SACAGAWEA: TEEN INTERPRETER (Illustration) Legends and Legendary People American History Famous Historical Events Geography Visual Arts Famous People Native-Americans and First Peoples  Film


This is the artistic interpretation of Sacagawea which the United States Postal Service used to create a 29-cent American stamp. The stamp was issued on October 18, 1994.


Mountains of the Wind River Range form a backdrop to a cemetery in Ft. Washakie, Wyoming. A stone, over one of the graves, reads "Sacajawea."

Is it the final resting place of the only woman who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their famous "Corps of Discovery" mission? Yes, according to Shoshone oral tradition. No, according to other records. We may never know for sure.

We do know the answer to a different question: How was it that a 16-year-old Shoshone teenager was involved with one of the most successful expeditions in recorded history?

It was a time of exploration. When Lewis and Clark set out to find a waterway across the North American west, the typical "Indian Horseman" knew his way on the plains but the average white hunter did not.

Even those who knew the way could not easily cross the great mountains that met the great plains. A transcontinental railway was not yet feasible.

Native Americans still lived and hunted on their own lands, not on reservations. Women of the various tribes had little to say about whom they would marry. Sometimes they were given in trade to explorers, as depicted in Alfred Jacob Miller’s "The Trapper’s Bride." Sacagawea - a Shoshone Indian of whom no actual likeness survives - was such a woman.

She had been kidnapped by the Hidatsa tribe who then sold her to the Mandan Sioux. When she was a teenager, the Mandan sold Sacagawea to a French trapper and interpreter, Toussaint Charbonneau.

In 1804, Sacagawea and Charbonneau were living in a Mandan-Hidatsa village (scroll down 80%) in modern-day North Dakota. It was there that she met Lewis and Clark.

The Expedition needed interpreters since the two leaders could not communicate with Native Americans on their own. Sacagawea spoke Shoshone and Hidatsa. Her husband spoke Hidatsa and French. One of Lewis and Clark’s men spoke French and English. The three interpreters also provided the means by which the Expedition could purchase supplies - especially Shoshone horses.

But there was a significant difference between Sacagawea and the rest of the Corps. The young Shoshone was a pregnant teenager. On 11 February 1805, Lewis made a note in his diary:

...about five oClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono [Sacagawea] was delivered of a fine boy [Jean Baptiste]. 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. (Journals, page 88, Penguin-Classics edition, Frank Bergon, editor.)

The rest of the journey, Sacagawea carried Jean Baptiste, strapped to her back, while she performed her Corps responsibilities. What she did on a daily basis during the expedition is unclear. But one event dramatically contributed to the mission’s ultimate success.

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
2 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: May 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: Mar 18, 2019

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"SACAGAWEA: TEEN INTERPRETER" AwesomeStories.com. May 01, 2009. Jan 29, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips