Friday, November 23, 2007

The Bird Woman

Meet Sacajawea.

She was born in about 1790, in Idaho (before it was Idaho). She was one of the "snake people", or Shoshone tribe. Her name in Shoshone meant "boat pusher". She was stolen during a raid when she was a young girl, and taken by the Hidatsa, where her name meant "Bird Woman". The Hidatsa lived near Bismark, N. Dakota. While she was living there, a French-Canadian fur trader came and bought her, and another female, Otter woman, to be his wives. By the time she was 16 she was pregnant. Her husband joined the Lewis and Clark expedition, and she had her baby at Fort Mandan, where they were spending the winter. The route they chose to take was down the Missouri river. It is noted in the April journals that as they were traveling, a storm hit, and the boat she was in nearly capsized. As frantic people around her worked to right the boat, she calmly gathered all the valuable books and instruments that were floating away. They'd been wrapped in water-tight packages, and suffered no damage.
Many of us are taught that she was the guide for the party. That is actually not true. She only gave advice one time during the expedition, showing Lewis and Clark where to go to find her tribe to buy horses.
In 1805 she was reunited with her Shoshone tribe, only to learn the majority of her family had died. She had 2 living brothers, however, one of them was now the head chief of the Shoshone. He sold them their horses, and schetched them a map through the mountains. He also provided a guide named "Old Toby". With his help, they made it through the mountains, and back to the river to resume water travel.
All the men who kept diaries during the L & C expedition talked about Sacajawea, and her helpful, calm uncomplaining attitude. Captain Clark thought so highly of her, that after the expedition, he offered to have her, her husband and son live near him in St. Louis so the boy could be educated. They did this for a time, but eventually left St. Lewis, leaving their son with Captain Clark, for the schooling.
There is no proof of what happened to her after she left St. Louis with her husband. Western history says that she died in 1812 at Ft. Manuel, South Dakota, of a "putrid fever", and left behind an infant daughter. Shoshone oral tradition says that she did not die, but wandered west for a while, then joined her tribe on the Wind River REservation, and died in1884, after living a long life, and becoming an influential and venerated tribe member. There is a monument to her on that reservation, where she is buried between her son, and her sister's son, whom she'd adopted.

*interesting side note. Every picture I posted did not post well. Maybe she's shy, or felt, as many Indians did, that having their pictures taken would suck their souls out through the eyes. But I tried.*


sybil law said...

I really like these stories!
Or, history lessons, rather. I mean, I read most of it, but forgot a lot. She is one of my favorites!

Troy said...

Here's what's cool: I just showed Youngest Daughter your post. She's learning about Sacajawea at school and she said your post is bang on accurate. You rock.

Travis Erwin said...

I've always found Sacajawea fascinating.