Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Book Review: Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark

Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark, Native American Biographies, Alana J. White, Enslow Publishers, Springfield, NJ, 1997.  In this book we have not only a biography of Sacagawea but also a history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Sacagawea was 16 when she joined the expedition.  Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were glad to have her as part of the team called Corp of Discovery because she knew the territory, could serve as interpreter, and also because she could help them negotiate with Indians when they would need to trade for horses.  Even thought she was 16, and had a new born baby to care for, which she carried in his cradle board, she was an important asset.  Sacagawea had been stolen from her people about six years previous.  She then became the husband to a french Canadian, Toussaint Charbonneau who either bought her as a slave, or won her in a poker game.  Whatever he married her.  Sacagawea was not his first wife, but the only wife on the journey with him.  Sacagawea's knowledge of local plants, and which were good for food was invaluable information.  Also she helped with directions and her knowledge of the land.  They did find her people, and Sacagawea was able to help Lewis and Clark purchase horses.  Her brother was the chief.  However Lewis and Clark were not as pleased with Charbonneau.  He let the canoe sink, and did several other things through carelessness.  However the entire family, Sacagawea, Charbonneau and their son Jean Baptiste (nicknamed Pomp by Captain Clark) all made the trek both ways, to the Pacific and back again.  They were exploring the Louisiana Purchase, and trying to determine if there was a water crossing across the continent.  This there was not, but they proved it was possible to cross the continent by overland travel and water.  There were many perilous times on the trek.
William Clark befriended Sacagawea's baby.  He offered to raise him.  It appears Charbonneau and Sacagawea took him up on this.    They traveled to Saint Louis where he lived.  There is an indication that Sacagawea died young.  A note says the wife of Charbonneau had passed away and was buried at Fort Manuel in South Dakota.  However as Charbonneau had more than one wife this is confusing.  The Shoshone have her returning to them and living a long life.  She told of the whale carcass she had seen while along the coast, and many other strange things.  This tradition has Sacagawea passing away in 1884 on the Wind River Reservation.  Since she was 16 when she started the trip with Lewis and Clark in 1804, she would have been well in her 90s when she passed away.  The result is that there are two burial sites for Sacagawea.  Whatever the truth, she was a remarkable woman, and her knowledge and fortitude helped Lewis and Clark return successfully from their mission across the continent.

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