If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing. — Benjamin Franklin

Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz


Sacajawea—From the Lewis and Clark Journal

The extracts from the Journal, given below, include all that the great explorers had to say about Sacajawea. They are from what I consider the best of all the various editions of the famous "Journal," the one edited by the late Elliot Coues and published by Francis P. Harper, New York, in 1893.

Fort Mandan. November 11, 1804. . . . The weather is cold. We received the visit of two squars (Sacajawea and another), prisoners from the Rock (Rocky) mountains, purchased by Chaboneau. The Mandans are at this time out hunting buffalo.

Fort Mandan. February 11, 1805. . . . About five o'clock one of the wives of Chaboneau was delivered of a boy; this being her first child she was suffering considerably, when Mr. Jessaume told Captain Lewis that he had frequently administered to persons in her situation a small dose of the rattle of the rattlesnake, which had never failed to hasten delivery. Having some of the rattle, Captain Lewis gave it to Mr. Jessaume, who crumbled two of the rings of it between his fingers, and mixing it with a small quantity of water gave it to her. What effect it may really have had it might be difficult to determine, but Captain Lewis was informed that she had not taken it more than ten minutes before the delivery took place.

Fort Mandan. April 7, 1805. . . . Having made all our arrangements [for resuming the journey to the Pacific Ocean], we left the fort about five o'clock in the afternoon. . . . The two interpreters were George Drewyer and Toussaint Chaboneau. The wife (Sacajawea) of Chaboneau accompanied us with her young child, and we hope may be useful as an interpreter among the Snake Indians. She was herself one of that tribe, but having been taken in war by the Minnetarees, she was sold as a slave to Chaboneau, who brought her up and afterward married her. . . .

May 14. . . . [Following the account of an encounter with a bear]. . . . The bear was old and the meat tough, so that the hunters took the skin only, and rejoined us at camp, where we had been much terrified by an accident of a different kind.

This was the narrow escape of one of the canoes, containing all of our papers, instruments, medicine, and almost every article indispensable for the success of our enterprise. The canoe being under sail, a sudden squall of wind struck her obliquely and turned her considerably. The man at the helm (Chaboneau), who was unluckily the worst steersman in the party, became alarmed, and instead of putting her before the wind luffed her up into it. The wind was so high that it forced the brace of the square-sail out of the hand of the man who was attending to it, and instantly upset the canoe, which would have been turned bottom upward but for the resistance made by the awning. Such was the confusion on board, and the waves ran so high, that it was half a minute before she righted, and then was nearly full of water; but by bailing out she was kept from sinking until she reached the shore. Besides the loss of the lives of three men, who not being able to swim would probably have perished, we should have been deprived of nearly everything necessary for our purposes, at a distance of 2,000 to 3,000 miles from any place where we could supply the deficiency.

Note by Captain Lewis: "Which . . . I cannot recollect but with the utmost trepidation and horror . . . it happened unfortunately for us this evening that Chaboneau was at the helm of this perogue, instead of Drewyer. . . . Chaboneau cannot swim and is perhaps the most timid waterman in the world . . . the pirogue had then righted but had filled within an inch of the gunwales; Chaboneau still crying to his god for mercy, but had not recollected the rudder, nor could the repeated orders of the bowsman, Crusat, bring him to recollection until he threatened to shoot him if he did not instantly take hold of the rudder and do his duty. The Indian woman, to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution with any person on board at the time of the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which were washed overboard."

May 20, 1805. . . . About five miles up from the mouth of the Musselshell is a handsome river, discharging from the west side, which we named after Chaboneau's wife, Sacajawea's or Bird Woman's river.

June 16, 1805. . . .(At the Great Falls of the Missouri.) Since leaving Maria's river the wife of our interpreter, Chaboneau, has been dangerously ill, but she now has found relief from the water of the sulphur spring. It is situated about two hundred yards from the Missouri, into which it empties over a precipice of rock about twenty-five feet high. The water is perfectly transparent, strongly impregnated with sulphur, and we suspect iron also, as the color of the hills and bluffs in the neighborhood indicates the presence of that metal. . . .

June 19. . . . Our poor Indian woman, who had recovered so far as to walk out, imprudently ate a quantity of the white-apple (Psoralea esculenta), which, with some dried fish, occasioned a return of her fever. . . . I rebuked Charboneau severely for suffering her to indulge herself in such food, he being privy to it, and having been told previously what she must only eat. . . .

June 28. . . . Captain Clark went on "to the falls, accompanied by his servant, York, Chaboneau, and his wife and young child.

