Bird Woman, known better by her Hidatsa name Sacagawea, is a near-legendary figure in the history of the American West for her indispensible role on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Born around 1790, she was just a teen when she served as interpreter on the expedition. 

The daughter of a Shoshone chief, Sacagawea was kidnapped by the Hidatsa when she was ten to twelve years old and taken back to their village on the upper Missouri. There, she and another captive girl were purchased and wed by Toussaint Charbonneau, a French Canadian trapper.

Lewis and Clark engaged Sacagewea’s husband Charbonneau as an interpreter for their expedition in 1804, with the understanding that Sacagawea would also accompany them. She would become an invaluable member of the party with her knowledge of the land. And, as Clark noted in his journal, “a woman with a party of men is a token of peace.”

Eight weeks before Lewis and Clark set out from the upper Missouri Sacagawea gave birth to her first child, a son named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau but nicknamed Pompy. Sacagawea carried her infant on a cradleboard as the “Corps of Discovery” headed upriver in April, 1805.

Four months later, when the expedition had reached the navigable limits of the Missouri, Lewis set out to make contact with a Shoshone band, from whom he hoped to obtain horses for their trek across the mountains. When Sacagawea arrived to serve as interpreter, she found the band was led by her older brother, Cameahwait, who had become chief on their father’s death. One might think this wonderful reunion would prompt her to try and return to her people, but instead she helped the explorers secure the horses they needed and journeyed on with them and her husband to the Pacific. This faithfulness and commitment to the expedition have made her an American heroine.

Sacagawea and Charbonneau parted company with Lewis and Clark after the journey, and at this point Sacagawea’s history is unclear. It is believed she died in 1812, at the age of 22 or 24, because the next year, William Clark became legal guardian of Sacagawea’s two children, Pompy and Lisette. Also, in 1820, Clark compiled a list which reported the status of the members of the expedition. On this list, Clark stated Sacagawea had already died. Sacagawea lives on, however, in America’s history. Today, there are twenty three statues honoring Sacagawea in America, more than honor any other woman. There are also mountains, lakes, and rivers named for her. She was young, courageous and faithful, and we respect her for that. In fact, in 2000, the United States Mint commemorated Sacagawea on the Golden Dollar coin with a picture of Sacagawea carrying Little Pomp. Her picture on our currency gives her a place with Presidents, and it’s a place well earned.

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