Lewis and Clark Speak
                             Excerpts from their Journal Entries about Sacagawea
                                                                                  by Lara Marks

How did Lewis and Clark treat Sacagawea? We might never know. There were no video cameras that followed them across the country. All we do know is what Lewis and Clark wrote about her. We are forced to use the way they refer to her in their journal entries as representative of how they felt about her and about how they must have treated her. In these presented excerpts, there are contradictions -- did Sacagawea show her emotions or not?. Lewis and Clark tell us how helpful Sacagawea was, in helping to translate, find food, and communicate and trade safely with the Indian tribes. Did Lewis and Clark take her for granted as a slave, or did they appreciate all she did to help? Or was it a little of both? The fact remains that we have little with which to work, so one is forced to make an educated guess. This can be helped by looking towards Lewis and Clark's backgrounds, and the culture of their day.

Also, these journal entries are all history has by which to remember Sacagawea. In order to give Sacagawea her rightful place in history, one must first look at what she actually did do on the expedition by turning to Lewis and Clark's journals. Although some historians say that Sacagawea was not indispensable, most admit that she certainly eased the way for Lewis, Clark, and their men; her presence strengthened the morale of the crew. (Howard 148) Does the evidence presented here suggest that Sacagawea truly merits the place she holds in many people's minds as a great legend and contributor to American history? These excerpts from the journals pose just as many questions as they answer.

Notice how few times the journals actually refer to Sacagawea by her name. Its difficult pronunciation caused them to avoid even attempting to spell it.

Excerpts, in Chronological OrderAnalysis and Commentary
Biddle, August 17, 1805

"On setting out at seven o'clock, captain Clarke with Charboneau and his wife walked on shore, but they had not gone more than a mile before Clarke saw Sacajawea, who was with her husband 100 yards ahead, began to dance and show every mark of the most extravagant joy, turning round him and pointing to several Indians, whom he now saw advancing on horseback, sucking her fingers at the same time to indicate that they were of her native tribe . . .We soon drew near to the camp, and just as we approached it a woman made her way through the croud towards Sacajawea, and recognising each other, they embraced with the most tender affection. The meeting of these two young women had in it something peculiarly touching, not only in the ardent manner in which their feelings were expressed, but from the real interest of their situation . . . Clark and Lewis soon after met with the chief. . . After this the conference was to be opened, and glad of an opportunity of being able to converse more intelligibly, Sacajawea was sent for; she came into the tent, sat down, and was beginning to interpret, when in the person of Cameahwait she recognised her brother: She instantly jumped up, and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket and weeping profusely: The chief was himself moved, though not in the same degree. After some conversation between them she resumed her seat, and attempted to interpret for us, but her new situation seemed to overpower her, and she was frequently interrupted by her tears" (203).

When people talk of Sacagawea, they most often refer to this instance in the journals when Biddle wrote in detail about when she danced for joy after rediscovering her family. This is the longest entry about Sacagawea; it shows a moment on the expedition when she felt, acted, and was truly connected to a group of Indian peoples. From this passage, we see Sacagawea as an excited, enthusiastic girl. Maybe she was lonely or had missed her family so much that it was a great relief for her to see them.

If Sacagawea had the capability to be such a personality, why do we not see this in other places in the journals? Never again do any of her emotions get in the way of her performing her duties as translator. Did Lewis and Clark sympathize with Sacagawea's overwhelming emotions? Or were they annoyed at her inability to aid them. Did they appreciate what a momentous occasion this was for a young kidnapped girl to return home to her family?.

Lewis, February 11, 1805

"About five oClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono [Sacajawea] was delivered of a fine boy. It is worthy of remark that this was the first child which this woman had boarn, and as is common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent . . ." (80).

At some point along the way, every member of the Corps fell ill or was injured. Sacagawea, especially, was no exception, except she gave birth on the voyage. There is no suggestion in the journals as to how Lewis and Clark reacted to the newest addition to the Corps. They merely mention that she gave birth and then moved on to the topic of the next day.
Lewis, July 28, 1805

"Sah-cah-gar-we-ah o[u]r Indian woman was one of the female prisoners taken at that time; tho I cannot discover that she shews any immotion of sorrow in recollecting this even, or of joy in being restored to her native country; if she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere" (171).

Despite Sacagawea's clear display of joy when encountering her family, Lewis says that, typically she shows no emotions. If this is in fact the case, she must have felt it necessary to hide what she was feeling from the men, perhaps to protect herself. Because of this, Lewis and Clark were led to believe that she was a simple-minded happy teenager when in fact the expedition must have been a very difficult challenge for her.
Clark, October 19, 1805

Clark found thirty-two Indians in a lodge, "in the greatest agutation, Some crying and ringing there hands, others hanging their heads" (256). They were not eased until Sacagawea entered. "As soon as they saw the Squar wife of the interpreter they pointed to her and informed those who continued yet in the Same position I first found them, they imediately all came out and appeared to assume new life, the sight of This Indian woman, wife to one of our interprs. Confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter" (256-7).

A fact of the expedition was that the Corps of Discovery was a military party. They did not want to appear to the Indian tribes as a war party because then they would be unable to communicate and trade with the tribes and thus reach their destination or fulfill their mission. Sacagawea, because she was an Indian and a woman carrying a baby on her back, helped the Corps because no war party would be traveling with a woman! So Sacagawea single-handedly ensured the group's safety and in part, their success.

Notice that Clark does not refer to Sacagawea as an interpreter, but as "wife to one of our interprs." Did they think that Sacagawea was only there because of Charbonneau, or that she fulfilled a purpose of her own?

Lewis, January 6, 1806

"Charbono and his Indian woman were also of the party; the Indian woman was very impo[r]tunate to be permitted to go, and was therefore indulged; she observed that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be seen, she thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either (she had never yet been to the Ocean). (300-1)

At the end of the journey, Charbonneau was rewarded with land and money. Lewis and Clark did not give Sacagawea anything. We are not even sure if they treated her with constant respect. When the Corps reached the Pacific Ocean, it was a big moment for everyone. And Lewis and Clark "indulged" Sacagawea, allowing her to see what they had all come many miles to witness. Why did Lewis and Clark have to be forced to show Sacagawea the Ocean? They appreciated what she did for them, but she was still held less importance than anyone else.
Clark, May 11, 1806

"The One Eyed Chief arived and we . . . spoke to the Indians through a Snake boy Shabono and his wife. We informed them who we were, where we came from & our intentions towards them, which pleased them very much" (380)

Sacagawea and her husband, Charbonneau, were hired to act as translators to ensure that the Corps could communicate with the Indian tribes. In this instance, Sacagawea's translating skills enabled the Corps to trade for horses that would determine whether or not they could continue
Clark, May 16, 1806

"The men who were complaining of the head ake and cholick yesterday and last night are much better to day. Shabonos Squar gathered a quantity of fenel roots which we find very paliatiable and nurushing food" (388).

Sacagawea was familiar with the plants and animals in the area and could therefore help the Corps find food, something that was oftentimes difficult to find, and vitally important.

This material was created by Lara Marks.
Last revised by the author 12/16/98.
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