On his arrival there he observed a very dark cloud rising in the west, which threatened rain, and looked around for some shelter; but could find no place where the party would be secure from being blown into the river, if the wind should prove as violent as it sometimes does in the plains. At length, about a quarter of a mile above the falls, he found a deep ravine, where there were some shelving rocks under which he took shelter. They were on the upper side of the ravine, near the river, perfectly safe from rain, and therefore laid down their guns, compass, and other articles which they carried with them. The shower was at first moderate; then it increased to a heavy rain, the effects of which they did not feel; but soon afterward a torrent of rain and hail descended. The rain seemed to fall in a solid mass, and instantly, collecting in the ravine, came rolling down in a dreadful current, carrying the mud, rocks, and everything that opposed it. Captain Clark fortunately saw it a moment before it reached them, and springing up with his gun and shot pouch in his left hand, with his right clambered up the bluff, pushing on the Indian woman with the child in her arms. Her husband, too, had seized her hand and was pulling her up the hill, but he was so terrified at the danger that he frequently remained motionless, and but for Captain Clark, himself and wife and child would have been lost. So instantaneous was the rise of water that, before Captain Clark had reached his gun and begun to ascend the bank, the water was up to his waist, and he could scarcely get up faster than it rose, until it reached a height of fifteen feet, with a furious current, which, had they waited a moment longer, would have swept them into the river just above the Great Falls, down which they must inevitably been precipitated. They reached the plain in safety and found York, who had separated from them just before the storm to hunt some buffalo, and was now returning to his master. They had been obliged to escape so rapidly that Captain Clark lost his compass and umbrella, Chaboneau left his gun, with Captain Lewis's wiping rod, and shot pouch and tomahawk, and the Indian woman had just time to grasp her child, before the net in which it lay at her feet was carried down the current.

July 28. . . . In Camp on Jefferson River, one mile above its confluence with the Madison. . . . Sacajawea, our Indian woman, informs us that we are camped upon the precise spot where her countrymen, the Snake Indians, had their huts five years ago, when the Minnetarees of Knife river first came in sight of them, and from which they hastily retreated three miles up the Jefferson, and concealed themselves in the woods. The Minnetarees, however, pursued and attacked them, killed four men, as many women and a number of boys, and made prisoners of four other boys, and all the females, of whom Sacajawea was one. She does not, however, show any distress at these recollections, or any joy at the prospect of being restored to her country; for she seems to possess the folly or the philosophy of not suffering her feelings to extend beyond the anxiety of having plenty to eat and a few trinkets to wear.

July 30. . . . On the Jefferson, a few miles above camp of July 28. . . . The islands are very numerous. On the right are high plains, occasionally forming cliffs of rocks and hills; while the left is an extensive low ground and prairie, intersected by a number of bayous or channels falling into the stream. Captain Lewis, who had walked through it with Chaboneau, his wife, and two invalids, joined us at dinner, a few miles above our camp. Here the Indian woman said was the place where she had been made prisoner. The men being too few to contend with the Minnetarees, mounted their horses and fled as soon as the attack began. The women and children dispersed, and Sacajawea, as she was crossing at a shoal place, was overtaken in the middle of the river by her pursuers. . . .

August 8. . . . On our right is the high point of a plain, which our Indian woman recognizes as the place called the Beaver's Head, from a supposed resemblance to that object. This, she says, is not far from the summer retreat of her countrymen, which is on the river beyond the mountains, running to the west. She is therefore certain that we shall meet them either on this river, or on that immediately west of its source, which, judging from its present size, can not be far distant. Persuaded of the absolute necessity of procuring horses to cross the mountains, it was determined that one of us should proceed in the morning to the head of the river, and penetrate the mountains until he found the Shoshones, or some other nation, who could assist us in transporting our baggage, the greater part of which we should be compelled to leave, without the aid of horses.

August 9. . . . Immediately after breakfast, Captain Lewis took Drewyer, Shields, and M'Neal, and slinging their knapsacks they set out with a resolution to meet some nation of Indians before they returned, however long they might be separated from the party. . . .

August 14. . . . Note by Captain Clark: "I checked our interpreter for striking his woman at their dinner."

August 17. . . . On setting out at seven o'clock, Captain Clark, with Chaboneau and his wife, walked on shore; but they had not gone more than a mile when Captain Clark saw Sacajawea, who was with her husband 100 yards ahead, begin to dance and show every mark of the most extravagant joy, turning round to him and pointing to several Indians, whom he now saw advancing on horse-back, sucking her fingers at the same time, to indicate that they were of her native tribe. As they advanced Captain Clark discovered among them Drewyer dressed like an Indian, from whom he learned the situation of the (Lewis) party. While the boats were performing the circuit, he went toward the forks with the Indians, who, as they went along, sang with the greatest appearance of delight.

