Bird Woman—Sacajawea - James W. Schultz
In beginning this story of the life of Sacajawea, as I had it from my old friends of the buffalo days, I intended to incorporate in it several tales that Crow Woman was wont to tell about various happenings in Fort Mandan, and in the Mandan villages in the winter of 1804-05. But as these tales had to do with the gay adventures of the Long Knives, in which Sacajawea had no part, except, occasionally, as interpreter, I have concluded that this is not the place for them. Nor shall I set forth what the old Gros Ventre Black Horn had to say regarding the killing of two of his tribe by Captain Lewis on his side exploration of the Marias River country, except that, as he had always heard, the Hudson's Bay Company was responsible for it. The factor of the company had advised the Blackfeet and the Gros Ventres to kill all the white men that they found in their Missouri River country, for if they failed to do so, it would soon become overrun by trappers and despoiled of all its beavers and other fur animals. Hugh Monroe's—Rising Wolf's—story bears witness to the truthfulness of the old Gros Ventre's statement. His factor, Terrible Tongue, must have been a terrible man!
In telling me what they knew about Sacajawea, as we still must call her, my old friends all declared that they believed her dead. She was, how.' ever, as I now know, very much alive at that time, and for several years thereafter. Mrs. Kipp and Crow Woman both said that she did see her much-loved chief, Red Hair, again, for he invited her and her son and man to visit him, and one fall they all went down-river in the trade boats, and lived for several winters with Red Hair, in Red Hair's town, as the Mandans and other tribes called St. Louis. Crow Woman stated that they returned to the country before she was captured by the Crows. Mrs. Kipp said that she well remembered Sublette engaging her, and her man and son with her, to go with him as interpreter on a trading expedition overland to her Snake people in the Rocky Mountains, and that, after several such trips, the family finally went upon one from which they never returned to the villages of the Earth House people.
As I did not attend the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904., nor the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, I did not learn, until several months ago, that there had been of recent years a wide awakening of interest in the story and the fate of Sacajawea, who, for something like forty years, had been to me an American heroine compared to whom Pocahontas, of Virginia fame, was a mere shadow. The latter, so the story runs, saved the life of a white man who had been captured by her tribe and for a few winter months kept a small settlement of white people from being unpleasantly hungry. Sacajawea made it possible for Lewis and Clark to carry out their great undertaking, to blaze the trail which opened up to civilization the half of a continent. Without her unfailing help the brave leaders and their men would have miserably perished in the Rockies, or, surviving the attack of the Snake and the Flathead tribes, they would have been obliged to turn about right there and go back whence they had come!
The manner in which I learned of the wide interest that is being taken in Sacajawea was very strange. There came to me, here in Los Angeles, from my Blackfeet people in Montana, an old time war suit,—bonnet, shirt, leggins, moccasins, and all,—and one of its wrappings was a tattered country newspaper in which I read that the Montana Legislature had appropriated ten thousand dollars for two statues of Sacajawea, one to be placed at Great Falls, and the other at the Three Forks of the Missouri, the article ending by giving a brief and very inaccurate account of the life of the heroine. I knew at once that it was not chance that had put that old newspaper in my hand; my medicine—ni-ti-tos-im, my sun power—had taken that way to advise me to tell all that I know about our great heroine of the West. But I knew her story only to the time she had left the Missouri River country. Whit of her later life? I began to make inquiries, and learned from the Reverend J. Roberts, Superintendent of the Shoshone Indian Mission, Wind River, Wyoming, that he had himself buried Sacajawea at that place on April 9, 1884.
For further information regarding Sacajawea, Mr. Roberts referred me to Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard, Librarian of the University of Wyoming, and a member of the Wyoming Bar. Dr. Hebard very kindly, in answer to my inquiry, sent me a copy of the "Journal of American History" for September, 1907, containing her excellent story of the later life of Sacajawea, and gave me permission to make what use of it I would. That I make generous use of it the following paragraphs attest:
PILOT OF FIRST WHITE MEN TO CROSS THE AMERICAN CONTINENTIdentification of the Indian Girl who led the Lewis and Clark Expedition over the Rocky Mountains in their Unparalleled Journey into the Mysteries of the Western World—Recognition of Sacajawea as the Woman who Guided the Explorers to the New Golden EmpireBY GRACE RAYMOND HEBARD, PHD
The most hazardous and the most significant journey ever made on the Western Continent, a journey that rivals in daring and exceeds in importance the expeditions of Stanley and Livingstone in the wilds of Africa a journey . . . that gave to the world riches beyond comprehension—was piloted by a woman.
