Anna Komnene – Welcome to Minimum Wage Historian. I’m your host this time around.
Olga – Where’s Zachsky?
Anna – For the hundredth time, he’s in Japan. He’s taking a very long holiday. And I don’t expect he shall return. In fact he means not to.
Olga – So, I get his room?
Anna – If you wish. Just toss his stuff in the garage.
Jane Austen – I must say that that isn’t very considerate of you.
Anna – Its just Zach. Who cares? Let’s get started. Today, as you can see, we have St. Olga of Kiev, Jane Austen, Gaspar Correia and Scipio Africanus.
Scipio – Are you sure you don’t want to schedule Boudica or some other enemy of Rome on this panel, like you usually do?
Anna – Unlike Zach, I’m actually competent.
Gaspar – Harsh, Anna.
Anna – Silence! Ms. Austen, if you would be so kind, could you start us off?
Jane – It would be my most excited pleasure. Let us start with the birth of this woman. Sacagawea was born around 1788 or 89 in what is today Idaho. She was born into the Lemhi band of Shoshone. “Lemhi” was a name given to them by Mormon settlers. The world she grew up in was the world of the Native Americans before the white settlers came. It was a simple and sometimes harsh life. Her band of Lemhi were in a serious predicament and had troubles facing them from every turn.
Scipio – Indeed they did. Let’s look at Indian history from the military side of things for a moment. Indians in the South West had horses they captured from the Spanish. These horses spread north and eastward. At the same time, guns from French fur trappers were spreading west. Eventually the tribes with the horses met the tribes with guns and well…you can imagine how well that turned out. It turns out that in a fight, a gun is better than a horse. So, tribes with horses but no guns had to fall back and watch their hunting grounds be invaded by hostile tribes with better weapons. The Lemhi Shoshone were one of these unlucky tribes.
Anna – It was a simple matter of superior weapons technology. When Sacagawea was born, her tribe had to hide out in the mountains, away from the buffalo and only ventured down into enemy territory to hunt buffalo for the winter. It was that or starve. This enforced poverty lead to a breakdown of traditional Shoshone morals. They were a desperate people who were losing their spirit and their way. In Lewis’s journals we don’t see a very positive light on the Shoshone in that they bought and sold women like property (not a traditional Shoshone thing to do, BTW.) and in all likely hood, Sacagawea had a rough childhood and was probably beaten.
Jane – How horrible!
Anna – It only got worse. Her parents engaged her to marry a much older man in exchange for horses. Though poor, the Shoshone had one thing in abundance: horses, a fact that would come to be very important for Sacagawea later on. I can’t imagine that she would have been very keen on this idea of marrying some old man.
Jane – But surely it was a better choice than what happened. When she was eleven a raiding party of Hidasta Indians attacked their hunting party with terrible ferocity, killing several Lemhis. Sacagawea was kidnapped in this raid and taken for prisoner. Along with another girl named Jumping Fish, she was carried back to the Hidasta’s village. Jumping Fish managed to escape, but Sacagawea stayed and was a slave for three years.
Olga – Oh! I know this part. Indian girl then get fire and burn all Hidastas’ houses. ( Starts laughing maniacally.)
Anna – Umm…not quite, Olga. But thank you for trying. No, a French fur trapper came along by the name of Toussaint Charbonneau. He either bought Sacagawea or won her in a game of chance. Charbonneu took another Shoshone slave as wife. Sacagawea was thirteen years old. (Olga frowns, yawns and leaves the room.)
Gaspar – Let’s take a moment to look at the character of this Toussaint Charbonneau. He was a fur trapper that spend all his time with the Indians. He had “gone native” if you will. He spent his life far away from civilization. He was late thirties when he married. And he was, and let’s be fair here, a total, complete and utter douchebag.
Anna – Aren’t you being harsh now?
Gaspar – No, I’m just presenting my completely unbiased opinions. We shall see if my judgement proves false or not. I’ll keep a tally of douche points.
Anna – Your contributions are not needed.
Gaspar – Nevertheless, I shall endeavor to track this man’s behavior.
Jane – I’m sure your efforts are greatly appreciated, Gaspar.
Scipio – Never mind all that. So, that is where we leave Sacagawea for a moment and go to far off Rome…her…Washington DC. President Thomas Jefferson had just bought the Louisiana Purchase, doubling the size of the United States by buying land from France that wasn’t actually theirs to sell.
Gaspar – Splitting hairs.