We soon drew near the camp, and just as we approached it a woman made her way through the crowd toward Sacajawes; recognizing each other, they embraced with the most tender affection. The meeting of these two young women had in it something peculiarly touching, not only from the ardent manner in which their feelings were expressed, but also from the real interest of their situation. They had been companions in childhood; in the war with the Minnetarees they had both been taken prisoners in the same battle; they had shared and softened the rigors of their captivity till one of them had escaped from the Minnetarees, with scarce a hope of ever seeing her friend relieved from the hands of her enemies. While Sacajawea was renewing among the women the friendship of former days, Captain Clark went on and was received by Captain Lewis and the chief (Too-et-te-con') Black Gun? Bow? is his war name Ka-me-ah-wah or Come and Smoke. I was called by this name afterward. Clark.) who, after the first embraces and salutations were over, conducted him to a sort of circular shade or tent of willows. Here he was seated on a white robe, and the chief immediately tied in his hair six small shells resembling pearls, an ornament highly valued by these people, who procure them in the course of trade from the sea-coast. The moccasins of the whole party were then taken off, and after much ceremony the smoke began. After this the conference was to be opened. Glad of an opportunity to be 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 recognized her brother. She instantly jumped up, and ran and embraced him, throwing over him her blanket, and weeping profusely. The chief himself was 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. After the council was finished the unfortunate woman learned that all her family was dead except two brothers, one of whom was absent, and a son of her eldest sister, a small boy, who was immediately adopted by her.

August 24. . . . They now said that they had no more horses for sale; and as we now had nine of our own, two hired horses, and a mule, we began loading them as heavily as was prudent, placing the rest on the shoulders of the Indian women, and left our camp at twelve o'clock. We were all on foot, except Sacajawea, for whom her husband had purchased a horse with some articles which we gave him for that purpose.

August 25. . . . While at dinner we learned by means of Sacajawea that the young men who left us this morning carried a request from their chief that the village would break camp and meet this party to-morrow, when they would all go down the Missouri into the buffalo country. Alarmed at this new caprice of the Indians, which, if not counteracted, threatened to leave ourselves and our baggage in the mountains, or even if we reached the waters of the Columbia, to prevent our obtaining horses, to go further, Captain Lewis immediately called the three chiefs together. After smoking a pipe he asked if they were men of their word, and if we could rely on their promises. They readily answered in the affirmative. He then asked if they had not agreed to assist us in carrying our baggage over the mountains. To this also they answered yes. "Why, then," said he, "have you requested your people to meet us to-morrow where it will be impossible for us to trade for horses, as you promised we should? If," he continued, "you had not promised to help us in transporting our goods across the mountains, we should not have attempted it, but have returned down the river; after which no white men would ever have come into your country. If you wish the whites to be your friends, to bring you arms, and to protect you from your enemies, you should never promise what you do not intend to perform. When I first met you, you doubted what I said, yet you afterward saw that I told you the truth. How, therefore, can you doubt what I tell you now? You see that I divide amongst you the meat which my hunters kill and I promise to give to all who assist us a share of whatever we have to eat. If, therefore, you intend to keep your promise, send one of your young men immediately, to order the people to remain at the village until we arrive." The two inferior chiefs then said that they had wished to keep their word to assist us; that they had not sent for the people, but on the contrary had disapproved of that measure, which was done wholly by the first chief. Cameahwait remained silent for a long time; at last he said that he knew that he had done wrong, but that, seeing his people all in want of provisions, he had wished to hasten their departure for the country where their wants might be supplied. He, however, now declared that, having passed his word, he would never violate it, and counter-orders were immediately sent to the village by a young man, to whom we gave a handkerchief, in order to insure dispatch and fidelity. This matter being adjusted, our march was now resumed with an unusual degree of alacrity on the part of the Indians. We passed a spot, where, six years ago, the Shoshones suffered a very severe defeat from the Minnetarees; and late in the evening we reached the upper part of the cove, where the creek enters the mountains.

August 26. . . . The infant daughters (of the Shoshone) are often betrothed by the father to men who are grown, either i for themselves or their sons. Sacajawea had been contracted for in this manner before she had been taken prisoner, and when we brought her back her betrothed was still living. Although he was double her age and had two other wives, he claimed her; but on finding that she had a child by her new husband, Chaboneau, he relinquished his claims and said he did not want her.

November 3. . . . [In camp opposite what is now Fisher's Landing, on the Columbia.] A canoe soon arrived from the village at the foot of the last rapid, with an Indian and his family, consisting of a wife, three children, and a woman who had been taken a prisoner from the Snake Indians, living on a river from the south, which we afterward found to be the Multnomah. Sacajawea was immediately introduced to her, in hopes that, being a Snake Indian, they might understand one another; but their language was not sufficiently intelligible to enable them to converse together.

