The toiling boats
rounded a great bend, and a shout arose.
"There's Clark! He's sighted Injuns, hasn't he?"
"So has Sacagawea! Sure she has! See?"
"Injuns on horseback, boys! Hooray!"
For Captain Clark, yonder up the curve, was holding high his
hand, palm front, in the peace sign. Sacagawea had run ahead,
little Toussaint bobbing in the net on her back; she danced
as she ran; she ran back again to him, sucking her fingers.
"Dat mean she see her own peoples!" panted Cruzatte the chief
boatman, who was a trapper and trader, too, and knew Indians.
"Dere dey come, on de hoss. Hooray!"
What a relief! The Indians were prancing and singing. They made
the captain mount one of the horses, and all hustled on, for
an Indian camp.
By the time that the hurrying canoes arrived, Sacagawea and
another woman had rushed into each other's arms. Presently they
and the captain and Chaboneau had entered a large lodge, built
of willow branches. The Captain Lewis squad was here, too. The
men had come down out of the mountains, by a pass, with the
Snakes. The Snakes had been afraid of them—the first white men
ever seen by the band. Old Drouillard the hunter had argued
with them in the sign language and with a few Shoshoni words
that he knew.
It had looked like war—it had looked like peace—and it had looked
like war, and death, again. Finally, before he could persuade
them, the captain had delivered over his guns, and had promised
them to be their prisoner if they did not find, down below,
one of their own women acting as the white men's guide.
But now all was well. The token of Sacagawea saved the day.
The other woman, whom she hugged, had been captured by the Minnetarees,
at the same time with herself, and had escaped.
And the chief of the band was Sacagawea's brother. He had mourned
her as dead, but now he and she wept together under a blanket.
Truly, he had reason to be grateful to these white strangers
who had treated her so well.
Much relieved by this good fortune at last, the captains bought
horses and hired guides. The Snakes were very friendly; even
engaged not to disturb the canoes, which were sunk with rocks
in the river to await the return trip.
There was little delay. The mountains should be crossed at once,
before winter closed the trails. To the surprise and delight
of all the company, Sacagawea announced that she was going with
them, to see the Great Salt Water. Somehow, she preferred the
white men to her own people. Sacagawea had been weeping constantly.
Most of her relatives and old friends had died or had been killed,
during her absence. Her new friends she loved. They were a wonderful
set, these white men—and the Red Head, Captain Clark, was the
finest of all.
Six horses had been bought. Five were packed with the supplies;
Sacagawea and little Toussaint were mounted upon the sixth,
and the whole company, escorted by the Snakes, marched over
the pass to Chief Ca-me-ah-wait's principal camp.
From there, with twenty-seven horses and one mule, with the
happy Bird-woman and the beady-eyed Toussaint, the two captains
and their men took the trail for the Great Salt Water, one thousand
miles toward the setting sun. Ah, but a tough trail that proved,
across the Bitter Root Mountains; all up and down, with scarcely
a level spot to sleep on; with the snow to the horses' bellies
and the men's thighs; with the game failing, until even a horse's
head was treasured as a tidbit.
And the Bird-woman, riding in the exhausted file, never complained,
but kept her eyes fixed to the low country and the big river
and the Great Salt Water.
Once, in the midst of starvation, from her dress Sacagawea fished
out a small piece of bread that she had carried clear from the
Mandan towns. Sacagawea gave it to Captain Clark, that he might
eat it. A brave and faithful heart had Sacagawea.
Struggling down out of the mountains, at the end of September,
they changed to canoes. The Pierced Noses, or Nez Penes Indians,
were friendly; and now, on to the Columbia and thence on to
the sea, Sacagawea was the sure charm. For when the tribes saw
the strange white warriors, they said, "This cannot be a war
party. They have a squaw and a papoose. We will meet with them."
That winter was spent a few miles back from the Pacific, near
the mouth of the Columbia River in present Washington.
Only once did Sacagawea the Bird-woman complain. The ocean was
out of sight from the camp. Chaboneau, her husband, seemed to
think that she was made for only work, work, work, cooking and
mending and tending baby.
"You stay by ze lodge fire. Dat is place for womans," he rebuked.
Whereupon Sacagawea took the bit in her teeth (a very unusual
thing for a squaw to do) and went straight to Captain Clark,
"What is the matter, Sacagawea?"
