Biography >> Explorers for Kids >> Westward Expansion >> Native Americans
- Occupation: Explorer, interpreter, and guide
- Born: 1788 in the Lemhi River Valley, Idaho
- Died: December 20, 1812 in Fort Lisa North Dakota (maybe)
- Best known for: Acting as guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark
Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who assisted explorers Lewis and Clark as an interpreter and guide on their exploration of the west.
Lewis and Clark Expedition by Charles Marion Russell
Where did Sacagawea grow up?
Sacagawea grew up near the Rocky Mountains in land that is today in the state of Idaho. She was part of the Shoshone tribe where her dad was the chief. Her tribe lived in teepees and moved around during the year to gather food and hunt bison.
One day, when she was around eleven years old, Sacagawea's tribe was attacked by another tribe called the Hidatsa. She was captured and taken as a slave. They took her all the way back to where they lived in the middle of what is today North Dakota.
Life as a Slave
Life with the Hidatsa was different than with the Shoshone. The Hidatsa didn't move around as much and grew crops such as squash, corn, and beans. Sacagawea worked in the fields for the Hidatsa.
While she was still just a young teenager, the Hidatsa sold Sacagawea to a French-Canadian trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau. She soon became pregnant with her first child.
Meeting Lewis and Clark
In 1804, an expedition led by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived near to where Sacagawea lived. They had been sent by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the Louisiana Purchase and the lands to the west. They built a fort there called Fort Mandan and stayed for the winter.
Lewis and Clark were looking for guides to help them through the land to the west. They hired Charbonneau and asked him to bring Sacagawea along so she could help interpret when they reached the Shoshone.
In April of 1805 the expedition headed out. Sacagawea had given birth to a son that winter named Jean Baptiste. She brought him along, carrying him in a cradleboard tied to her back. He was only two months old.
Early on Sacagawea was able to help out with the expedition. She showed the men how to collect edible roots and other plants along the way. She also helped to save some important supplies and documents when her boat was capsized in the river. The men were impressed with her quick action and named the river after her.
Back at the Shoshone
Late that summer, the expedition reached the land of the Shoshone. Lewis and Clark met with the local chief to trade for horses. They brought in Sacagawea to interpret for them. Much to her surprise, the chief was Sacagawea's brother. She was so happy to be home and see her brother again. Sacagawea's brother agreed to trade for horses. He even provided them with a guide who helped them through the Rocky Mountains.
Sacagawea continued on the journey. It wasn't easy. They were often cold and hungry and she had to carry and feed a baby. Having Sacagawea on the trip also helped to keep the peace with the Native Americans. When they saw a woman and child with the group, they knew it wasn't a war party.
The Pacific Ocean
The expedition finally reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. They were amazed at the sight of the ocean. Sacagawea was especially amazed at the size of the remains of a beached whale they saw on the ocean shore. They stayed near the ocean for the winter before beginning the journey home.
It took Sacagawea and the expedition most of the next spring and summer to return home. Not much is known of her life after this. Some historians think that she died just a few years later of a fever on December 20, 1812. Others say that she returned home to the Shoshone and lived for another seventy years and died on April 9, 1884.
Interesting Facts about Sacagawea
- Some historians say that Charbonneau won Sacagawea while gambling with the Hidatsa.
- Captain Clark nicknamed Sacagawea "Janey" and her son Jean Baptiste "Pomp" or "Pompy".
- She gave up her beaded belt so that Lewis and Clark could trade for a fur coat for President Jefferson.
- A few years after the expedition, she gave birth to a daughter named Lizette.
- Other spellings of her name include Sacajawea and Sakakawea.
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