November 7. . . . We had not gone far from this village when the fog cleared off, and we enjoyed the delightful prospect of the ocean—that ocean, the object of all our labors, the reward of all our anxieties. This cheering view exhilarated the spirits of all the party, who were still more delighted on hearing the distant roar of the breakers. (Lewis.)

. . . Ocian in view! O! the joy! (Clark.)

November 20. . . .Approaching a Chinook village. . . . When we arrived there we found many Chinooks; two of them being chiefs, we went through the ceremony of giving each a medal, and to the most distinguished a flag. Their names were Comcomly and Chillahlawil. One of the Indians had a robe made of two sea-otter skins, the fur of which was the most beautiful we had ever seen. But the owner at first resisted every temptation to part with it, but at last could not resist the offer of a belt of blue beads which Chaberneau's wife wore around her waist.

November 30. . . . Several of the men complain of disorders of their bowels, which can be ascribed only to their diet of pounded fish mixed with salt water. Sacajawea gave me a piece of bread made of flour which she had reserved for her child and carefully kept until this time, which had unfortunately got wet and a little sour this bread I eate with great satisfaction, it being the only mouthful I had tasted for several months past. (Clark.)

December 24. . . . I received a present of Captain Lewis of a shirt, drawers, and socks; a pair of moccasins of Goodrich, and two dozen white weasel tails from Sacajawea.

January 5. . . . The finding of the whale on the beach seemed to be a matter of importance to all the Indians, and as we might be able to procure some of it for ourselves, or at least purchase blubber from the Indians, a small parcel of merchandise was prepared, and a party of the men held in readiness to set out in the morning. As soon as this resolution was known, Chaboneau and his wife requested that they might be allowed to accompany us. The poor woman stated very earnestly that she had traveled a great way with us to see the great water, yet she had never been down to the coast, and now that this monstrous fish was also to be seen, it seemed hard that she should be permitted to see neither the ocean nor the whale. So reasonable request could not be denied; they were therefore suffered to accompany Captain Clark.

April 22. . . . On Des Chutes River. . . . Being now confidant that the Indians had taken the robe, I sent Sacajawea on to request Captain Clark to halt the party and send back some of the men to my assistance, being detirmined to either make the Indians deliver the robe, or to burn their houses.

April 28. . . . Fortunately there was among these Wallawalla Indians a prisoner belonging to a tribe of Shoshone, or Snake Indians, residing to the south of the Multnomah, and visiting occasionally the heads of Wallawalla creek. Our Shoshone woman, Sacajawea, though she belonged to a tribe near the Missouri, spoke the same language as the prisoner; by their means we were able to explain ourselves to the Indians, and answer all their questions with respect to ourselves and the object of our journey. Our conversation inspired them with much confidence, and they soon brought several sick persons, for whom they requested our assistance.

July 1. . . . Captain Lewis, with nine men, is to pursue the most direct route to the falls of the Missouri. Captain Clark, with his ten men, and Sacajawea, will proceed to the Yellowstone at its nearest approach to the Three Forks of the Missouri.

July 6. . . . In the afternoon we passed along the hillside north of the creek, till, in the course of six miles, we entered an extensive plain. Here the tracks of the Indians scattered so much that we could no longer pursue the road; but Sacajawea recognized the plain immediately. She had traveled it often in her childhood, and informed us that it was the great resort of the Shoshones, who came for the purpose of taking quamash and cows, and of beaver, with which the plain abounded; that Glade Creek was a branch of Wisdom River; and that on reaching the highest part of the plain we should see a gap in the mountains on the course to our canoes, and from that gap a high point of mountain covered with snow.

July 14. . . . Sacajawea now assured Captain Clark that the large road from Medicine (Sun) river to the gap (Bozeman Pass) they were seeking crossed the upper part of this plain. . . . On crossing the southern branch (Bozeman creek), they fell into the great road described by the squaw. . . .

August 17. . . . The principal chiefs of the Minnetarees came down to bid us farewell, as none of them could be prevailed upon to go with us. This circumstance induced our interpreter, Chaboneau, with his wife and child, to remain here, as he could be no longer useful. Notwithstanding our offers to take him to the United States he said that he had there no acquaintance and no chance of making a livlihood; and that he preferred remaining with the Indians. This man has been very serviceable to us, and his wife was particularly useful among the Shoshonees. Indeed, she has borne with a patience truly admirable the fatigues of so long a route, encumbered with the charge of an infant, who is even now only 19 months old. We therefore paid Charboneau his wages, amounting to $500.33, including the price of a horse and lodge purchased of him.