LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
I GIVE YOU THE ONE AND ONLY
Sacajawea is well-known as the Indian woman who led Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to find the Pacific Ocean. The truth is Her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, was hired as an interpreter and took Sacajawea along. The captains thought she would be useful to help in communicating with some of the Indian tribes they met and also in obtaining horses from her native tribe, the Shoshone. Sacajawea was born about 1790 in what is now the state of Idaho. She was stolen during a raid by a Hidatsa tribe when she was a young girl and taken to their village near what is now Bismark, N. Dakota. Some time afterward the French-Canadian trapper and fur trader, Charbonneau bought Sacajawea and her companion, Otter Woman, as wives. When her husband joined the expedition at Fort Mandan in the Dakotas, Sacajawea was about 16 years old and pregnant.
The expedition spent the winter at Fort Mandan and Sacajawea's baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, was born in 1805. He was also given the Shoshone name, Pomp, meaning First Born.
The expedition resumed the westward trek on April 7, 1805. Their route was along the Missouri River, west to the mountains. On May 14, 1805 an incident occurred which was typical of the calmness and self-possession Sacajawea was to display throughout the journey. The incident was recorded in the diaries because of it's significance to the success of the expedition. On that day, the boat Sacajawea was in was hit by a sudden storm squall. It keeled over on it's side and nearly capsized. As the other members of the crew worked desperately to right the boat, Sacajawea, with her baby strapped to her back, busied herself with retrieving the valuable books and instruments that floated out of the boat. They had been wrapped in waterproof packages for protection and, thanks to Sacajawea's courage and quick actions, suffered no damage. On August 15, 1805 Sacajawea was re-united with her tribe, only to learn that all her family had died, with the exception of two brothers and the son of her oldest sister, whom she adopted. One of her brothers, Cameahwait, was head chief of the Shoshone. The Shoshone chief agreed to sell the party the horses they needed for the trek through the mountains.
After the expedition was over in the summer of 1806, Sacajawea, her husband and son remained at Fort Mandan where Lewis and Clark had found them. In August 1806, Captain Clark wrote to Charbonneau and invited him to come to St. Louis and bring his family, or to send Jean Baptiste to Clark for schooling.
Charbonneau and Sacajawea accepted the offer and lived near St. Louis for a time. In March 1811, however, Charbonneau sold his land back to Clark and returned to the Dakotas with Sacajawea. Their son remained in St. Louis in the care of Cpt. Clark, who was the Indian Agent of the Louisiana Purchase at that time.
What became of Sacajawea after leaving St. Louis? There are two widely varying stories, with no proof of either. The first is that she died on Dec. 20, 1812. This information came from the records of John C. Luttig, the clerk at Ft. Manuel, SD who wrote: "This evening the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake squaw, died of a putrid fever. She was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl." It is a fact that, in March 1813, John Luttig returned to St. Louis with a baby whom he called "Sacajawea's Lizette." In August 1813, he applied to be her guardian, as well as that of a boy called "Toussaint," but the court record shows his name crossed out and Cpt. William Clark's written in. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was often called Toussaint. John Luttig died in 1815.
Shoshone oral tradition says that Sacajawea did not die in 1813, but instead, wandered the west for a few years and eventually returned to her tribe on the Wind River Reservation. Tradition says she died there on April 9, 1884.