Sakakawea was a Native American woman who accompanied the Corps of Discovery of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the Pacific Ocean in 1804 and 1805. Sakakawea's name means Bird Woman. She was born to a tribe of Shoshoni, but in 1800, she was kidnapped by a group of Hidatsa and taken to their village near the present Stanton, North Dakota. She therefore grew up culturally affiliated with this tribe; her name is taken from the Hidatsa phrase for "Bird Woman."
At the age of about sixteen she married a French trapper, Toussaint Charbonneau, who was also concurrently married to another Shoshone woman (he had purchased both from the Hidatsa as slaves). Sakakawea was pregnant with their first child when the Corps of Discovery arrived in the area to spend the winter of 1804/5. Needing someone to interpret the Hidatsa language, Lewis and Clark interviewed Charbonneau for the job. Although they were not overly impressed with him, the deal was sealed when they discovered that Sakakawea also spoke Shoshone.
Sakakawea gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on February 11, 1805 while staying with the party at Fort Mandan. She would carry the infant throughout the entire trip to the Pacific Ocean. Native tribes spotting the expedition knew that war parties didn't generally travel with a mother and child, and would therefore approach in a friendly manner. Undoubtedly this dispelled quite a bit of friction with the people they met throughout the excursion.
Her main duties were as a translator. For example, with the Shoshone, she would translate into Hidatsa to her husband Charbonneau, who would then translate into French (he knew little English, but several others in the party knew French). The value of having Sakakawea as a Shoshone translator was proved when they reached her old village, and she was reunited with her brother, Cameahwait, who had by that time become a tribal leader. This smoothed the way in the negotiation to obtain much-needed horses from the Shoshone.
As recorded in the expedition's journals for May 14, 1805, Sakakawea proved crucial to the success of the project when her husband Charbonneau capsized a pirogue the group was using to make its way upriver. Unable to swim, Charbonneau flew into a panic and was unable to help right the situation; Sakakawea therefore calmly went about collecting items which had been lost into the river: instruments, trade items and-perhaps most important - the water-sodden pages of the journals themselves.
After their return to Fort Mandan, the members of the expedition parted ways with Sakakawea in August of 1805. They extended an offer to take the Charbonneau family to St. Louis, offering to provide land for the family to farm and an education for Jean Baptiste. This offer was declined at the time, but by 1809 the family had moved to St. Louis. Toussaint Charbonneau abandoned farming after a few months, going with Sakakawea to Fort Manuel (near today's North Dakota/South Dakota border) and leaving Jean Baptiste in the care of William Clark.
Records of Fort Manuel show that Charbonneau then left Sakakawea there while he was off on further travels, and that she died in December 1812 of "putrid fever" (which was a description for what is now called diphtheria). She would have been approximately 25 years old at the time. An entry in Captain Clark's journal of 1825-1828 lists her as dead.
These records are disputed by many Native Americans, and there is wide belief that Sakakawea died from old age among the Shoshone people at the Wind River Band reservation in Wyoming in 1884.
Sakakawea was portrayed on a US postage stamp in 1994, and she and her son Jean Baptiste are depicted on the currently-circulating United States dollar coin.
Sakakawea has been honored by having a river, a peak, a lake, and a mountain pass named after her. Monuments and memorials to her stand at Portland, OR, Three Forks, MT, Bismarck, ND, Lewiston, ID, and near Dillon, MT.
Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born Feb.11,1805 in present day North Dakota with the help of Captain Lewis and some rattlesnake tail. The Journal entry for February 11,1805 states,
"…. about five oClock this evening one of the wives of Charbono delivered of a fine boy. it is worthy of remark that this was the first child which this woman had boarn, as is common in such cases her labour was tedious and the pain violent."
54 days later Sakakawea wrapped Jean Baptiste onto a cradleboard, strapped him on her back and they began the laborious journey to the coast.
The first part of Jean Baptiste's life was well documented in the journals of Lewis and Clark. William Clark took a real liking to the boy and called him "Little Pomp: probably taken from a Shoshoni word meaning "Leader". At the end of the Lewis and Clark adventure, Captain Clark made an offer to Sakakawea to help raise the boy in St. Louis and to give him an education. Sakakawea took him up on the offer and brought Jean Baptiste to St. Louis in 1809, when he was four years old.
By the time Jean Baptiste turned 18 he was living in Kansas City, Kansas area working at a trading post. This is where he met Paul Wilhelm, Duke of Wurttmberg, Germany. The Duke was studying plants and animals in America. Paul Wilhelm was so impressed by Jean Baptiste that he invited him to his home in Germany. In Germany Jean Baptiste learned the language and helped the Duke with his studies. In 1829 Jean Baptiste was back in St. Louis working as a fur trapper and back in the environment he loved.
Jean Baptiste had a few jobs in his lifetime, most were in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing and guiding. One of the few office jobs Jean Baptiste held was that of a public administrator and judge in California. He had a hard time in the position, because he didn't care for the way the local ranchers treated the Indians. This job lasted only a year and soon Jean Baptiste was off to find gold in Sacramento; a place he called home for 18 years.
The gold bug bit again when Jean Baptiste was 61, and he packed up and headed out to find his fortune in Montana. He never made it however. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau died along the trail at Danner, Oregon of pneumonia.
Today, Charbonneau's grave and five others have recently been restored by the Oregon Chapter Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and are on the list of famous historical sites for the Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Celebration.