Wearin’ a Dress
Fred Astaire is one of the most acclaimed dancers in American history. Ginger Rogers, too, but she never earned the fame Astaire did. I heard Ginger Rogers said, â€œI did everything Fred did, only I had to do it backward, in high heels, wearing a dress.
And yet Astaire was the big star.
And that brings me to Sacajawea. Yes, there is going to be something about the west in this, it’s NOT about ballroom dancing.
This teenager, age estimated at 17-years-old, accompanied this group of rugged soldiers all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Saved their lives more than once, probably had to do all the cooking (oh, maybe not) and she did it with a baby strapped on her back wearin’ a dress.
But do they call it the Sacajawea Expedition? No-o-o-o-o-o!
I couldn’t even find for sure how to spell her name because Lewis and Clark kept journals and spelled it differently, phonetically I suppose. Sacajawea didn’t speak English. How could she tell them how to spell her own name? She wouldn’t have known where to begin spelling it.
I read the book Sacajawea by Anna L. Waldo years ago and I just loved that story of the young woman, sold into slavery, one of two wives to thisâ€¦by most accounts, abusive drunken French fur trader, Charbonneau, leading Lewis and Clark through the Rocky Mountains.
Man, I think I’ve got it hard when my car’s air conditioning goes on the fritz.
The Lewis and Clark expedition recruited Sacagawea’s husband, to accompany them westward, expecting to make use of Sacagawea’s ability to speak to the Shoshone. The expedition expected that they would need to trade with the Shoshone for horses. Sacagawea spoke no English, but she could translate to Hidatsa to Charbonneau, who could translate to French for Francois Labiche, a member of the expedition, who could translate into English for Lewis and Clark. It had to be like a multi-cultural game of Telephone, passing the words back and forth through those translations.
They really wanted Sacagawea, even more than Charbonneau, yet he got hired, and you know he got the money.
Accompanied by her infant son, Sacagawea set out with the expedition for the west.
This reminds me of an episode of Walker Texas Ranger.
Have you ever noticed that when someone is insanely tough, the writers have to weaken him before they bring the enemy in. Superman and Kryptonite? John Wayne with a bullet lodged in his spine. Walker and oh, say, an army with automatic weapons.
Her memory of Shoshone trails proved valuable, according to some sources; according to others, she did not serve as a guide to the trails so much as to find useful foods and medicines along the way. Her presence as an Indian woman with a baby helped to convince Indians that this party of whites was friendly. And her translation skills, however indirect from Shoshone to English, were also invaluable at several key points.
The only woman on the trip, she also cooked, foraged for food, and sewed, mended and cleaned the clothes of the men. Yes, the expedition members hunted for food, too. But that means mainly they shot deer. Once they were crossing the Rockies in treacherous winter weather, her knowledge of edible plants saved the day. To their credit, Lewis and Clark treated Sacagawea as a valuable member of the party, even giving her and York, Clark’s enslaved black servant, a full vote in deciding where to spend the winter of 1805-6. It would be more than a century later when women were given the right to vote.
So she fed them, sheltered them from hostile Indians and led them through the
In recent years more has been written about Sacagawea and the dollar coin honoring her helped everyone see her contribution.
I’ve thought it would be an interesting series of books to write about the women who were standing right beside the men making history.
Daniel Boone was married, Davy Crocket, too, and Kit Carson. Who were these women? What were their lives like? Often they got left behind, but even so, many were left in unsettled places. They seem like fertile ground for novels and a part of the largely untold story of taming the west, wearin’ a dress.
What historical western women, real or fictional, most interest you? Who would make a good character in a novel? How can we get their stories told?