It was an epoch-making journey; a journey that moved the world along; that pushed the boundary of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific; that gave us the breadth of the hemisphere from ocean to ocean; the command of its rivers and harbors; the wealth of its mountains and plains and valleys—a dominion vast and rich enough for the ambition of kings. . . .
In honor of this Indian girl, Sacajawea, the only woman who accompanied the Lewis and Clark Expedition into the Northwest a hundred years ago, memorials are being erected. A bill was introduced in the Wyoming Legislature in February, 1907, carrying with it an appropriation of five hundred dollars for the erection of a monument to mark the last resting-place of this woman pilot, the amount asked for purposely corresponding to the amount given Charboneau by Lewis and Clark, at Mandan, in i8o6. The Legislature of North Dakota has recently (19o7) appropriated the sum of fifteen thousand dollars for a foundation and pedestal for a Sacajawean statue to be made by Mr. Leonard Crunelle. This is to be erected at Bismarck. . . . When the Wyoming measure was presented for passage, it was developed that one member of the Legislature had not only known the children of Sacajawea, but also their mother.
The grave of Sacajawea has recently been found and her identity is established by newly discovered evidence herein recorded.
To have one's deeds extolled after a century has passed, when they were hardly recognized when executed, has been the common fate particularly of that class of individuals known as explorers; for the service rendered must be subjected to the test of time and the benefits derived as a result of the exploration must be carefully weighed before applause may be adequately given.
The only woman who accompanied Lewis and Clark across the Continent to the Pacific Coast during the seasons of 1804-06 did not in her lifetime receive any personal recognition of the services she rendered these explorers during their unparalleled journey to the then unknown great Northwest. But the century that has passed since that event has brought a keen appreciation of her services from those who have taken the interest to unravel and examine records of her deeds as a genius of a guide. . . . The story of the part that Sacajawea played in this continental expedition is as fascinating as a piece of knighthood fiction; that it is history also adds to its charm.
Wyoming was not traversed by these explorers either on the journey to the coast or on the return, yet it claims the distinction of having had this Indian woman guide a resident within its borders for many years and holds now all that is mortal of her remains. The facts leading to the establishment beyond doubt of the identity of the Wyoming woman with that of the woman guide are presented now for the first time. This statement of identity has been met with ridicule, doubt, suspicion, denial. Ridicule has been turned to consideration; doubt to belief; suspicion to admission; denial to acceptance, for fact after fact has been presented and corroborated by those of unquestioned integrity.
Sacajawea's life has two periods: that about which we know; that about which nothing can be learned. It is this latter period that has been the stumbling-block, "the winter of our discontent." We see her in the vigor of her splendid young womanhood; she disappears as mysteriously as she appeared; when she again is visible it is as the aged Sacajawea, white-haired and well-preserved, whose fatal ailment could only be attributed to old age. . . .
The Lewis and Clark "Journal" speaks of the most ardent manner in which the feelings of the brother and sister were expressed, when, in the mountains, Sacajawea recognized in the Shoshone chief her long-lost brother. She threw her blanket over him and, with her head on his shoulder, "wept profusely." Here she learned that all of her family had died except two brothers, and a son of her eldest sister, "a small boy, who was immediately adopted by her. This last fact, insignificant as it may appear, proves a strong point in establishing Sacajawea's identity. There is no record to show what became of this boy after adoption, whether he went on with the party or whether on its return he went with his adopted mother to the Mandan villages. No record of him can be traced from that time until recent years when we find him living as the brother of Baptiste and son of Sacajawea, he being known as Bazil.
. . . Charboneau received from Lewis and Clark for his services the sum of five hundred dollars and a few odd cents. There is no record to show that Sacajawea received any compensation by gift or word. It is true we find the following in the "Journals": "This man [Charboneau] has been very serviceable to us, and his wife particularly useful among the Shoshones. 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 nineteen months old. She was very observant. She had a good memory, remembering locations not seen since her childhood. In trouble she was full of resources, plucky and determined. With her helpless infant she rode with the men, guiding us unerringly through mountain passes and lonely places. Intelligent, cheerful, resourceful, tireless, faithful, she inspired us all."
The finding of letters written a hundred years ago shows that Sacajawea was more keenly appreciated than we had been led to believe. This evidence was first made public by an article in the "Century Magazine" (vol. “LXVIII”, page 876), containing a letter written by Clark on his voyage down the river after leaving the Mandan village, and dated August 20, 1806:—
"You have been for a long time with me and have conducted yourself in such a manner as to gain my friendship. Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on the route than we had the power to give her at the Mandans."
