Sacagawea was born into a Lemhi (“Salmon Eater”) tribe of Shoshone between Kenney Creek and Agency Creek, near what is now the town of Tendoy in Lemhi County, Idaho. However, when she was about twelve years old, she and several other girls were kidnapped by a group of Hidatsa in a battle that resulted in the death of four Shoshone men, four women and several boys. She was then taken to a Hidatsa village near the present-day Washburn, North Dakota.
At the age of about 13 years old, Sacagawea was taken as a wife by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French trapper living in the village, who had also taken another young Shoshone named Otter Woman as a wife. Charbonneau is said to have either purchased both wives from the Hidatsa, or to have won Sacagawea while gambling.
The Lewis and Clark expedition
Sacagawea was pregnant with her first child when the Corps of Discovery arrived near the Hidatsa villages to spend the winter of 1804-1805. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark built Fort Mandan and interviewed several trappers who might be able to translate or guide the expedition further up the Missouri River in the springtime. They agreed to hire Charbonneau as an interpreter when they discovered his wife spoke the Shoshone language, as they knew they would need the help of the Shoshone tribes at the headwaters of the Missouri.
- “a French man by Name Chabonah, who speaks the Big Belly language visit us, he wished to hire and informed us his 2 squars were snake Indians, we engage him to go on with us and take one his wives to interpret the Snake language…” [sic]
Charbonneau and Sacagawea moved into the fort a week later. Lewis himself assisted at the birth of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau on February 11, 1805, administering crushed rattlesnake rattles to speed the delivery. The boy was called “Little Pomp” or “Pompy”, meaning “first-born”, by Clark and others in the expedition.
In April, the expedition left Fort Mandan and headed up the Missouri River in pirogues, which had to be poled and sometimes pulled from the riverbanks. On May 14, 1805, Sacagawea rescued items that had fallen out of a capsized boat, including the journals and records that Lewis and Clark were keeping. The corps commanders, who praised her quick action on this occasion, would name the Sacagawea River in her honor on May 20.
By August 1805 the corps had located a Shoshone tribe and was attempting to trade for horses to cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacagawea was brought in to translate, and it was discovered the tribe’s chief was her brother, Cameahwait.
Lewis recorded the reunion in his journal:
- “Shortly after Capt. Clark arrived with the Interpreter Charbono, and the Indian woman, who proved to be a sister of the Chief Cameahwait. The meeting of those people was really affecting, particularly between Sah cah-gar-we-ah and an Indian woman,  who had been taken prisoner at the same time with her, and who had afterwards escaped from the Minnetares and rejoined her nation.”
And Clark in his:
- “August 17 Saturday 1805 The Intertrepeter & Squar who were before me at Some distance danced for the joyful Sight, and She made signs to me that they were her nation […] the meeting of those people was really affecting, particularly between Sah cah-gar-we-ah and an Indian woman, who had been taken prisoner at the same time with her, and who had afterwards escaped from the Minnetares[Hidatsa] and rejoined her nation…”
As the expedition approached the mouth of the Columbia River, Sacagawea gave up her beaded belt in order to allow the captains to trade for a fur robe they wished to return to President Jefferson. The journal entry for November 20, 1805 reads:
- “one of the Indians had on a roab made of 2 Sea Otter Skins the fur of them were more butifull than any fur I had ever Seen both Capt. Lewis & my Self endeavored to purchase the roab with differant articles at length we precured it for a belt of blue beeds which the Squar—wife of our interpreter Shabono wore around her waste….
When the corps reached the Pacific Ocean at last, all members of the expedition—including Sacagawea and Clark’s black manservant York—were allowed to participate in a November 24 vote on the location where they would build their fort for the winter. In January, when a whale’s carcass washed up onto the beach south of Fort Clatsop, she insisted upon her right to go visit this great wonder.
On the return trip, as they approached the Rocky Mountains in July of 1806, Sacagawea advised Clark to cross into the Yellowstone River basin at what is now known as Bozeman Pass, later chosen as the optimal route for the Northern Pacific Railway to cross the continental divide.
Later life and death
Charbonneau and Sacagawea spent three years among the Hidatsa after the expedition, before accepting William Clark’s invitation to settle in St. Louis, Missouri in 1809. They entrusted Jean-Baptiste’s education to Clark, who enrolled the young man in the Saint Louis Academy boarding school.
Sacagawea gave birth to a daughter, Lizette, sometime after 1810. According to Bonnie “Spirit Wind-Walker” Butterfield, historical documents suggest Sacagawea died in 1812 of an unknown sickness:
- “An 1811 journal entry made by Henry Brackenridge, a fur dealer at Fort Manuel Lisa Trading Post on the Missouri River, stated that both Sacagawea and Charbonneau were living at the fort. He recorded that Sacagawea “…had become sickly and longed to revisit her native country.” The following year, John Luttig, a clerk at Fort Manuel Lisa recorded in his journal on December 20, 1812, that “…the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake Squaw [the common term used to denote Shoshone Indians], died of putrid fever.” He went on to say that she was “aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl”. 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).”
A few months later, fifteen men were killed in an Indian attack on Fort Lisa, located at the mouth of the Bighorn River. John Luttig and Sacagawea’s young daughter were among the survivors. Some say Toussaint Charbonneau was killed at this time; others say he signed over formal custody of his son to Clark in 1813.
As further proof that Sacagawea died at this time, Butterfield says:
- “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 “Tousant Charbonneau, a boy about ten years, and Lizette Charbonneau, a girl about one year old.” 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. He lists the names of each of the expedition members and their last known whereabouts. For Sacagawea he writes: “Se car ja we au- Dead” (Jackson, 1962).”
It is not believed that Lizette survived childhood, as there is no later record of her among Clark’s papers.
We are reading the Start to Finish novel Sacajewea. Tell me what has happened so far in the story? Give details about this story.