|WHAT HAPPENED TO SACAGAWEA AFTER THE EXPEDITION RETURNED?
Having acquired the taste of freedom and equality, Sacagawea would find that the white world no longer
needed the services of a young Native American. She remained living with her controlling and abusive,
polygamous husband, Charbonneau and his several "Squaw" wives, until her death at about age 24, 6 years
after the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Her legend began to grow immediately, and nobody wanted to believe she was dead. Sacagawea's death in
1812 was not accepted by White or Native American peoples until historical documents were unearthed
by historians and publicized in the middle of the 20th century.
When writer Henry Brackenridge met Charbonneau and Sacagawea in 1811, he described her as a "good
creature, of a mild and gentle disposition, greatly attached to the whites, whose manners and dress she
tries to imitate, but she had become sickly, and longed to revisit her native country." She would be dead
within a year.
CONTROVERSY: WHEN DID SACAGAWEA DIE?
An 1811 journal entry made by Henry Brackenridge, a fur dealer at Fort Manual Lisa Trading Post on the
Missouri River, stated that both Sacagawea and Charbonneau were living at the fort.
On December 20, 1812, at the frontier trading post on the Missouri River in present Corson County,
South Dakota, trapper John Luttig recorded a historic journal entry: "this Evening the Wife of
Charbonneau a Snake Squaw [the common term used to denote Shoshone Indians], died of a putrid fever
she was a good and the best Women in the fort, aged abt 25 years she left a fine infant girl." Luttig was
a clerk for Manuel Lisa with an eye for detail, even listing the cause of death--"putrid fever"--which
probably meant typhoid fever. (Drumm, 1920)
Luttig ignited a long controversy by not naming the wife who died(Charbonneau had more than one), leaving
some to doubt that he was describing Sacagawea. In a book published in 1933, Grace Hebard theorized
that Sacagawea lived a long life and did return to her Shoshone people in Wyoming, where she died at 100
years of age in 1884.
Researchers needed to dig deeper. They theorized that William Clark, who remained close to Sacagawea,
was certainly in a position to know what became of her. Checking Clark's records they found a list of the
expedition members which he compiled between 1825 and 1828. In it, Clark noted: "Se-car-ja-we-au
HISTORIANS FOUND ADDITIONAL EVIDENCE OF SACAGAWEA"S DEATH
Documents held by Clark show that her son Baptiste had already been entrusted by Charbonneau
into Clark's care for a boarding school education, at Clark's insistence (Jackson, 1962). In
February 1813, two months after Luttig's journal entry, Fort Manual Lisa, located along the
Missouri River where many tribes made their home, was attacked by hostile Indians killing
15 men (Anderson, 1973). The survivors included John Luttig and Sacagawea's infant daughter.
Charbonneau was presumed dead (Drumm, 1920). However, Sacagawea is not mentioned.
Explorer William Clark Adopts Both of Sacagawea's Children
Also, an historical court document demonstrates that Sacagawea was already dead. An adoption
document made in the Orphans Court Records in St. Louis, Missouri states that "On August 11, 1813,
William Clark became the guardian of "Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, a boy about ten years, and Lizette
Charbonneau, a girl about one year old."
Source: Original Adoption Documents. Orphans Court Records, St. Louis, Missouri. August 11, 1813.
For a Missouri State Court at the time, to designate a child as orphaned and to allow an adoption, both
parents had to be confirmed dead in court papers. The last recorded document citing Sacagawea's
existence appears in William Clark's original notes written between 1825-1826.
Clark, a meticulous record keeper, wrote down a list of the expedition members and their last known
whereabouts as of 1825. For Sacagawea he writes: "Se car ja we au- Dead" (Jackson, 1962). Therefore,
she could not have died with the Shoshone as an old woman in 1878.
This document, the adoption record, and the three independent journal entries verify the historical
belief that Sacagawea died of disease while still young, having been left unappreciated and in obscurity
at the South Dakota trading post called Fort Manuel Lisa.
THE SHOSHONE- SACAGAWEA'S BIRTH TRIBE BELIEVE SHE RETURNED HOME
AND DIED AT 78 YEARS OLD
The Shoshone Tribal oral history (they did not have a written language), states that Sacagawea did not
die in 1812, but lived to a ripe old age. A burial plot marker on the Shoshone Wind River Reservation in
Wyoming proclaims that she died at age 78, on April 9, 1884. It is based on two unsubstantiated beliefs.
One is an oral, unwritten Tribal legend that states an old woman claiming to be Sacagawea, had lived
among them well into old age.
The other is a second-hand recollection made by a minister 23 years later in 1907, Rev. John Roberts,
who said he had buried an old Indian woman on the Wind River Reservation and that people had told him
that she was Sacagawea (Hebard, 1907). The truth came out in 1945, when Rev. Roberts was asked by an
historian, Blanche Schroer, and he honestly replied that, "All I know is I buried an old Indian woman. The
historian [Grace Raymond Hebard] told me she was Sacajawea" (Schroer, 1970, 1977).
Wishful thinking by a proud tribe may have understandably affected this web of miss-beliefs.
Because of this deception, a modern day burial site was erected on the Shoshone Reservation, in
Wyoming, and it is complete with a memorial plaque stating her long life. The truth is that
Sacagawea was not buried in Wyoming, nor was she born there, and her Shoshone Tribe did not
inhabit Wyoming at the time of Sacagawea's life.
