The Expanding Nation
One of the more famous women of the American West is Sacagawea, the only woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark expedition. A member of the Shoshoni tribe, Sacagawea served as a guide and interpreter to the expedition. Her help proved essential to the expedition’s success.
Many details of Sacagawea’s life are not well-known. Historians know, however, that she was born in a Shoshoni village somewhere near modern-day Lemhi, Idaho, around 1787. In 1800 a war party of Hidatsas Indians captured Sacagawea and many others from her village. She was taken to a Hidatsas village near the mouth of the Knife River. There she and another girl were sold to a Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, who married both women.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark later hired Charbonneau to be the interpreter for their expedition. Sacagawea joined the expedition because she had come from territory near the Rocky Mountains and spoke both Shoshoni and Minitari. In addition, Lewis and Clark believed that having a woman accompany them would indicate to other tribes that their mission was peaceful.
Sacagawea’s services proved extremely valuable. When the expedition came to the main village of the Shoshoni, Sacagawea worked as their interpreter. With her help the expedition hired a Shoshoni guide and traded with the Indians for riding and pack horses. Happily, Sacagawea was reunited with her brother, Cameawhait, who was now chief of the tribe. Although Sacagawea may have been tempted to rejoin her family and her people, she decided to continue on with the expedition.
Although the expedition successfully reached the Pacific Ocean, President Thomas Jefferson—who had supported the exploration—was disappointed to find that there was not an easy route across the West. In return for their work, most members of the expedition were given grants of land. Sacagawea, however, was never compensated for her services. The remaining years of Sacagawea’s life were spent accompanying her husband as he sought his fortune. In 1812 the couple and their infant daughter joined a friend near the present-day North and South Dakota border. It is there that an account of Sacagawea’s death was recorded. A clerk wrote that the wife of Charbonneau died of a very high fever, and that her infant daughter was taken to St. Louis and placed under the guardianship of William Clark. Although this has been the accepted account of her death, some people believe that Sacagawea returned to the Shoshoni and lived among them until she was 100 years old. She is thought to be the woman known as “Bazil’s Mother,” who was buried in the Shoshoni burial grounds in 1884.
No other American woman has been honored with so many memorials. A river, a mountain peak, and a mountain pass have all been named after Sacagawea. There are two bronze statues—one in Portland, Oregon, and the other in Bismarck, North Dakota. A boulder is dedicated to her at Three Forks, Montana, as are a monument at Armstead, Montana, a public fountain in Lewiston, Idaho, and a cement shaft at her supposed grave on the Shoshoni reservation.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU READ After you have finished reading the selection, answer the following questions in the space provided using complete sentences.
1. Which Native American tribe did Sacagawea belong to? Where did they live?
2. How did Sacagawea help the Lewis and Clark expedition? How was she rewarded for
3. What are the two stories of Sacagawea’s death? Why do you think there is more than
one story about her death?
4. List some of the monuments that have been built to Sacagawea.