Women Wednesday: Sacajawea


Sacajawea is probably one of my favorite Native American women.  She was beautiful, kind, and wise.  Her story is sad and there is speculation about her death.  The Shoshone woman is best known for being the guide for Lewis and Clark’s expedition out west.  There is so much more to her than just that.

Sacajawea was born to the Agaidika tribe of the Shoshones around 1788.  She was kidnapped, along with several other young Shoshones from her tribe in 1800 by the Hidatsa who turned around and gambled her to a Quebec trapper Toussaint Charbonneau who had purchased another Shoshone woman, Otter Woman from the Hidatsa.  He took both women as his wives.  Sacajawea was 13 years old.

In the winter of 1804-05 Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were searching around the Hidatsa villages for guides and translators for their expedition.  They interviewed several but decided on Charbonneau.  They were happy to learn that he had a wife who spoke Shoshone because they would need the help of the Shoshone to get through the headwaters of Missouri.

Sacajawea gave birth on the beginning of the expedition to John Baptiste Charbonneau on February 11th 1805 as recorded by Lewis.  He was called Little Pomp or Pompy by Clark and other settlers.  He would also continue the trek with his 17 year old mother.


Sacajawea saved their hides in many ways many different times. They capsized once and she saved their journals and records(which is extremely important when discovering land) and many other things. This happened in the Missouri River that was named the Sacajawea in honor of this heroic feat.

In August of 1805 her assistance was needed by the already weak and tired camp to interpret with a group of Shoshones to barter for some horses to get through the Rocky Mountains.  She discovered the chief was none other than her brother.  They agreed to barter for the horses and show them over the Rockies.  This venture was so tough they were reduced to eating tallow candles.  Once to the other side it was Sacajawea with her knowledge of the land that found the camas roots and prepared them so she could nurse them back to health.

When the Corps finally reached the Pacific Ocean in November the set up fort for the winter.

On the return trip, when the reached the Rockies in July of 1806.  Sacajawea knew the area now and led them though Gibbons Pass so they wouldn’t have to take the treacherous trip through the mountains that nearly took their lives the first time.  Once through they parted ways but she first assisted them on where to go from there.


Although she was very helpful as an interpreter and a guide, she was invaluable as a token of peace.  No war party was going to travel with a woman and her baby.  She was Native which also helped when approaching the tribes.

As a token of his appreciation and friendship, Clark asked the Charbonneaus to move to Missouri and he actually wanted their son who he loved as his own.  In 1809 they did move to Missouri and entrusted Clark with Jean Baptiste’s education.  Sacajawea gave birth to a little girl in 1810 who was call Lizette.  Sacajawea passed away in 1812 from a fever, still longing for the people she was taken from 12 years ago.

After her death Clark became the guardian of her children.  It is believed that Lizette died in childhood but Jean Baptiste lived a full life as an adventurer, an explorer, and friend of royalty.

It is believed by oral Shoshone and Comanche tradition that Sacajawea may have left Charbanneau to find her own people in 1812.  By this oral tradition it is said that she married into the Comanche and actually died on April 9th 1884.  By this tradition she was said to have many children but left the Comanche when her husband had died.  She was called Porivo.  After his death she is said to have gone to the Shoshone onto a reservation.  There is some credibility to this, but it is found more likely she died in 1812.


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