Scipio – Like any good emperor, he wanted to find out about the land he had just acquired, so he organized an expedition to map out this new land and find out if there was a water passage that led to the Pacific Ocean.
Gaspar – Spoiler alert, there wasn’t one.
Scipio – So, Emperor Jefferson chose a Meriweather Lewis, a captain in the army. (A good thing he didn’t choose a lieutenant. Lt’s can’t find their backyard with a compass.) Lewis, a somewhat stoic career officer chose his good friend and fellow officer, William Clark as his co-captain.
Gaspar. With the two captains chosen, they went and hand picked a squad of the best men possible. They chose a rag-tag group of misfits, brawlers, one-eyed fiddle players and ruffians.
Anna – Okay, kind of true. But these men were professional soldiers, not the Dirty Dozen.
Gaspar – The part about the one-eyed fiddle player was true. Each one had unique skills that would help them along their journey. One was a carpenter. Another spoke French. Another knew some basic Indian sign language and others were good fighters.
Anna – There was a great deal of preparation for Lewis and Clark, such as lessons in medicine, map making and wilderness survival. But we won’t get into all that because this post isn’t about them. Let’s just say that after a long while, they and their elite corp of explorers made their way up the Dakotas where they stopped by an Indian village. Here is their problem that’s actually relevant to Sacagawea. They planned to take boats by river all the way to the Rocky Mountains. But they couldn’t cross the mountains with all their gear on their backs. There was just too much of it. So, once they got there, they’d have to buy horses from the local Indians there, the Shoshone. So, they needed to find a guide and hopefully an interpreter. Well…at this camp there happened to be Charbonneau and Sacagawea. Charb’ always looking for an opportunity, saw that he could make a great deal of money by guiding these Americans. So, he went to their camp and offered his services. Lewis and Clark were kind of “meh” on the idea until he mentioned that one of his wives could speak Shoshone. “Gentleman, before you had my curiosity. But now you have my attention.” They shook hands and hired him.
Gaspar – Okay, let me tell this part. So, what does an honest Frenchman do? He goes to the nearest French trading post, tells the French officials there all about it and they bribe him to spy on the expedition. They give him a bunch of swag as payment and he walks back to camp carrying his loot. Lewis and Clark ask, “Yo, where’d you get all that junk?” Charb’ replied, “Oh, the French gave it to me…as a gift! Yeah, that’s right. A gift.” L and C weren’t satisfied with his response so Charb’ thinks that they need him and can’t fire him, so he makes a list of demands like “If you want my services, I’ll go if I don’t have to do any manual labor or obey orders.” L and C were professional military men so you could guess how well that went over. They fired him and kicked him out. A few days later Charb’ came crawling back, begging for the job. They agreed because they really needed Sacagawea.
Scipio – One point for the DB count.
Jane – At first, the expedition’s journals only referred to her as “Charbonneau’s Squaw.” Keep in mind that “Squaw” was a derogatory term, so If you use it I will harshly remind you to mind your manners. She presented Lewis and Clark with a buffalo robe as a present of friendship. But as the expedition went on, they start to refer to her more often and soon start using her name. We shall see why. There was one more detail, Sacagawea was seven months pregnant and gave birth shortly before the expedition set out. For the entire year and a half expedition she would carry her baby in a cradle board on her back.
Gaspar – Hard core.
Scipio – So, once the Missouri River thawed out, they crossed and began their journey over the Great Plains. They soon fell into a routine. As they were going against the current, going was slow, so often Lewis and Clark took turns walking along the shore ahead of the boats to make sure there weren’t any obstacles. Sacagawea at first just stayed in the boats but soon began walking along with Clark whenever it was his turn. They didn’t speak each other’s languages, but they soon became friends. She would walk along and gather berries and roots for their dinner stews, a skill that would later keep the expedition alive.
Gaspar – Ok, I have another story.
Anna – (groans)
Gaspar – So, one day as they were making their way up the river, for some reason both Lewis and Clark were on shore and Sacagawea was in the boat with her husband. Good ole’ Charb’ was piloting the boat when a sudden storm came up and threatened to capsize the boat. Any sailor worth his salt knows you never turn into the wind. So, what does Charb’ do? He turns into the wind and tips the boat over. All of the Expedition’s most important equipment goes into the river. Lewis and Clark are yelling from the shore and Charb’ instead of getting a handle on the situation, literally freezes and does nothing. Everyone’s freaking out. Everyone expect Sacagawea. She calmly rescues the equipment that fell in, including some very important map making gear and the expedition’s journals. Since she was the only one to even think about saving their gear, they named the river after her and from that point on, L and c begin to pay more attention to the quiet Shoshone woman.
