The explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out on the first overland expedition across the American West in 1804. Their ambitious expedition succeeded, in part because of a Native American woman named Sacagawea. Sacagawea helped Lewis and Clark communicate with Native American tribes. Her presence allowed Lewis and Clark to pass peacefully through Indian lands.
SACAGAWEA‘S EARLY LIFE
Sacagawea was born about 1787 in present-day Idaho. She belonged to a Shoshone tribe. Around 1800, Indian raiders from the Hidatsa tribe captured Sacagawea. They traded her to the Mandans, a tribe living along the upper Missouri River.
While living with the Mandans, Sacagawea met a French fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. Charbonneau married Sacagawea. The couple had a son named Jean Baptiste.
SACAGAWEA JOINS LEWIS AND CLARK
In the winter of 1804, Lewis and Clark camped among the Mandans in present-day North Dakota. The men hired Charbonneau as a guide and interpreter, with baby Jean Baptiste slung on her back, joined Lewis and Clark in the spring of 1805. The expedition began the long journey to the Pacific Coast.
HOW DID SACAGAWEA HELP LEWIS AND CLARK?
Sacagawea’s presence with her baby helped persuade other Native American tribes that the white men’s mission was peaceful. Their expedition was one of exploration, not war. Clark noted in his journal that Native Americans saw Sacagawea as “a token of peace.”
Across hundreds of difficult miles, Sacagawea helped interpret the languages of different tribes. She made the men moccasins out of animal hide. She pointed out wild plants that could be eaten or used as medicines.
In August 1805, the expedition ran into a group of Shoshone Indians recognized one of the men. It was her brother, Cameahwait! Sacagawea convinced the Shoshone to help the expedition. The Shoshone gave Lewis and Clark horses, food, and guides, so they could continue their journey west.
WHAT HAPPENED TO SACAGAWEA?
After reaching the Pacific Coast, Lewis and Clark headed back to St. Louis, Missouri, where the journey began and her husband stayed behind when the expedition passed through North Dakota in 1806.
Historians believe Sacagawea died in 1812, soon after the birth of her daughter, Lisette. William Clark showed his respect for Sacagawea by paying for her son Jean Baptiste’s education.
Many monuments and landmarks in the American West are named for Sacagawea. They honor Sacagawea’s role in the great journey of exploration undertaken by Lewis and Clark. In 2000, the United States issued a new gold dollar coin. An image of Sacagawea carrying her baby son gleams on the coin’s surface.
In 2000 the United States Mint issued a new golden dollar honoring the Native American woman Sacagawea. The coin commemorates Sacagawea’s help in guiding the Lewis and Clark expedition during much of its westward journey across North America from 1804 to 1806. The front side of the coin shows Sacagawea and her infant son, Jean Baptiste.