Sakagawea (1788 – December 20, 1812)
16″ x 20″ oil on canvas
Sakagawea, was a Lemhi Shoshone woman, who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition, acting as an interpreter and guide, in their exploration of the Western United States. She traveled thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean between 1804 and 1806.
Reliable historical information about Sakagawea is very limited. She was born into an Agaidika (Salmon Eater) tribe of Lemhi Shoshone in Lemhi County, Idaho. In 1800, when she was about twelve, she and several other girls were kidnapped by a group of Hidatsa (also known as Minnetarees). She was taken as a captive to a Hidatsa village in North Dakota.
At about thirteen years of age, Sakagawea and another young Shoshone named Otter Woman, were taken as a wives by Toussaint Charbonneau.. Charbonneau, a Quebecer trapper living in the village, was reported to have purchased both wives from the Hidatsa.
In the winter of winter of 1804–05 The Corps of Discovery (commissioned by Thomas Jefferson) and led by Captains Merriweather Lewis, and William Clark arrived near the Hidatsa villages. Their goal was to discover a route to the Pacific Ocean.
Knowing they would need an interpreter and guide they hired Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife Sakagawea. Sakagawea was two months pregnant with her son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, later called “Pomp” when they began their adventure. For most of the two-year expedition Sakagawea carried her son on her back.
We can only imagine the hardships and fears faced by the expedition. Through uncharted lands with extremes in weather, the team labored every mile of the way in areas of unknown inhabitants and dangers. They relied on their combined skills and teamwork to accomplish their mission.
Every day was a struggle. For half of the journey, the men were moving heavily laden vessels against strong currents upstream along some of the most powerful rivers in the country. Weather and terrain caused many hardships for the party. They endured sudden thunderstorms, extreme heat, bitter cold, raging blizzards, hail, and dust clouds
Food was scarce so often that they ate horses and even dogs. In the worst times, they resorted to eating roots, rotten elk, and candles made from animal fat.
Sakagawea was interpreter, and guide but her greatest value to the mission may have been simply her presence during the arduous journey, which showed their peaceful intent. While traveling through what is now Franklin County, Washington, Clark noted, “The Indian woman confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter.”
Noted for her calm nature, her knowledge of plants and animals, as well as her knowledge of the land and languages, Sakagawea must have been a most remarkable young woman.