No further attention was paid to this woman, not even in the accounts that have been published by those who made the journey, until the time of the St. Louis Fair, called the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, in 1904; and later at the Lewis and Clark Exposition, in 1905, at Portland, Oregon. Mrs. Eva Emily Dye attracted attention to this pilot of the West in her book, "The Conquest," in which she has extolled not unduly the devotion of the little woman to the cause of Lewis and Clark on their marvelous trip. Mr. Bruno Louis Zimm, the New York sculptor, in his preparation for the modeling of a statue of Sacajawea for the St. Louis Fair, spent a year in studying the literature and ethnology involved in this subject. When the time came for him to procure a model typical of the woman of the Shoshone tribe, he was instructed to correspond with the Reverend John Roberts, of the Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming, where he had preached and worked as a missionary for a quarter of a century. This reservation is located in the center of the State, having been the home of Indians for many generations. Mr. Roberts directed Mr. Zimm's attention to one of the young Shoshone women, Virginia Grant, who was at that time a student at the Carlisle Indian School. She is pronounced to be decidedly typical of this tribe.
In the correspondence incident to obtaining the desired information, Mr. Roberts, in a personal interview with the author of this article, imparted long-sought information which carries with it substantial evidence of its authenticity. After Mr. Roberts had been informed that the purpose of this photograph of Virginia Grant was to assist in modeling a statue of the woman who gave Lewis and Clark guidance across the mountains, it freshened his memory to the extent that he remembered burying a very old Indian woman during the first years in his field of labor in Wyoming. Upon examination of his parish records, which he had carefully kept since assuming his duties with the Shoshone Indians, he found this notation under date of 1884, April 9: "Bazil's mother, Shoshone, one hundred years, residence Shoshone Agency, cause of death, old age, place of burial, Burial Ground, Shoshone Agency." Mr. Roberts, on January 8, 1906, while attending the funeral of one of Chief Washakie's grandsons, heard a great wailing as is the Shoshone custom, for they mourn with a very great and sore lamentation, and observed one of Sacajawea's granddaughters standing over her grave "giving way to her grief in great wailing." This cemetery or burial ground is a forty-acre tract fenced in with a strong and lasting fence of cedar posts and twisted barbed wire on either side of the posts and twisted together between posts. Only a slight slab marks Sacajawea's grave. The proper marking of this grave should have immediate attention while he who buried her can identify the exact locality.
This woman was known in the Shoshone Valley as Sacajawea, and had two sons called Bazil and Baptiste, both of whom were personally known by. Rev. Mr. Roberts. Old Indians now living testified to him that in her earlier life Sacajawea was "very nice-looking"; short of stature, spare of figure, very intelligent and quick in her movements. Rev. Mr. Roberts stated that Sacajawea in 1883 was wonderfully active and intelligent considering her great age. She walked alone and was bright to the last. She had no sickness, but was found dead one morning, April 9, 1884, on her shake-down of blankets and quilts in her teepee. In the afternoon of the same day she received Christian burial. This woman was illiterate, but spoke French as well as did her two sons.
Although Shoshones claim nephews as sons and will not admit any adoption, yet, for thirty-four years at least, there had been a rumor, amounting to a statement of fact, that Bazil was not Sacajawea's son, but was a nephew and had been adopted. This is a crucial point in the case because it was a puzzling fact that this son Bazil should be older than Baptiste, who was the child carried on the mother's back during the journey to the coast, Baptiste being then her only son, hence the oldest. We must refer again to the Lewis and Clark "Journal," to that single line—"a son of her eldest sister, a small boy, who was immediately adopted by her." Had the child been a baby, or "papoose," he would not have been a "small boy." These few words furnish convincing explanation why the older son was not the one Sacajawea took with her, and why there was a family tradition that Bazil was adopted. Bazil and Baptiste both told Mr. Roberts that Baptiste was the child that was carried to the coast. This isolated piece of evidence about the adoption and the child so adopted being older than her own child is not one generally remembered or noticed. As it appears in the "Journal" it has no significance and that child is never mentioned again so far as can be ascertained.
