Sacagawea was born about May1788 and was a Lemhi Shoshone woman who, at age 16, helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition explore the Louisiana Territory. Sacagawea traveled with the expedition thousands of miles from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean, helping to establish cultural contacts with Native American populations and contributing to the expedition’s knowledge of natural history in different regions.
At age 11, she was taken from her home tribe, the Shoshone by the Hidatsa people where when she was older she became the wife of Toussaint Charbonneau, a French trader.
Lewis and Clark hired Toussaint Charbonneau after learning that his wife, Sacagawea, spoke Shoshone. She was pregnant with her first child at the time.
On November 4, 1804, Clark recorded in his journal.
A week later, on July 13, Sacagawea advised Clark to cross into the Yellowstone River basin at what is now known as Bozeman Pass. Later, this was chosen as the optimal route for the Northern Pacific Railway to cross the continental divide.
While Sacagawea has been depicted as a guide for the expedition, she is recorded as providing direction in only a few instances. Her work as an interpreter certainly helped the party to negotiate with the Shoshone.
But her greatest value to the mission may have been her presence during the arduous journey, as having a woman and infant accompany them demonstrated the peaceful intent of the expedition. While traveling through what is now Franklin County, Washington, in October 1805, Clark noted that “the wife of Shabono [Charbonneau] our interpreter, we find reconciles all the Indians, as to our friendly intentions a woman with a party of men is a token of peace. Further he wrote that she “confirmed those people of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter”
Following the expedition, Charbonneau and Sacagawea spent 3 years among the Hidatsa before accepting William Clark’s invitation to settle in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1809. They entrusted Jean-Baptiste’s education to Clark, who enrolled the young man in the Saint Louis Academy boarding school. Sacagawea gave birth to a daughter, Lizette Charbonneau, about 1812. Lizette was identified as a year-old girl in adoption papers in 1813 recognizing William Clark, who also adopted her older brother that year.
She died December 20, 1812 or April 9, 1884.