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SACAJAWEA (c. 1790-1812 - 84?)


SacajaweaIn 1800, a 12 year old Shoshone girl by the name of Sacajawea was abducted by the Hidatsa Indians, later to be sold as a slave to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper, who then married her. When the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery expedition hired Charbonneau as a steersman, Sacajawea joined the team as guide and interpreter. In 1805, while traveling with the expedition, Sacagawea gave birth to her son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau.
The following excerpts from  First Across the Continent: The Story of The Exploring Expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1804-5-6 by Noah Brooks are representative of the importance of Sacajawea to the expedition, and the respect and admiration she earned for her courage and intelligence.

This man's wife, Sacajawea, whose Indian name was translated "Bird Woman," had been captured from the Snake Indians and sold to Charbonneau, who married her. She was "a good creature, of a mild and gentle disposition, greatly attached to the whites." In the expedition she proved herself more valuable to the explorers than her husband, and Lewis and Clark always speak of her in terms of respect and admiration.

The following entry is a good example of Sacajawea's importance to the survival of the expedition.   The journals of Lewis and Clark contain several entries describing events and situations in which Sacajawea prevented the explorers from getting lost, or making other mistakes which would have surely brought the expedition to an untimely end.

This was the narrow escape of one of our canoes, containing all our papers, instruments, medicine, and almost every article indispensable for the success of our enterprise. The canoe being under sail, a sudden squall of wind struck her obliquely and turned her considerably. The man at the helm, who was unluckily the worst steersman of the party, became alarmed, and, instead of putting her before the wind, luffed her up into it. The wind was so high that it forced the brace of the square-sail out of the hand of the man who was attending it, and instantly upset the canoe, which would have been turned bottom upward but for the resistance made by the awning. Such was the confusion on board, and the waves ran so high, that it was half a minute before she righted, and then nearly full of water, but by bailing her out she was kept from sinking until they rowed ashore.  Besides the loss of the lives of three men, who, not being able to swim, would probably have perished, we should have been deprived of nearly everything necessary for our purposes, at a distance of between two and three thousand miles from any place where we could supply the deficiency.

Fortunately, there was no great loss from this accident, which was caused by the clumsiness and timidity of the steersman, Charbonneau. Captain Lewis's account of the incident records that the conduct of Charbonneau's wife, Sacajawea, was better than that of her cowardly husband. He says:--

"The Indian woman, to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard."

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