What Lewis and Clark Wrote About Sacagawea Life

What Were the Rolls Played by Sacagawea, Her Husband and Son During in the Lewis and
Clark Expedition?

Sacagawea (also spelled Sagagawea, Sakakawea) was born into a band of Northern Shoshone Indians, whose base
was the Lemhi Valley of central Idaho. Her name translates as "Bird Woman" (Hidatsa) or "Boat Pusher"
(Shoshonean). The Northern Shoshone, sometimes referred to as Snake Indians (a name given them by the
French because of the use of painted snakes on sticks to frighten their enemies), were a wandering people,
living by hunting, gathering, and fishing. As a child, Sacagawea traveled through the mountains and valleys of
Idaho, northwest Wyoming, and western Montana. In 1800, at about age twelve, Sacagawea and her kin were
encamped during a hunting foray at the Three Forks of the Missouri (between modern Butte and Bozeman,
Montana) when they were attacked by a war party of Hidatsas (also called Minnetarees), a Siouan tribe; about
ten Shoshone were killed and Sacagawea and several other children were made captives. Sacagawea was taken
to reside with the Hidatsas at the village of Metaharta near the junction of the Knife and Missouri Rivers (in
modern North Dakota).

Shortly after her capture, Sacagawea was sold as a wife to fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau. A French-
Canadian who had developed skills as an interpreter, Charbonneau had been living with the Hidatsas for five
years. At the time that Sacagawea became his squaw, Charbonneau had one or two other Indian wives.

All that is known of Sacagawea for certain is found in the journals and letters of Meriwether Lewis, William
Clark, and several other participants in the expedition of the Corps of Discovery, 1804-1806, along with meager
references in other sources. The Lewis and Clark party, commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson to find a
route to the Pacific and to make scientific observations along the way, traveled on the first leg of their journey
up the Missouri River to the mouth of the Knife River, near which they established Fort Mandan (near modern
Bismarck, North Dakota) as their winter headquarters. The site was in the vicinity of Mandan and Hidasta
villages. Here the expedition's leaders made preparations for the next leg of their journey and collected
information on the Indians and topography of the far West.

Sacagawea's association with the Lewis and Clark Expedition began on November 4, 1804, when she accompanied
her husband to Fort Mandan. She presented the officers with four buffalo robes. Charbonneau was willing to
serve as interpreter, but only on condition that Sacagawea be permitted to go along on the journey. After
agreeing to those terms, Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau. At Fort Mandan on February 11, 1805, Sacagawea
gave birth to Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. Thus, along with the some thirty men, the "squaw woman" and baby
became members of the exploring group.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition set out from Fort Mandan on April 7, 1805. Charbonneau and Sacagawea at
different times were referred to in the journals as "interpreter and interpretess." Sacagawea's knowledge of
Hidatsa and Shoshonean proved of great aid in communicating with the two tribes with which the expedition
primarily had contact. Later, when the expedition made contact with Pacific Coast Indians, Sacagawea managed
to assist in communicating with those peoples even though she did not speak their language.

Her services as a guide were helpful only when the expedition sought out Shoshone Indians in the region of the
Continental Divide in order to find direction and assistance in leaving the mountains westward. Carrying her baby
on her back in cord netting, Sacagawea stayed with one or several of the main groups of explorers, never
venturing out scouting on her own. Little Baptiste had the run of the camp, and Clark, unlike Lewis, became very
fond of both baby and mother.

Several times on the westward journey Sacagawea was seriously ill, and once she and Baptiste were nearly
swept away in a flash flood. In May of 1805, Sacagawea demonstrated her resourcefulness by retrieving many
valuable articles that had washed out of a canoe during a rainstorm. Lewis and Clark named a stream "Sâh-câ-ger
we-âh (Sah ca gah we a) or bird woman's River," which at a later time was renamed Crooked Creek. Not the least
of Sacagawea's contributions was finding sustenance in the forests, identifying flora that Indians considered
edible. She helped to gather berries, wild onions, beans, artichokes, and roots. She cooked and mended clothes.