Again, the name of "Baptiste" has been a stumbling-block, because the little "papoose" was known in history for a century as "Little Toussaint," or "Toussaint Charboneau," and so that when we introduce into the romantic history an aged man with an entirely new and foreign name there is certainly a demand for an explanation and recognition of facts. If we will go back to the spring of 18o5, Sunday, April 7, when Lewis and Clark engaged their additional men at the Mandan village, we find the name of Baptiste Lepage. This man was living at that time at the locality where Charboneau and Sacajawea made their home or headquarters. As they were friends and companions it is not unlikely or improbable that his first name was given the first child of the French-Canadian interpreter. There is no mention of this child's name in all of the journals and accounts that have been printed about the journey. But in going over the private papers of Captain Clark, the letter before mentioned contains more valuable information than that before cited. A portion reads as follows:—
"As to your little son (my boy Pomp) you well know my fondness for him and my anxiety to take him and raise him as my own child. I once more tell you if you will bring your son Baptiest, I will educate him etc. . . . with anxious expectations of seeing my little dancing boy Baptiest, I remain your friend,
This letter was written in 1806 and was never known to the public until 1904, yet for thirty-five years at the least prior to the latter date, Sacajawea's own son was known as "Baptiste." Incredibility cannot attach to this point in the evidence, for the facts are substantiated by a hundred living witnesses as to the name by which the son had been called by his mother, for thirty or thirty-five years. Documentary evidence shows further that Captain Clark was true to his promise and had little Toussaint Charboneau and Sacajawea come to St. Louis, where the boy was placed in a Catholic school, the teaching being in French, the language of his father. We find in Captain Clark's account as Indian Commissioner, an office to which he was appointed by the President after his return from the West, items under date of 1820, covering expense for school books, shoes, and other things for a boy. This account appears in the name of Toussaint Charboneau, doubtless the interpreter rather than his son. His boy was born in 1805; hence was fifteen years old at this period of his education. Baptiste and Bazil, we must remember, spoke Shoshone, French, and English.
The descendants of Bazil scorn the idea of having any French blood in them and claim only the blue blood of the American Indian. There is strong evidence that they are right in their assertion. There is nothing to show that Sacajawea's sister ever saw a man other than an Indian. The descendants of Baptiste looked like mixed bloods and act as such, associating with whites more than Indians usually do. They have acted as guides in earlier days and as United States police later, intermixing with whites and Mexicans. A son of Baptiste told Mr. Roberts that his father often told him that his grandmother had carried his father (Baptiste) when a babe on her back at the time she showed the way to "The First Washington" across the Crow Indian country to the "Big Water toward the Setting Sun"; that Baptiste's father (Charboneau) died long ago near the site of the present White Rocks Ute Agency, Utah, and that he had a lot of papers that were burned at his funeral.
In addition to the above, Dr. Hebard gives much other equally convincing proof that the Sacajawea of Lewis and Clark, and the one of the Shoshone reservation, were the one and same person. As has been before stated, her own people did not call her by that name. In Shoshone her proper name was Bo-i'-naiv, Grass Woman, or, as Rev. Mr. Roberts translates it, Grass Maiden. Singularly enough, there is a compound Shoshone word, Sacajaw'e, which, according to Mr. Roberts, means the boat, or raft launcher, that very closely resembles in sound the name that the Minnetarees gave her, Tsa-ka-ka-wias, Bird Woman. Says the Reverend C. L. Hall, of Elbowoods, North Dakota, for many years a missionary with the Mandans, Minnetarees, and Arickarees, in his "Gros Ventre Spelling of the Name, Bird Woman ": ". . . So, for some reason or fancy, the Shoshone girl was called the Bird Woman. There is no doubt about this name or the spelling of it. Washington Matthews, a collaborator of the Smithsonian Institution, in 1873 published a short account of the Gros Ventres people, together with a partial grammar and dictionary of the language.
This work is highly commended by the great linguist, Max Muller, who made use of it in writing his book on 'The Origin and Growth of Religion.' The words for bird and woman are given in place in this dictionary. We thus get for the name, The Bird Woman, Tsa-ka-ka-wias, the dotted s at the end standing for sh in English, and making the compound word a proper name. It is equivalent to the definitive article the. Anglicizing this a little, to suit those using only the English alphabet and unfamiliar with the scientific sound of vowels, and leaving off the initial t sound, which is hard for English tongues, we have the spelling in English, Saka'-kawea. During the last thirty years I have made numerous additions in manuscript to Matthews's book, and also some corrections, but I have no occasion to correct the words in question."
It is now, of course, too late to give the intrepid Indian heroine her Shoshone name, Bo-i'-naiv, Grass Maiden, or her Minnetaree name, Tsaka'-ka-wias. As Lewis and Clark wrote her name in their "Journal," and as it is inscribed upon the various statues that have been erected in honor of her, so must it remain, Sacajawea.
Too much credit cannot be given Dr. Hebard for bringing to light the later life of the heroine. But for her, we never should have known what became of Sacajawea after she left the Missouri. Once upon the trail of her later life, Dr. Hebard spent several years in tracing it out, in interviewing all who knew her, and her resulting story of it all is a most valuable contribution to American history.
Well, as my Blackfeet people say:—