Sacagawea - The Only Woman to Travel With the Corps of Discovery

The Life of Sacagawea

The only woman to travel with the Corps of Discovery, Sacagawea was born in Lemhi County, Idaho, around 1788 (some sources say 1786 and 1787). She was a Shoshone interpreter who became famous for her role on the Lewis and Clark expedition.

An Essential Member of the Team

A teenager when she embarked on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Sacagawea was one of the most important members of the team. She was an excellent trapper, knew how to hunt and fish, and could speak the Shoshone and Hidatsa languages. She was also a new mother, which made her the ideal person to accompany the expedition on their journey across the American West.

A Journey of Captivity and New Beginnings

She was captured by Hidatsa Indians in 1800 and enslaved. She was taken to their Knife River earth-lodge villages near present-day Bismarck, North Dakota. She was later purchased by French Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau and became one of his plural wives.

After marrying Charbonneau, she lived in Metaharta, a Hidatsa village near the Knife River, and eventually traveled to the Missouri River's headwaters. At the headwaters, she was reclaimed by her native Shoshone tribe.

Life After the Expedition

It is unclear where she and her son went after their return to the Shoshone, but it is likely that they settled in what is now Montana or Idaho. There is evidence that she married again, but that marriage may not have been legal and her husband was not a good family man.

The Shoshone Tribe

The Shoshone tribe was a sedentary people, meaning they lived in small villages and did not move from place to place as many other Plains Indian tribes did. They were primarily a hunting and fishing people, but they also cultivated corn, beans, and squash. They traded with English and French traders, and they maintained their lodges.

Assistance on the Journey

When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled up the Missouri River in 1804, they stayed at the Mandan-Hidatsa villages for the winter. They hired Charbonneau as a guide, but they were not sure if he could speak their languages. They hoped that Sacagawea, who had been traveling with them since November 1804 and was about to give birth, would be able to help them. She was able to speak both her Hidatsa and Shoshone languages, and she helped them find horses that would help them traverse the mountains to Fort Clatsop near present-day Portland.

They reached the Pacific Ocean on November 15, 1805. She helped them determine where they should establish their winter quarters, which they built at Fort Clatsop on the Columbia River.

Prized Skills and Admirable Actions

She was an expert at navigating choppy water, so she rescued all of the expedition's instruments and supplies that fell into the water. She was praised by her crewmembers for her bravery and clear thinking in the face of danger.

A Token of Gratitude

At the end of the trip, Sacagawea gave Captain Clark a dozen white weasel tails as a sign of her respect for his leadership. She also presented him with a pair of eagle feathers to show her gratitude.

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