the American Indian interpreter for Lewis and Clark's expedition,
has more statues in her honor than any other woman in American history.
one of the most famous women in American history is also one of
the most mysterious; even the date of her death is disputed, with
opinions differing by as much as 70 years.
Mossett, a member of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes of North Dakota,
believes Sacagawea's story has endured in part because of the mystery
surrounding her. For the past 15 years, Mossett has studied her
life and her contribution to the Lewis and Clark expedition.
recently worked as an adviser for the producers of the Science Museum's
Omnitheater feature "Lewis and Clark: The Great Journey West." The
film, which opens Friday, follows the explorers on their journey
through the American wilderness. "Native Waters: Sharing the Source,"
an exhibit about the Missouri River and its significance to the
Indian nations who live in the Missouri River Basin, will open the
in whose Hidatsa tribe Sacagawea lived, has been interested in Sacagawea
since she was young. As a child, she heard stories about Sacagawea
but felt that history classes ignored her contribution.
would always talk about the Lewis and Clark expedition and the Indian
woman who went with them," she said. "I have always wanted her story
to be told from our perspective."
is commonly believed that at age 12, Sacagawea was captured in a
raid by the Hidatsa and taken from her Shoshone tribe. Traumatic
though this must have been, she learned to speak Hidatsa in addition
to her native Shoshone, which would later make her a vital member
of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.
the time she lived with the Hidatsa, Sacagawea was married to Toussaint
Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur-trader who spoke Hidatsa. Although
many accounts of Sacagawea's life compare her marriage to slavery,
Mossett denied this comparison.
was not sold into slavery or marriage, said Mossett, nor were other
women, as Lewis had recorded in his journal. "The man gave gifts
to a woman's father; he needed to prove he was resourceful. When
those kinds of traditions were observed by Lewis, he misinterpreted
and Clark met Sacagawea and her husband while spending the winter
of 1804-05 near her Hidatsa village. They hired the couple as interpreters
in a rather circuitous system she translated Shoshone conversations
into Hidatsa for Charbonneau to translate into French, which a captain
of the Corps of Discovery would then translate into English for
Lewis and Clark.
to what most people think," said Mossett, "she was an interpreter,
not a guide." The expedition was to travel through Shoshone country,
where they would need to buy horses. Sacagawea was the only person
they had found who could speak the language of the Shoshone.
she was useful in other ways, too. When the expedition's supplies
ran low, she knew which plants were edible and could find caches
of nuts hidden by animals.
having given birth to a baby boy barely two months before the expedition
started, Sacagawea was a white flag to other Indians they encountered
along the route. "The sight of this Indian woman," Clark wrote in
his journal on Oct. 19, 1805, "confirmed those people of our friendly
intentions, as no woman ever accompanies a war party of Indians
in this quarter."
journey down the Missouri was a difficult one, even for the adult
men of the Corps; it is astonishing that Sacagawea was able to make
the journey as a teenager carrying a newborn child. Even with the
"little dancing boy," whom Clark had taken to calling "Pompy," she
proved herself at times more capable than the rest.
her husband, poor at steering a boat and unable to swim, capsized
a pirogue and floundered to shore in a panic, Sacagawea calmly went
about recovering supplies, her baby still on her back. She also
fished out the journals of the expedition, which are now the main
sources of information about her life.
Indian woman," wrote Lewis on May 16, 1805, "to whom I ascribe equal
fortitude and resolution with any person on board at the time of
the accident, caught and preserved most of the light articles which
were washed overboard."
have a deep respect for Sacagawea," said Mossett, who feels a connection
to Sacagawea because her ancestors knew her. "I want her story to
be told in a more historically accurate manner."