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Meeting Sacagawea

Posted by Cathryn Mahoney on

On 16 May 2019 while staying in Kamiah, Idaho we took a drive alongside the Clearwater River with a vague direction, sensing, that we should head towards the Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest and Lolo Pass to connect with the nearest point we had reached in Montana on our last visit in May 2018. However, this proved to be too far to travel on this particular day so we stopped at a pull in alongside the Clearwater River, which we were directed to do so, by our guide, Dolay, as we were getting tired and the weather conditions were deteriorating with a storm approaching. Dolay instructed us to stay put while he went into the mountains in search of a person he wished us to meet. He told us he was travelling to where she was residing deep within the mountains and may be some time. We did not know at this time who we were meeting and why, and were becoming edgy.


At this point on our journey across Oregon and Idaho we had been travelling 9 days. On our arrival onto U.S. soil, we had experienced delays and then a cancellation resulting in an extra flight into Portland, Oregon. We had since then had several experiences which were physically exhausting, mentally draining and very emotional, which had resulted in us needing extra help from our tribe, especially our medicine man, to assist in our recovery.


Dolay arrived back after, what seemed like a long time, especially as he rarely leaves our side. However, it must have been only 20-30 minutes. We felt uneasy being left at the side of the road with an approaching storm, but this was a time when we had to fully trust in him and our tribe. We became aware of Dolay approaching from the forest beside the road and then walking towards us with a young woman hesitantly, slowly and timidly walking behind him. It seemed to take a while for them to meet us and we had to reign in our irritation and uncertainty as we wondered what was about to occur. The young woman seemed to need a lot of reassurance from Dolay to approach us and that reached our hearts and our empathy for her grew instantly.


She seemed quite young, perhaps early 20’s and seemed reluctant to address us, so Dolay introduced her to us. He spoke her name, Sacagawea, which at the time only rang a distant bell to me but was unfamiliar to my husband, Mike. Dolay told us that he had promised her grandfather, who was a good friend of his, that he would introduce us at this time and help her to tell her true story, which was not known to the world. Dolay then requested we spend some time listening to her story, and afterwards decide if we would agree to write the story the way it had been told to us.


With much encouragement from Dolay, Sacagawea spent a few moments expressing her sadness that she had been ostracised from her tribe following her involvement with, and the help that she had provided to Lewis & Clark the explorers. Her people had blamed her for the arrival of the white people on their lands, which had resulted in so many deaths, mistreatment and displacement.


Sacagawea had attempted to return home to her people, but had been unable to be reconciled with them, yet continued to receive the love she deserved from her grandfather. She wanted her people to know she had been offered no choice since she had been taken away from her village. Her main focus had been of her survival and later also for her two children, who she loved dearly. She had been grateful to Clark for taking care of her son, and gave the impression that he had been caring towards her and her family. However, she wanted more than anything to be accepted and forgiven by her own people.


As she spoke I began to have vague recollections of hearing about and reading snippets of her story when we were travelling across Montana the previous year. I hadn’t recalled reading anything about how her own people had treated her, apart from her being taken away from them at a young age, and then being instrumental in assisting Lewis and Clark across the mountains. I understood her need to put the record straight and to be forgiven by her people. We promised that we would share her true story to the best of our ability. She thanked us for listening and for agreeing to do this.


From what she told us about her life and the way we perceived her when talking to us, there seemed to be a great deal of truth in the recorded historical accounts of her life. Below, we have given those accounts and also a feminist perspective, which I believe gives a more balanced approach when exploring more in depth the difficulties Sacagawea had faced when living within such a male dominated society; being taken away from all she knew at such a young age, having to survive and adapt to her new life, and put to good use the skills she had learnt from her people, in order to survive in such harsh unforgiving circumstances.
Sacagawea told us she thought she’d had a good life and was grateful to Lewis and Clark for being kind towards her and the children. Clark in particular treated her like a family member and was very loving towards her son, who he named ‘Pompy’. He and Lewis were grateful to her for all she did to help them and knew they would never have succeeded without her help. She told us she had been pleased that he wanted to take on Pompy as his own son.


Regarding Charbonneau; he had won a game of cards with the Hidatsa and Sacagawea was his prize. He treated her as such rather than as a wife and used her to meet his own needs. He saw how powerful an asset she was for Lewis and Clark which enabled him to receive payment for his services to them. However, it was soon made apparent that she was much more valuable to them than he was and he later became jealous of her. This led him to undermine her and he attempted to play mind games with her to convince Lewis and Clark that she was unreliable. However, as he was a heavy drinker and proving little help to them, they recognized what he was doing. They also witnessed his treatment of Sacagawea and his lack of affection for his son, which is why Clark offered to take care of him.

Sacagawea therefore, did not hold any malice towards Lewis and Clark, but always wanted to be re-united with her own people more than anything. We must remember that she had survived a massacre within her village when she was 12 years old, at the hands of the Hidatsa tribe, who then captured her. In her eyes she had been rescued by Lewis Clark and was useful to them, despite the conditions of this rescue she was grateful to them. Like most people, her hope was to be repatriated with her own people and her family, so she did all she could to enable herself and her children to have a future life living within her tribal lands once again. She did eventually return closer to home for a short time, but had contracted the ‘white man’s’ disease.


Sacagawea passed away in 1812, leaving her daughter, Lizette in the care of Clark, although she only lived 3 years and 3 months. The historical accounts stating that Clark adopted both children and that ‘Pompy’ was placed in a boarding school were correct. However, Charbonneau did not die until several years later and he had left Sacagawea on her own 6 weeks prior to her illness and resulting death.


As an interesting end note, our visit from Sacagawea was effectively her dying wish for her story to be told, so she could make peace and be forgiven by her own people. She visited us from her own time of 1812, one month prior to her passing. We did not know this at the time but have been informed recently that this was the case. This is not unusual to us, as our guide Dolay and our tribe also visit us from that period in history. If you read the stories of ‘Our Journey’  you may understand further how this has all come about.

One final note: Sacagawea did not visit us physically but within her ‘astral’ body within dream state, particularly at a time when she was being prepared to pass from the physical plane of existence.


Thank you for reading Sacagawea’s story in her own words as relayed to us at that very auspicious meeting. Now, please read the historical accounts taken from Wikipedia; and then a blog by Carolyn Gage which offers a feminist perspective pertaining to the abusive treatment of Sacagawea.

In Conclusion, Carolyn has reflected on the lack of choices that Sacagawea must have had at that time in history, and the abusive treatment of her. In reality she would have initially had little choice, apart from complying with her captors and later her rescuers, to aid her own survival and then to hope for a better future for her children, whist dealing with adversity within unknown times. Over time with the care shown to her by Lewis and Clark she did feel a sense of importance and self-worth, because of her ability to help them to achieve what they had set out to do!

We believe, now that we have told her story, in her own words, we have set the records straight. We are right to honour her, for surviving through adversity, for playing her part in changing the course of history, whether we agree or disagree with Lewis and Clark’s expedition, which then enabled other Europeans to follow in their footsteps. We must accept that she did what she did through little choice of her own, but with a strong survival instinct and then growing fondness for her captors/rescuers, perhaps with a desire to please, but a much stronger desire to return home!

It is now time for Sacagawea’s own people to forgive her, and we believe in writing and sharing her story, that she has now received that forgiveness, and can finally rest in peace!

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