Her importance to the expedition

Rusty Talbot Statue of Sacagawea

Carol Lynn MacGregor, Historian

Amy Mossett, Mandan Hidatsa Historian and Storyteller

Keith Bear: Mandan/Hidatsa, Musician

David Borlaug: President of The Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation

Gary Moulton: Historian

Sacagawea in the Journals


Carol Lynn MacGregor, Historian

No American woman has more statues in her honor than Sacagawea. Soon, it appears, she will grace a more successful dollar coin: gold, not to be confused with quarters. That she is from Idaho and an American Indian makes this fact projection happy ones.

However, her service to the Corps of Discovery from the Mandan villages and back deserves merit for other reasons than "guide."

Yes, she recognized the Beaver Point and knew it was near her people. And she could testify that a moccasin found on the Upper Missouri did not belong to her people. She knew what was edible along the route and often helped by gathering greens, berries and the like to eat.

She rescued lost articles from the perogue, something greatly appreciated by William Clark, whom she presented with ermine skins and Christmas of 1806 at Fort Clatsop, which she had caught and fashioned in a garment for him. Clearly, Clark had been kind to her and her child; a treatment to which she was not accustomed. (He mentioned "checking" their interpreter, Charbonneau for "striking his woman" on one occasion.)

Sacagawea became a member of the "Corps of Discovery" when Lewis learned at the Mandan village that it was 800 miles to the Great Falls, another 100 miles to the Stony Mountains, and that they would need horses to cross those mountains, something the Snakes (Lemhi Shoshone) of Sacagawea's tribe possessed.

Lewis wrote those facts to Jefferson in the letter returned by keelboat. Those projections he had learned during the winter undoubtedly prompted him to consider inclusion of her with Charbonneau to complete an interpreter's circle: English (Lewis) to French (Labiche) to Hidatsa (Charbonneau) to Shoshone (Sacagawea). Little did it concern him that she had a child to carry; yet when the child became ill, it became a concern to all. That's because the most important service that Sacagawea rendered came with her presence: a woman with child announced to the Indians that the Corps of Discovery did not constitute a war party.


Amy Mossett is a Mandan/Hidatsa Tribal Historian. She is member of the Ft. Bethal Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee and a Storyteller of Sacagawea.

"One of the roles that she played that a whole lot of people don't talk about is the presence of her and a child reminded all of those men, those rugged frontiers men, those adventurers, explorers why they were really on the expedition. They were out there trying to carry out a vision. A vision not just for the President or Congress, it was for this entire country. Having this woman and her baby along on the expedition really reminded these men why we go out and do the things we do. Why we go out and work so hard at what we do to accomplish things to make life better for everybody. Definitely not for ourselves and not just for our children and our grandchildren but for everybody's children.

Was Sacagawea hired as a guide?

"Lewis and Clark were very happy to learn that Charbonneau could understand the Hidatsa language. He wasn't an English speaker but he did understand Hidatsa and he understood Mandan. The information that they wanted from the Hidatsa and the Mandan was very important so I think they were very pleased to hire him and to find him but I think they were even more pleased when they found out that he had a Shoshoni speaking wife. The reason for that of course, is they knew that eventually they were going to encounter the Shoshoni and they needed horses to cross the mountains and they needed to negotiate with the Shoshoni for those horses. And what better way to negotiate than to bring back their daughter".


Keith Bear, Mandan/Hidatsa Musician and Storyteller

"While she was here, she learned a lot of medicine from the earth, from the ground. And I'm sure she did from her people up there in the mountains too so as they traveled along wherever they went, if they needed medicine for the cramps or the boils and the things that they had, this young woman would find those things. When they were hungry, very, very hungry, she would find nuts, and she would find roots, and she would find berries, and she would set traps and fish things and get those things and feed those men. She made a lot of clothing for them and showed them how to make their own clothing. This was a very ingenious young woman and it was serendipitous, I guess, for them to take her along. She ended up being so valuable by the contributions she made along the way".


David Borlaug, President of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Foundation and the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council in Ft. Bethal, North Dakota.

"She saved the journals (May 14 &16, 1805) from floating down the Missouri River when nobody else would jump into the water. With a baby on her back she waded into the river and retrieved medical instruments, other instruments and the journals themselves. She saved them from near starvation on more than one occasion just with her skills, her native skills of digging roots and other plant specimens to feed them".

"She simply was a great presence. An Indian woman with a child on her back for all these other Indian Tribes to take note of. This could not be a war party, it had to be a party of peace".


