Questions

What tribe was Sacagawea a member of?

Who led the Corps of Discovery?

Would you like to go on an expedition, like the one Sacagawea went on? Why or why not?

The Life of Sacagawea

The Native American woman shown here is called Sacagawea — sack-ah-GAH-weeah. Her name has also been pronounced many other ways, including sack-ah-jahWEE-ah.

We do not know much about Sacagawea’s early life. As far as we can tell, she was born near the Lemhi Pass, located between present-day Idaho and Montana, somewhere around the year 1788.

She was originally a member of the Shoshone tribe. When she was about 12 years old, a group from the Hidatsa tribe raided her village. The Hidatsa took her and several other girls back to their village, located in what we now call North Dakota.

At the age of 13, Sacagawea married a French Canadian trader named Toussaint Charbonneau — too-SAWNT SHAR-bohnnoh. Charbonneau, who was living in the village at this time, already had another Native wife. No one is sure whether or not either of these young women consented to their marriages to Charbonneau.

In the fall of 1804, Lewis and Clark arrived at the Hidatsa village. They were exploring the West on special assignment. President Thomas Jefferson had recently bought a huge portion of North America from the French for $15 million. This was called The Louisiana Purchase.

Jefferson sent a group called the Corps of Discovery to explore this new land. The group was led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

But Lewis and Clark needed help to explore the area. They had no idea how to get anywhere, and did not speak any of the Native American languages in this area. They needed an interpreter, so they hired Charbonneau — mostly because of his wife Sacagawea. And Sacagawea wanted to go along, even though she was only 15 years old and six months pregnant.

Sacagawea and her husband soon moved into the expedition’s fort, and Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste was born in February 1805. The party left two months later in April, with Sacagawea carrying Jean Baptiste.

The journey of the Corps of Discovery took two years and was a difficult one. But it would have been much harder without Sacagawea. She knew trails and passages that helped Lewis and Clark save valuable time. At one point, she leaped into dangerous water to save the party’s notes.

Her knowledge of Shoshone helped the Corps of Discovery get through the Lemhi Pass, where she was reunited with her tribe, led by her brother. And having a woman in their party helped other tribes understand that Lewis and Clark were peaceful.

Over the course of their two-year journey through the West, William Clark grew especially close to Sacagawea and her son. He knew that without the woman he nicknamed “Janey,” the group might never have made it to the Pacific Ocean, or found their way back in 1806.

In 1809, Clark persuaded Charbonneau and Sacagawea to move to St. Louis, Missouri, where they enrolled Jean Baptiste in school. They also had another child, a daughter named Lizette. Two years later, however, Sacagawea became very ill. The couple moved back to North Dakota so she could live among the Hidatsa and recover. Sadly, she died there on December 22nd, 1812, at the age of 24.

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