Reaching the Three Forks of the Missouri, Sacagawea recognized landmarks and rightly conjectured where the
Shoshone might be during the hunting season. A band of these Indians was found along the Lemhi River.
Sacagawea began "to dance and show every mark of the most extravagant joy . . . sucking her fingers at the same
time to indicate that they were of her native tribe," Clark stated in his journal. The tribe's leader, Cameahwait,
turned out to be Sacagawea's brother. Lewis and Clark established a cordial relationship with Sacagawea's
kinsmen, and were able to obtain twenty-nine horses and an Indian guide through the rest of the mountains.
Coming down from the mountains, the exploring party made dugout canoes at the forks of the Clearwater River,
and then followed an all-water route along that stream, the Snake River, and the Columbia River to the Pacific
Coast. At the mouth of the Columbia River, just below present Astoria, Oregon, the adventurers built Fort
Clatsop, where they spent the winter.

Sacagawea was an important asset as the expedition covered the final phase of the journey. "The wife of
Shabono our interpreter," wrote William Clark on October 13, 1805, "reconsiles all the Indians, as to our
friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token of peace."

Besides her recognition of topography that aided in finding the Shoshones, Sacagawea's other contribution as
guide occurred on the return trip. During the crossing of the eastern Rockies by Clark's party (Lewis took the
more familiar northerly route), while Sacagawea showed Clark the new route from Three Forks through the
mountains by way of the Bozeman Pass to the Yellowstone River. Lewis and Clark reunited near the junction of
the Missouri and the Yellowstone.

Nearing their home, Sacagawea, Charbonneau, and infant Jean-Baptiste stayed with the expedition down the
Missouri River only as far as the Hidatsa villages at the mouth of the Knife River.

On April 17, 1806, the family of Sacagawea "took leave" of the exploring group. Clark offered to take
Sacagawea's baby, whom Clark called "Pomp," with him to St. Louis to be reared and educated as his adopted son.
Sacagawea, who consented to the proposal, insisted that the infant, then nineteen months old, be weaned first.

With the conclusion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, details about Sacagawea's life become very sketchy. In
the fall of 1809, the Charbonneau family visited St. Louis. Charbonneau purchased a small farm on the Missouri
River just north of St. Louis from Captain William Clark, who had been named Indian superintendent for the
Louisiana Territory.

In 1811, Charbonneau sold back the tract to Clark. Sacagawea yearned to return to her homeland. Charbonneau
enlisted in a fur trading expedition conducted by Manuel Lisa. In April of 1811, Sacagawea and Charbonneau
headed up river in one of Lisa's boats. One observer on board at the time commented that Sacagawea appeared

Sacagawea left Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau with Clark in St. Louis. On August 11, 1813, an orphan's court
appointed Clark as the child's guardian. Sacagawea's son went on to have a far-ranging career. At age eighteen,
he joined a western tour of the young Prince Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, and afterward went to Europe,
where he resided with the prince for six years. He returned to America in 1829, and again explored the western
country, then he was employed as a fur trapper for fifteen years by the American Fur Company. He later served
as an army guide during the Mexican War. Joining the gold rush of 1849, Jean-Baptiste set up residence in Placer
County, California. Traveling to the gold mines in Montana in May of 1866, he died of pneumonia. Copyright 2010.

For more details click on the Sacagawea links on the navigation bar at the left.

  • Drumm, Stella M., ed. (1920). Journal of a Fur-trading Expedition on the Upper Missouri: John Luttig, 1812-
    1813. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society.
  • Lewis, Meriwether (1969). Original journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-1806. New York:
    Arno Press.
  • Schroer, Blanche (1970). Boat-pusher or Bird-Woman? Sacagawea or Sacajawea? Annals of Wyoming. 52, 1.
  • Websites:
Native Americans: Culture, Art, Jewelry and Pottery
Sacagawea Title
Sacagawea points the way to the Pacific Ocean
Actors playing Sacagawea and Charbonneau