There are few women in history that I admire as much as I admire Sacagawea. Her story is a short but spectacular one. She has made a major impression not only on me but on our nation’s history as well. I wonder where would be be without her contributions.
Sacagawea was born in Lemhi County, Idaho probably around 1788. She was the daughter of a Shoshone chief and at the age of 12 she was kidnapped by an enemy tribe called the Hidatsa. This tribe took her far away from home to the Dakota region where she was sold to a French fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. She became one of his two wives and soon at the age of 15 was pregnant.
The Corps of Discovery was traveling through the Dakota region as they were mapping out the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. The expedition was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. President Jefferson had instructed the crew to make peace relations with the many native tribes that they would come across. The natives would be important to help them reach the ultimate goal- the Pacific Ocean.
When the Corps reached the Hidatsa-Mandan settlement, Sacagawea, eventually after a very painful, difficult delivery, gave birth to a son. She named him Jean-Baptiste. Lewis and Clark realized that Sacagawea and her husband would be a great asset to their journey. They both could be guides and translators as they continue west. Having a woman and a baby accompany the crew also prevented them from getting attacked by many tribes. Women never accompany a warring party so it made it easier to establish peace and trade with tribes.
Young Sacagawea and her newborn baby traveled west with the crew through many difficult situations. The terrain was treacherous, the weather was bitter cold and food was scarce. One day while they were traveling down the Missouri River, the boat capsized and many of Clark’s important papers and journals were almost lost. Sacagawea, with her baby on back, saved all the important documents. When food became scarce, it was Sacagawea that told then which roots they could eat to survive. When they needed horses to cross the Bitterroot Mountains, it was Sacagawea that helped secure horses from her Shoshone relatives. When the crew was lost and not sure which direction led them toward the Pacific, it was Sacagawea that led the way.
Sacagawea was not required to follow the expedition all the way to the Pacific. She was given the choice to stay with her long lost family when they found the Shoshone. She chose to finish the course.
Sacagawea returned back to the Hidatsa-Mandan Settlement with the crew in 1806. Her husband received land and money for his assistance with the expedition and Sacagawea received nothing. Sacagawea gave birth to a daughter in 1812 and then became ill. It is believed that she died at the age of 25 near Bismark, North Dakota. William Clark became guardian of both her son and daughter.
Sacagawea’s life tells a story. A story of a brave, young girl who was torn away from her family as a child and forced to be a slave. An adventurous teenager who went on a remarkable journey that forever changed the United States. And ultimately a lonely young adult who died receiving no recognition and no compensation for her contributions. Her story is a humbling one. Today, there are museums and statues in her honor, telling the story of this admirable woman’s life and contributions. Sacagawea, your life was not in vain and you will not be forgotten.