Sacagawea is a name we know from American history thanks to the expeditions of Lewis and Clark. She was introduced to the group charged with the exploration of the territories that the US had just purchased in November of 1804 and became an integral part of the expedition that would explore the Pacific Northwest. She is literally one of most unknown known figures from the American history books.
1. What’s In a Name?
There are actually two lakes, four mountains, and even a river that have been named after Sacagawea. That’s not bad considering many people don’t even know how to spell her name right. No one is even sure if we’re pronouncing it correctly. We normally say [Sack-ah-ja-WEE-ah], but for all we know, it could be pronounced [Bob].
2. An Early Mother
The only things we really know for sure about Sacagawea’s past come from the journals that were left by Lewis and Clark. The facts are pretty basic. We know that she was from the Shoshone tribe. We know that she was about 15 years of age when she met the expedition that was exploring the Pacific Northwest. We also know that she had a 2 month infant with her that she took along for the ride. Beyond that, everything is just an educated guess or outright fiction. Her son was named Pomp.
Many of the statues that have been made of Sacagawea depict her holding her son. Is it because we want to emphasize her teenage motherhood? Show that women can be courageous and go on an adventure with an infant?
3. A Moneymaker
In 2000, the United States wanted to create a coin that would honor the historical foundations that women provided the nation. The coin would be worth $1 and many famous names were nominated for it. Betsy Ross, who created the first US flag, Rosa Parks, central to the Civil Rights Movement, and even Eleanor Roosevelt were all beat out by Sacagawea. It would become the first US coin that would feature a child on it and the model for the coin was part Shoshone.
4. Married From a Bet
Sacagawea was actually captured around the age of 10 by another tribe called the Hidatsa. The Hidatsa had rifles and the Shoshone had horses and archery equipment, so it’s easy to see why they lost. One thing about the Hidatsa was that they loved to gamble. In a wager lost, Sacagawea was traded to a French-Canadian trader to become his wife. Imagine playing poker and having such a good hand that you’d say “I’ll call you with the rights for this woman right here” and that’s how she got married.
5. She Met Her People
While traveling with Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea actually stumbled across the remains of her tribe one day. After speaking with the Chief, she learned that most of her family had been killed in the other tribal raids. She did have two brothers and a nephew who had survived. She decided to adopt her nephew and suddenly this teenage mother had not one children to look after, but two.
6. A First Vote
As winter approached in 1805 and the Lewis and Clark expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, it was decided that a camp should be set up so that they could weather out the season. The expedition decided to take a vote as to which side of the Columbia River the encampment should be. Lewis and Clark gave Sacagawea a vote on the matter and they even gave Clark’s slave, a man named York, a vote as well. It’s the first documented time in American history where a woman and a slave got to participate in a democratic process.
7. Death Is a Mysterious Thing
There are two accounts of death that are associated with Sacagawea. The first is that she died at a young age after being sick. This account comes from a documented record where a clerk at Fort Manuel documented the death of a Snake squaw woman from a fever. She was said to have left an infant girl. This girl and Pomp were then adopted in 1813.
According to Shoshone tradition, a woman who may have been Sacagawea talked of her adventures with Lewis and Clark, could speak French and English, and was said to even possess a Jefferson medal. This woman went by the name Porivo and died in 1884. This would have made Sacagawea, if it were really her, about 94 when she passed away.
8. Bird Woman
Sacagawea literally translated to “bird woman.” The Hidatsa claim that her name should be spelled a different way, but can you really trust the tribe that conquered her people? Most people are pretty confident that the name is close to what it really was, but since most of what we know about her comes from the Lewis and Clark journals, it could be a nickname or something else that the expedition party made up to call her as well.
9. Saved By an Act
It is a little ironic that what we know about Scagawea comes from her own quick thinking one day. One of the canoes on the expedition had overturned and it had several notebooks in it. She was able to grab the notebooks out and keep them safe. One could even say that the expedition was successful because of her inclusion with it because it was the Shoshone people who provided Lewis and Clark with the supplies that the needed.
10. Left in the Dakotas
Sacagawea actually journeyed with Lewis and Clark during a good portion of their return trip back to “civilization.” When Lewis and Clark split up, she decided to stick with Lewis until they reached Dakota Territory. At that point Lewis decided to head down to St. Louis and Sacagawea stayed behind. That’s why many credit the clerk’s report of her death as being accurate, but the truth is that we’ll never really know for sure.
Sacagawea is one of the most recognized names in American history because of her bravery, ambition, and enthusiasm. These fun facts are just one way to get to know her a little better.