During her childhood, the Shoshone were in Montana and Idaho, where their villages dotted the
meadowlands near the junction of the Salmon and Lemhi Rivers. Evidence that Sacagawea's Band of
Shoshone lived in this area and not in Wyoming, is confirmed by both Lewis and Clark in their daily
journals. They recorded the fact that as the Expedition proceeded up the Jefferson River, Sacagawea
recognized a large rock formation called "Beaver's Head" and that she announced that her tribe would be
found on "a river beyond the mountains and running to the west." This soon proved true. And not only was
the Shoshone Tribe of her childhood in the area as she had predicted, but the explorers soon discovered
that her brother Cameahwait had become their Chief (Lewis, 1969).
Knowing the "slave-like" treatment commonly given to females in the Shoshone Band of Sacagawea's
origin, as described in journal notes by several Expedition members, the false monument appears to
serve merely a commercial and sentimental cause. The truth is, that nobody cared enough about her life
after the Expedition, either white or Native American, to make significant notice and appreciation of the
important details of her life and her death.
Sacagawea's female status and her ethnic identity in the early 1800's, kept her in the background
of both white and tribal society. Only after the Expedition's incredible value became popularly,
and politically well accepted, did Sacagawea's personal courage, sacrifices and contributions to
the opening of the West gain the recognition they deserve.
CONCLUSIONS ABOUT SACAGAWEA'S DEATH BASED ON HISTORICAL EVIDENCE
Historical evidence points to the fact that Sacagawea did die of an illness in December 1812, although
some argue that she was killed February 1813, in a raid by hostile Indians on Fort Manuel, South Dakota,
where she, Charbonneau and her infant daughter “Lizzette” were living. Lizzette and Charbonneau are
listed as having survived the Indian massacre, but Sacagawea's name is not listed as being killed
in the raid and she is not listed as being a survivor.
Most historians today believe this is because she had died of an illness two months before the raid.
And historians agree that all written records, especially those surrounding the determination of her
children as being orphans in 1813, and that no further mention is made of her as being alive in any
written record or diary, point to the fact that she was gone by late 1812 or early 1813. The majority
of historians accept the December 1812 date.
WHAT HAPPENED TO BAPTISTE AFTER THE DEATH OF HIS FAMILY?
During the 1805 Lewis and Clark Expedition, Captain Clark had become attached to Sacagawea’s infant
son, Jean Baptiste, whom he nicknamed “Pompey.&
the Expedition began in 1805. He was carried by Sacagawea in an Indian backboard to the Pacific Ocean
and back, as the Corp of Discovery searched for a path to the Pacific Ocean.
On the trip home, Clark enjoyed Baptist's obvious intelligence and developing curiosity about the world
around him. Clark named a rock formation on the south side of the Yellowstone River, as well as
a nearby creek after Baptiste. Today, the rock formation is called “Pompeys Tower.” Clark carved his
own name and birthdate on the “Tower,” and this inscription is now covered in glass for tourists to see.
Jean Baptiste, called Pompey or Baptiste, would become a restless, adventurous adult who seemed
to be searching his whole life for an elusive “something.”
While working as guides on a Missouri Fur Company boat in 1811, Charbonneau and Sacagawea had
traveled to the upper Missouri country. At Captain Clark’s urging, Baptiste was left in Clark’s
care so that he could be educated at a boy’s school in St Louis. Baptiste would never see his
Returning from the Missouri river trip, Sacagawea, Lizzette and Charbonneau lived in Fort Manuel,
while Baptiste remained at school in St. Louis. This is where Baptiste was when Sacagawea died of an
illness and his father and sister were killed in the Indian raid on Fort Manuel.
At age 18, Baptiste left school for the frontier life. He lived in a trader’s village at the mouth of the
Kansas River, when he met a Germen Prince who was on a scientific journey across America. The Prince
was drawn to Baptiste because of his reputation on the Expedition and his good frontiersman skills. The
Prince had Baptiste accompany him to Europe where he spent 6 years learning 4 languages and enjoyed
the lifestyle of European royalty.
While in Europe, Baptiste fathered a child out of wedlock, with a woman named Anastasia Katharina Fries
on February 20, 1829. Named Anton Fries, the child died in infancy on May 15, 1829 in Bad Mergentheim,
Shortly after the infant’s death, Baptiste returned to America, leaving behind his European manners,
interests and the mother of his dead son. For many years he became a rough mountain man hunting,
trapping and exploring the Western frontier.
In 1846, Baptiste lead a battalion of Mormons from New Mexico to California where he was appointed
Alcalde (a position similar to a magistrate), of the San Louis Rey Mission. However, he did not approve of
the way California Indians were treated in the Missions and left to seek his fortune in the California gold
A record in 1861 shows that Baptiste did not get rich in his hunt for California gold, instead he became a
clerk in a hotel in Auburn, California for 6 years.
Baptiste left California in 1866, with two fellow gold seekers following their dreams to find richness in
the Montana gold fields. Still young at heart, the trip was hard on Baptiste’s body which was that of an
On the way to Montana, Baptiste contracted pneumonia and died May 16, 1866 at 61 years old. He was
buried in the remote Jordan Valley near Danner, Oregon.
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Clark. New York: Heritage Press.
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R. G., Early Western Journals. Cleveland: A. H. Clark.
Colby, Susan (2005). Sacagawea's Child, The Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste(Pomp) Charbonneau.
Drumm, Stella M., ed. (1920). Journal of a Fur-trading Expedition on the Upper Missouri: John
Luttig, 1812-1813. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society.
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of American History.
Jackson, Donald, ed. (1962). Letters of the Lewis & Clark Expedition With Related Documents:
1783-1854. Champaign/Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
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York: Arno Press.
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Burial. Montana, the Magazine of Western History, 27, 2.
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Wyoming. 52, 1.
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