Discovering Sacagawea

Yesterday we stopped at a traveler’s rest area and History Discovery Centre in Woodbury County, Iowa so Dave could check some maps on his I-Pad.  We hadn’t got our GPS working yet, due to a burned out fuse in our car, so he was still consulting maps on his I-Pad.  The centre was a tribute to Lewis and Clark and told the story of these brave explorers and extraordinary journal keepers who were sent out by President Jefferson to map the Missouri River and evaluate its feasibility as a commerce route. The floor of the centre was designed to look like the Missouri River.

There was a mural of a woman and her baby on the wall of the centre and I picked up a brochure to see who she was. I found out her name was Sacagawea and she was a sixteen year old mother who traveled with Lewis and Clark. The daughter of a Shoshone chief, she was captured by Hidatsa Indians when she was twelve.  They sold her to a French Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau who made her one of his wives. She and her husband were hired as interpreters by Lewis and Clark. Her son Jean Baptiste was born on the expedition and was later adopted and educated by Clark. 

The benches outside the Iowa rest stop were designed to look like the birchbark keel boats the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled in. One of these boats capsized on the trip and it was Sacagawea who jumped into the water to rescue the precious journals that contained Lewis and Clark’s detailed  notes and drawings of the wildlife, plants and Indian tribes they encountered as well as maps of the river and regular entries about all their adventures. 

Thanks to Clark and Lewis’ journals we know about Sacagawea’s other contributions to the expedition. She not only saved the journals after the boat tipped and was an interpreter, she was also skilled at finding edible plants, choosing good spots to camp and her presence and that of her child served as a symbol of peace with the various Indian tribes the expedition encountered. At one point she offered a blue beaded belt she was wearing to a group of Pacific Coast Indians in trade for a beautiful otter skin Lewis and Clark wanted as a gift for President Jefferson. The Lewis and Clark journals record a joyous reunion between Sacagawea and her brother when the expedition meets the Shoshone  tribe to which Sacagawea had belonged before she was kidnapped at age 12 by the Hidatsa Indians.  Unfortunately she died a few years after the Lewis and Clark expedition was over after giving birth to a daughter. 

Sacagawea has been immortalized on an American stamp and her image is on a dollar coin issued in 2000. There are American rivers, lakes and mountains named after her. Dozens of statues of Sacagawea can be found in various American cities. 

What next?  I want to watch some of the movies that have made about Sacagawea as well as read a novel and one of the biographies written about her. 


Filed under History, People

2 responses to “Discovering Sacagawea

  1. Les Brandt

    thanks for the news! always been a big fan of the Lewis and Clark expedition, have read all the journals, named my son Lewis!!

  2. Our family always enjoys the American Rest Areas and all the history you can learn about all because you have to pee!

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