ON THIS DATE in 1804, sixteen-year-old (estimated age) Sacagawea was engaged to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition with French-Indian trader and interpreter Toussaint Charbonneau, the father of her unborn son.
A Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea’s role in the 8,000-mile exploration of the West is often exaggerated, with one biographer decrying how she “has been portrayed as a woman whose abilities as a scout and a trailblazer were outstripped only by her physical beauty.”
Sacagawea did, however, make important contributions to the expedition. On one occasion, she leaped into a river to save supplies and papers after a storm tipped over a boat, and another time she interpreted and otherwise aided in the purchase of horses from the Shoshone tribe when the expedition desperately needed them.
Nearly everything we know about her comes from the journals of Meriwether Lewis, who praised Sacagawea’s “fortitude and resolution,” and William Clark, who called her his “pilot.”
At the end of the journey Charbonneau received $500.33 and 320 acres for his labor. Sacagawea received nothing.
When Sacagawea died at age twenty-five, Clark adopted her two children, a boy named Jean Baptise (that she carried during the journey) and a girl named Lisette.