Here you will find the archives, the stories and legends that make the Lewis and Clark journey a thrilling adventure that you can re-live today, by reading about the Corps of Discovery, by planning a trip through our great nation and recreating their great adventure while making a great adventure of your own.

Sacajawea
by Richard M. Young

Lewis and Clark Expedition

In November 1804 Charbonneau and one of his two woman were engaged by Lewis & Clark to accompany them and act as interpreter among the Indians. Sacajawea and Charbonneau represented vital links in an involved chain of interpretive measures that would be required to communicate with Indians on the westward journey.

Job of Interpreter

The interpretive process was complicated because of the limited language knowledge of the parties involved. The Frenchman Charbonneau was conversant in French and Hidatsa, but spoke no English. Sacajawea spoke both Hidatsa and Shoshoni, but neither French nor English. This was resolved through a third person, Private Francois Lebiche, a member of the expedition, of French and Omaha Indian extraction, who spoke French and some English.

The process went as follows: “I spoke . . . to Labiche in English — he translated it to Charboneau in French — he to his wife in Minnetaree — she in Shoshoni to the Indians.”

 

Sacajawea’s Son: Pompy

Sacajawea gave birth to a son on February 11, 1806 and Charbonneau named him Jean Baptiste, but Sacajawea called him Pomp or Pompy. The infant member of their expedition was a delight to his exploring companions and held an affectionate place in all their hearts.

Sacajawea Ill at Great Falls

Sacajawea became very ill at the Great Falls of the Missouri and wasn’t expected to live. There was great concern among the men as to the fate of the baby. The Captains also were very concerned because she was their vital link to the Shoshoni Indians. Captain Clark bled her three different times and Captain Lewis spent much time treating her with salves and ointments. It wasn’t until they gave her mineral water from a spring close by, that she began to get better. The spring today bears the name “Sacagawea Spring”.

Sacajawea Meets Her Shoshone Brother

From the Nicholas Biddle Journal published in 1914 we read the historical melodrama of the reunion of Sacajawea and her brother, Cameahwait, when the Lewis and Clark Expedition met his band of Shoshoni’s in the mountains of Montana. Sacajawea was called upon to be an interpreter at a meeting of the captains and the Chief:

She came into the tent, sat down, and was beginning to interpret, when, in the person of Cameahwait, she recognized her brother.  She immediately jumped up, and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket, and weeping profusely. The Chief was himself moved, though not in the same degree. After some conversation between them she resumed her seat and  attempted to interpret for us; but her new situation seemed to over power her, and she was frequently interrupted by her tears.

Sacajawea Comes Home

Sacajawea spent several days with her Shoshoni people while the expedition did portage their supplies over the Lemhi Pass into the Lemhi Valley.

The decision to take Sacajawea and her infant son on the mission into the unexplored Pacific Northwest proved to be a masterstroke of diplomacy.  Indian groups encountered throughout the journey, befriended the strange assembly of explorers when they sighted Sacajawea and her papoose, as no woman ever accompanied a war party of Indians.  She aided the expedition in many other ways also.  Her knowledge of edible berries, roots and plants, which she collected for food and medicinal use, contributed importantly to the diet and health of the men.

What Was Sacajawea Like?

None of the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition left us a physical description of Sacajawea, however, we can construct a profile of Sacajawea’s behavioral and character traits by piecing together comments about her during the expedition.  She emerges as a faithful, capable, patient and pleasant woman.  In his journal in August 1806 Clark noted that she had been particularly useful among the Shoshones.  He said that she had been born the hardships of the long journey with admirable patience even though encumbered by an infant. Captain William Clark had a compelling fondness for Sacagawea’s son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau that would endure until Clark’s death in 1838.  After paying Touisant Charbonneau for his services at the end of the expedition, Clark offered to take the child, whom he described as…”a butifull, promising child who is 19 months old”…, to raise in a proper manner.  It was agreed that after a year the boy would be old enough to leave his mother, and Charbonneau would take him to Clark.

Although Sacajawea had little knowledge of the country covered by the westward expedition, she was able to identify some significant landmarks from her childhood.  The most important guiding service credited to her by the captains was performed during the return trip when she recommended to Captain Clark certain passes in today’s Big Hole Divide and the Bridger Range.

There is a controversy regarding Sacajawea and the place of her death.  John E. Rees claims that she lived in Wind River, Wyoming, under the name of “Porivo” until her death in 1884.  Statements by William Clark and trader John C. Luttig make it plain that Sacajawea died on December 23, 1812 at Fort manuel in present day South Dakota.  Most scholars now accept Clark’s note on the cover of his Cash Book, That Sacajawea was dead by the 1825-28 period, and Luttig’s note in his journal…”this evening the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake Squaw, died of a putrid fever she was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged abt 25 year. She left a fine infant girl”.  This should be substantial evidence of Sacajawea’s early death.

In the spring of 1813 there was a massacre of the white men at Fort Manuel.  A few escaped by boat and brought the infant girl to St. Louis to Captain Clark.  William Clark thought that Charbonneau was killed at that time and he knew that Sacajawea was dead, so in the fall he legally adopted Baptiste and the infant girl, Lisette.  Lisette must have died a short time later because there is no more written concerning her.

In 1816 Charbonneau did show up again in St. Louis.  From that time until he died in 1843, he was a prominent guide and interpreter for many who traveled west.

On February 8, 1978, the Federal Government entered the Fort Manuel site into the National Register of Historic Places, in formal recognition of Sacajawea’s death  there.

References:
A Charbonneau Family Portrait by Erving W. Anderson
Lewis and Clark Amoung the Indians by James P. Ronda
The Journals of the Expedition by Nicholas Biddle
The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition University of Nebraska Press Articles
from the We Proceeded On publication.

Reprinted By Permission of Lemhi County History Committee
Hon. Fred Snook, Chairman