. This is where he met Paul Wilhelm, Duke of Wurttmberg, Germany. The Duke was studying plants and animals in America. Paul Wilhelm was so impressed by Jean Baptiste that he invited him to his home in Germany. In Germany Jean Baptiste learned the language and helped the Duke with his studies. In 1829 Jean Baptiste was back in St. Louis working as a fur trapper and back in the environment he loved.

Jean Baptiste had a few jobs in his lifetime, most were in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing and guiding. One of the few office jobs Jean Baptiste held was that of a public administrator and judge in California. He had a hard time in the position, because he didn't care for the way the local ranchers treated the Indians. This job lasted only a year and soon Jean Baptiste was off to find gold in Sacramento, a place he called home for 18 years.

The gold bug bit again when Jean Baptiste was 61, and he packed up and headed out to find his fortune in Montana. He never made it however. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau died along the trail at Danner, Oregon of pneumonia.

Today, Charbonneau's grave and five others have recently been restored by the Oregon Chapter Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and has been added to the list of famous historical sites.

Visit Pompeys Pillar National Historic Landmark
28 miles east of Billings, Montana

Watch the video: Victoria Scenes. S03E06 - 3X06 - Season 03. Berties Temperance (August 2022).