American Women!
A Celebration of Our History
April 22 -- October 29, 2000


SACAGAWEA, "Bird Woman"
Native American Interpreter

c. 1786--1812

"Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatigueing rout to the Pacific Ocian and back diserved a greater reward for her services than we had in our power to give her."
      --Captain William Clark in a letter to her husband

 

After President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, brave explorers were needed to chart a passage to the Pacific. The Lewis and Clark Expedition that headed up the Missouri River ventured into the unknown. In the spring of 1805, co-captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark hired French Canadian trader Touissaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone slave-wife Sacagawea, to act as interpreters with Native Americans.

The success of the Expedition was due in large part to Sacagawea. Kidnapped by the Sioux in childhood, by the age of 17 she was accustomed to hard times and carried her infant son on her back for 18 months through injury, sickness, and near-starvation. When their boat capsized, she rescued an entire year's worth of the captains' journals--journals which tell us precious little about her. She served not only as an interpreter with the Indians, but most important--since no war party was ever accompanied by a woman and a baby--tribes welcomed the expedition with curiosity, not warfare.

Her two children were later entrusted to William Clark's care, after she died from fever when only about 25 years old. Although nothing remains of Sacagawea's life--no sketches, no description of her appearance, no personal artifacts--there are more statues of her than of any other woman in American history.

Historic Artifacts:

MINIATURE DIORAMA created by Kevin Smith.
The Corps prepares to push westward as the men load the boats. Lewis (arms folded) discusses issues with Clark (holding map) as Charbonneau (wearing red hat) looks on. Sacagawea and her baby are coming along the path to the right.
--On loan from Kevin Smith, Coralville IA

NEW DOLLAR COIN: Designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre in 1999, who modeled the likeness of Sacagawea after a 22-year-old Shoshone college student.
      Reverse design by Thomas D. Rogers, Sr., presents an American bald eagle encircled by stars, symbolizing the 17 states at the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804.
--On loan from Pat Wildenberg, West Branch IA

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