Gary Moulton, Historian

"Sacagawea was of great assistance to the expedition. She was part of the reason they had good relations with other native tribes because they were a party with women and children. They obtained horses from the Shoshoni- The Shoshoni didn't feel like they had that many horses to give so they had to do some hard bargaining.

One of the things that really helped them was that Sacagawea turned out to be the sister of the Lemhi Chief Cameahwait, so that really gave them an on tray to the tribe that under normal circumstances they wouldn't have had so they were able to do better in terms of gaining horses".

"It was manifest destiny that Sacagawea meet her brother Cameahwait. Her greatest contribution to the expedition accrued on August 25. Sacagawea overheard the Shoshoni's plans to leave for the buffalo hunting grounds. She immediately tells her husband Charbonneau. After an inexcusable delay, Charbonneau tells Captian Lewis. The news shocks Lewis as it would mean that the expedition would be left stranded without horses. A devastating disaster is narrowly averted. Lewis credits Sacagawea with saving the expedition because of her ability to speak and understand the Shoshoni language".

"Sacagawea's story is a great human drama. She was a teenager with a baby and she had three strikes against her. She was a woman, an Indian and a slave".


These are some of the dates that Sacagawea is mentioned in the journals.

Sunday, November 4, 1804
A French-Canadain Tossaint Charbonneau, visits with the two explorers. He wants to hire on as an interpreter and guide. Although he has two Shoshoni Indian wives, the explorers engage Charbonneau and one of his wives who would be needed to interpret the Shoshoni language when the explorers entered that territory.

Monday, February 11,1805
About 5:00 P.M. Sacagawea, one of the wives of Charbonneau gives birth to her first born, a fine boy. It was a tedious labor, marked with violent pain.

Tuesday, April 1, 1805
Preparations begin to break camp and head up the Missouri River. Charbonneau will take his two wives with him. Charbonneau speaks to his wives in Hidatsa. That means Sacagawea will speak to the Shoshoni people in their language, Translate it into French for Labiche, and Labiche will translate it into English for the captains.

Tuesday, April 9, 1805
When they pull over for supper, Sacagawea immediately searches for food. She takes a sharp stick and begins digging in the ground near small piles of driftwood. She knows mice hide large quantities of roots in these locations. Soon Sacagawea gathers a good supply of what Lewis calls edible wild artichoke roots.

Wednesday May 8, 1805
As Clark and the Charbonneau family walk along the shore, Sacagawea stops and begins gathering roots along the hillside. One root is wild licorice. The captains taste a second specimen-a white appleroot, a kind of breadroot.

Tuesday, May 14,1805
During this life and death struggle, Sacagawea remains in the back of the sinking vessel grabbing valuable articles as they float from the boat. She catches nearly everything.

Thursday, May 16, 1805.
The day is fair and warm. By 4 P.M. almost everything is dry, repacked, and ready to go. Medical supplies suffered the most damage. Other losses include seed, a small amount of gunpowder, and other culinary items. Sacagawea demonstrated fortitude and resolution equal to that of any man on board the stricken craft. She saved most of the bundles, which had been washed overboard.

Monday, May 20, 1805
A beautiful stream about fifty yards wide is given the name Sacagawea or Bird Woman's River.

Thursday, August 8, 1805
In the evening Sacagawea points to a high formation jutting out of the valley floor. Her people called this formation the Beaver's Head because it is shaped like the animals head. Her people came this way every summer on their way to hunt buffalo. Soon, she say's, they will find her people here or just west on another river. The need to find the Shoshoni is becoming increasingly critical.

Wednesday, August 14, 1805
Charbonneau strikes Sacagawea while the family is eating the evening meal. Clark reprimands him.

Saturday, August 17,1805
As Sacagawea begins to interpret, suddenly she recognizes her brother Cameahwait. She runs to him. They embrace. Sacagawea is in tears and throws a blanket over their heads. It is sometime later before she is composed enough to continue. Once again the Shoshoni are told of the expedition and the need for horses and a guide.

Sunday, October 13, 1805
The presence of Sacagawea with the expedition convinces all Indian People of the peaceful intentions of their party. Having a woman with the expedition is a sure sign the expedition is not a war party.
Sunday, November 24,1805
The decision on where to camp for the winter is put to a vote. Captain Clark records the votes. In the list are written the votes of the black servant York and Sacagawea. Sacagawea's vote to camp near the best supply of edible roots is recorded under her nickname, Janey.

Used by permission from the book "The Truth about Sacajawea" by Ken Thomasma


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