Sacagawea had been crying again.
"I come a long way, capitin. I carry my baby, I cold, hungry,
wet, seeck, I come an' I no care. I show you trail; I say 'Snake
peoples here,' an' you find Snakes. You get bosses, food, guide.
When Indians see me an' my Toussaint, dey say ' Dis no war party,'
an' dey kind to you. When you get hungry for bread, I gif you
one leetle piece dat I carry all de way from Mandan town. I
try to be good woman. I work hard, same as mens. Now I been
here all dis time, near de salt water dat I trabble many days
to see—an' I not see it yet. Dere is a beeg fish, too. Odders
go see—I stay. Nobody ask Sacagawea. My man he say 'You tend
baby!' I—I feel bad, capitin." And she hid her face in her blanket.
"By gracious, go you shall, Sacagawea, and see the salt water
and the big fish," declared Captain Clark. "Chaboneau can stay
home and tend baby!"
However, Sacagawea the Bird-woman took little Toussaint, of
course; and they two viewed in wonderment the rolling, surging,
thundering ocean; and the immense whale, one hundred and five
feet long, that had been cast ashore. It is safe to assert that
to the end of her days Sacagawea never forgot these awesome
In the spring of 1806 the homeward journey was begun. On the
Missouri side of the mountains the Bird-woman was detailed to
help Captain Clark find a separate trail, to the Yellowstone
And this she did, in splendid fashion; for when the party knew
not which way was the best way, out of the surrounding hills,
to the plains, she picked the landmarks; and though she had
not been here in many years, Sacagawea showed the gap that led
over and down and brought them straight to the sunken canoes.
On August 14 the whole company was at the Mandan towns once
more. After her absence of a year and a half, and her journey
of six thousand miles, bearing little Toussaint (another great
traveler) Sacagawea might gaily hustle ashore, to entertain
the other women with her bursting budget of stories.
The captains offered to take Chaboneau and Sacagawea and Toussaint
on down to St. Louis. Sacagawea the Bird-woman would gladly
have gone. She wanted to learn more of the white people's ways.
She wanted to be white, herself.
But Chaboneau respectfully declined. He said that it would be
a strange country, and that he could not make a living there;
later, he might send his boy, to be educated by the captains.
That was all.
So he was paid wages amounting to five hundred dollars and thirty-three
cents. Sacagawea was paid nothing. The captains left her to
her Indian life, and she followed them only with her heart.
Nevertheless, Sacagawea did see her great Red Head Chief again.
Captain Clark was appointed by the President as Indian agent
with headquarters in St. Louis. He was a generous, whole-souled
man, was this russet-haired William Clark, and known to all
the Indians of the plains as their stanch friend.
So it is probable that he did not forget Sacagawea, his loyal
Bird-woman. In 1810 she, the boy Toussaint, and Chaboneau, visited
in St. Louis. In 1811 they were on their way up-river, for the
Indian country. Life among the white people had proved too much
for the gentle Sacagawea. She had tried hard to live their way,
but their way did not agree with her. She had sickened, and
she longed for the lodges of the Shoshonis. Chaboneau, too,
had become weary of a civilized life.
Sacagawea at last returned to her "home folks" the Snakes. No
doubt Chaboneau went with her. But there is record that he was
United States interpreter, in 1837, on the upper Missouri; and
that he died of small-pox among the Mandans, soon afterward.
Sacagawea the Bird-woman out-lived him. She and her boy removed
with the Snakes to the Wind River reservation, Wyoming; and
there, near Fort Washakie, the agency, she died on April 9,
1884, aged ninety-six years, and maybe more.
A brass tablet marks her grave. A mountain peak in Montana has
been named Sacagawea Peak. A bronze statue of her has been erected
in the City Park of Portland, Oregon. Another Sacagawea statue
has been erected in the state capitol at Bismarck, North Dakota.
So, although all the wages went to her husband, Sacagawea knows
that the white people of the great United States remember the
loving services of the brave little Bird-woman, who without
the promise of pay, helped carry the Flag to the Pacific.
The Bird-woman Guide (1805-1806)
By Edwin L. Sabin
Lewis and Clark Expedition for kids:
Facts about Sacagawea
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