The Spirit and Legacy of Sacagawea
By: Jenna Ruhlman
A Unique Beginning
According to some sources, Sacagawea was born in 1788. Other sources argue that she was born in 1790. Sacagawea was born the daughter of the chief of the Lemhi band of the Shoshone Indians. Their tribe resided in the Rocky Mountains in the Salmon River region of Idaho. When a bad drought occurred in their homeland, Sacagawea's tribe became nomads, travelling from place to place in order to survive. This allowed Sacagawea to learn and develop many of the same wilderness survival skills that she used while on her journey with Lewis and Clark.
Sacagawea's birth name, given to her by the Shoshone, was "Boinaiv," which means "grass maiden." However, when she was kidnapped at the age of ten, in 1800, by the Hidasta, she was renamed "Sacagawea," which means "bird woman." This moniker is how she is referred to today. The Hidasta were a rival tribe to the Shoshone, and when they kidnapped Sacagawea, they took her to Missouri. There, Sacagawea was purchased by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trapper, who then married her.
The Expedition Commences
The group left from the city of St. Louis, Missouri on May 14,1804. They would not return until September of 1806. After all, they had many tasks to accomplish. Under Jefferson's orders, they were to find a Northwest Passage, which was an all-water route that would take ships across the entire North American continent, a useful tool for trade and transportation to Asia. Lewis and Clark were also asked to make maps and survey the newly acquired land; inspect and observe the native plants, animals, and environment; and greet and learn about the trade and culture of the Native Americans who lived in the area.
Sacagawea Arrives on the Scene
Under Sacagawea's guidance, the group reached the Rocky Mountains in the spring of 1805 and the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805, thus proving that a Northwest Passage did not exist. Throughout the journey, Sacagawea served as an ambassador, symbol of peace, and translator to Native Americans, aiding Lewis and Clark with their goal to become familiar with them. In addition, she served as a navigator after her husband was proved to be not very competent. She also aided the group as a food gatherer and expert in wilderness survival. Not only did Sacagawea help the Corps of Discovery by accompanying them on their expedition, she also helped herself! During the journey, Sacagawea discovered her birth tribe and was reunited with them once more.
Since Sacagawea lived in a time period in which photography did not exist yet, and a culture and environment in which documentation was not a priority, she does not have much official documentation of her life, especially when she was younger. Most of her life story has been passed down by word of mouth and in the letters and notes written by Lewis and Clark during the journey. Sacagawea has become a very important figure in American history and in the hearts of Americans everywhere. She is honored so much that in 2000 she was featured on a special edition U.S. dollar coin.
The Unforgettable Legacy
'The Lewis and Clark expedition traveled nearly 8,000 miles, collecting more than 300 species of plants and animals. They also recorded the first detailed maps of the vast new region. Though they did not discover a Northwest Passage, their incredible journey paved the way for westward expansion.' (History Channel/ A&E Television Networks, LLC). Sacagawea was as much a part of this as any other person on the journey, most would say, a very important part of it. As a translator, peacemaker, guide, and survivalist, Sacagawea was likely the main reason that the expedition was so successful. Due to her passion and spirit, Sacagawea has reaped the reward of her incredible journey and earned a place in America's history books, and hearts, forever.