Pathfinders — Sacagawea
I need to add to my series of posts on Pathfinders, Sacagawea, the lone woman who’s story seems to have survived.
The more I read about Sacagawea the more … well, it’s strange … but the more emotional I felt about it.
When you start and read the bare bones account, from Wikipedia, it’s fine, fascinating. This young girl. I MEAN YOUNG. She set out with the Louis and Clark Expedition as a THIRTEEN YEAR OLD!
Now pause for a moment and think of the 13-year-old girls you know.
Now picture her married. Pregnant. A mother. Setting out with a husband known to be abusive with a crowd of men headed across the Rocky Mountains on a path for which no map exists.
Add in the rumors of Sacagawea being won by her husband while gambling. Or possible sold to him.
This isn’t some pretty fairy tale. Well, maybe it is considering all Cinderella went through with that old bat. But Cinderella … well, the shoe fit and she got her prince.
She did all this work, hiked over those monstrous mountains, came near starvation and is credited with keeping the men alive by finding food in odd places. My dubious research says she dug up wild asparagus roots, or something related called camus roots, and pretty much kept everyone from starving with those things.
Anyway, it wasn’t a pretty picture.
But the most blunt thing I read, that also made me hurt, was a statement written by someone very realistic who said so much that we know about Sacagawea, is just plain made up.
The truth is Louis and Clark and their expedition members took a stunning number of notes. By count they wrote more than one million words about this expedition. Very few of them were about Sacagawea.
Sacagawea is mentioned by name seventeen times and her name is spelled eight different ways. There is plenty of debate about her name. Generally, Sacagawea means Bird Woman in the Hidatsu language, (the Hidatsu the tribe is who she was living with when she joined the Expedition-taken captive from her own tribe, the Shoshone) . But there are those who say she renamed by the Hidatsu or her true Shoshone name was mispronounced by them to sound like Sacagawea…honestly how would they know how to spell her name in English. And Louis and Clark just had to sound it out. Still, you’d think they’d have PICKED ONE NAME AND STUCK WITH IT!
I will note here that Louis and Clark and their corp were notoriously bad at spelling. Their journals are incredibly hard to read. I will additionally note here that until Daniel Webster wrote his first dictionary, no words were really widely spelled alike. Most people wrote by sound with no one judging a word ‘misspelled’. There just was no accepted correct spelling until 1806, when Webster’s Dictionary was first published…and he kept adding words and republishing until 1825. So random spelling was widespread.
What words there are about Sacagawea, are very favorable, about her courage, about how much she helped. About how her knowing the Shoshone Indians and indeed finding her brother and enabling the expedition to trade for horses, once they had to abandon their boats, helped them through the mountains. About those camas roots.
But most of these things are noted in a one sentence reference to her between long intervals of writing about other things.
Women of the West
I have this theory that I can get very passionate about that someone needs to take all the famous men in history and write about their wives. Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett had wives. What were they doing while their menfolk went about exploring? I’ll bet they were standing right there beside them, fighting the wilderness, wrestling survival out of the frontier and doing it pregnant and wearing a dress.
I suspect if I set out to research these women, I’d find something similar to what exists about Sacagawea. A few passing notes left behind. I’d have to build my books out of fantasy, make 2 + 2 = 10 by sheer willpower.
So Sacagawea did NOT keep them alive. No, she did NOT single-handedly drag their sorry backsides across the Rockies.
The truth of the Corp of Discovery
The truth of the Corp of Discovery is that this was a pack of incredibly tough men. Louis and Clark did a fantastic job of picking real hardened men who took their job seriously, faced untold hardships, battled on forward through disappointments, danger and pain.
And Sacagawea was right there with them. She was tough. That little baby strapped on her back was tough. That awful Charbonneau, well he might not have been all that tough, but he knew the mountains. He helped. They all worked hard together and managed this incredible journey. Made it to the Pacific…and made back to tell the tale.
One man died. Based on the sketchy notes taken, it’s believed Sgt. Floyd probably died of an appendicitis attack, get that? He didn’t freeze or starve or die in battle or fall off a cliff. Poor guy, he was probably really tough too, but he didn’t make it.
I want so much more for Sacagawea than to die at age 25 of a stupid fever. I almost hunger for her to be more. To have survived.
There are oral histories that are very weak, that say she lived to be 100 years old. There are markers by her burial site in Wyoming when the truth is almost certainly that she died and was buried in an unmarked grave in North Dakota.
And the real tricky part here is, those few words written about Sacagawea, with two very minor exceptions that support her death at age 25, were all that was ever written about her until one hundred years later.
All the oral history, including that she married a second time, had more children, reunited with her son Jean Baptiste and lived until 1884, was only ‘discovered’ on the centennial celebration of her amazing fete of endurance and courage.
Creating a fable about Sacagawea
Yes, I want more for her. So much more.
But it is very doubtful she lived until 1884…a story that was ‘discovered’ in 2004. There was certainly a woman who lived to be 100 who many, on looking back, believed could have been Sacagawea. But these were the long ago memories of elderly people remembering a long dead member of their tribe. And these folks may well have believed this woman was Sacagawea, but they may have wanted that to be true as badly as I do.
Whatever happened to her after this expedition, she belongs in this list of Pathfinders.
By creating a fable about Sacagawea, I think we diminish what she really did.
As if surviving, guiding, and feeding the Corp of Discovery wasn’t enough.
As if walking, boating, riding a horse from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean wearing a dress, carrying a baby on your back, a baby she’s certainly breastfeeding and diapering and probably trying to get to sleep at night, wasn’t enough.
I think we need to let the story we know, the story that is written down about Sacagawea be enough, because….it is.
To get your name in the drawing for a signed copy of Long Time Gone leave a comment about Sacagawea or any woman in history you’d like to know more about.
The Boden clan thought their problems had ended with the death of a dangerous enemy, but have they truly uncovered the real plot to take their New Mexico ranch? Rancher Justin Boden is now in charge. He is normally an unshakable and rugged man, but with his brother, Cole, shot and in mortal danger, even a tough man faces doubts. And it doesn’t help that Angie DuPree, the assistant to the doctor trying to save Cole, is as distracting a woman as Justin ever laid eyes on.
With her and the doc’s timely skills, Cole looks to be on the mend, and Justin and the rest of the Bodens can turn their attention back to the dangers facing them. It’s clear now that everything that’s occurred is part of a much bigger plot that could date back to a decades-old secret. Can they uncover all the pieces before danger closes in on them, or is the threat to the ranch even bigger than any of the Bodens could imagine?