Scipio – DB point number two, I believe.
Anna – Charbonneau also did some cooking. Some fine Frankish cuisine! He used otter guts to make sausages. See? That’s not so bad, Gaspar.
Gaspar – Yes, but according to Lewis, Charb’ used beaver intestines for the sausage casings, but…I hesitate to say this in mixed company, he apparently didn’t always get all the intestine’s contents out before stuffing them.
Jane – Oh, my. How beastly. I must say that if I were forced to eat…such things, I would surely die of starvation first.
Scipio – DB point three.
Jane – During the trip westward, Clark grew more attached to Sacagawea whom he called ‘Janey’ and her baby, whom he called ‘Pompy’ or ‘Little Pomp.’ But alas, soon Sacagawea fell very ill. We don’t know the exact nature of her infirmity but we do know that it was severe. There are several theories, some of them rather unpleasant which I shall not go into. Clark, who went through some medical training in preparation for the expedition, attended her and did the best he could with his limited knowledge. They still traveled and she lay in the boat in agony. It was the only time they heard her cry out loud, so it must have been horrible. But there was something very curious about this affair. In his journal, Clark said “If she dies, it will be the fault of the husband as I am now convinced.” Like I said, there are some unpleasant theories.
Gaspar – Somehow being responsible for Sacagawea’s near death? DP Point number four.
Scipio – But eventually she started to recover and Lewis and Clark told her husband to make sure she only eats salted buffalo meat and broth. But like the wonderful husband he was, he didn’t care and let her eat whatever she wanted and she fell ill again. DP Point five, by the way. I do have to stop here and mention a curious piece of equipment Lewis and Clark brought along. Gun powder was difficult to store and was subject to weather, something they couldn’t get by with. So, they brought along a gun called a “Girandoni Air Rifle.” It was a repeating rifle, the first and only of its kind at the time, fed by a tube magazine and could hold 22, .46 caliber rounds that shot with the muzzle velocity of a .45 ACP. Not bad. It had an air reservoir that was hand pumped to fill and was quieter than a musket.
Anna – There were other adventures as well, such as them almost being drowned by a flash flood. But one day they came to a rocky hill that Sacagawea recognized. She sucked her fingers which was a sign that she was in the territory of her home tribe. Eventually they met the Shoshone and at Sacagawea translated. She was surprised when she saw Jumping Fish, the girl that escaped captivity and even more surprised when she met the chief, it was her own brother. It was the only time they saw Sacagawea cry. With her help they bartered for horses to use in crossing the Rocky Mountains. But something happened to test Sacagawea’s loyalty. She overheard that her brother was going to take Lewis and Clark’s payment and go off to hunt buffalo without giving them their horses. She immediately told Clark and they confronted the chief who swore he’d pay up. Apparently she believed her future was with the people of the expedition and not her tribe. Right there she saved the expedition because they were on a very tight schedule and any kind of delay would have prevented them from crossing the mountains before the snows grew too heavy.
Jane – Sacagawea also met another person she knew, the older man she was once engaged to. My imagination leads me to think that she didn’t care much either way about him. But too soon they had to leave and cross the mountains. Even though it was late August, there was snow in the mountains and soon progress became difficult. They hadn’t brought enough food and when it ran out, all they had was what few animals they could shoot and what Sacagawea could find. If it wasn’t for her ability to find food, they might never have made it through the mountains. When their horses gave out, they ate them, but for Shoshone that is a strict taboo and almost equal to cannibalism, she most likely did not partake of the meager meal. It took them two weeks to pass through the mountains and when they emerged on the other side, they met the friendly tribe of Nez Perce. With their aid they regained their health.
Anna – They left their horses with the Nez Perce and continued on toward the Pacific coast. They met several tribes, some of them unfriendly. But when they saw that they had a woman with them, they new they weren’t a war party and let them pass. So, again, she saved their lives simply by being there.
Gaspar – Hard core. Also, at this time I’d like to add that Sacagawea had her own agenda. She wasn’t there just to help L&C, but she was there on a secret mission from the ancient order of The West Wind, a group of demon hunters and she was on the trail of a vile demon named “Crow Talker.” In the baby’s cradle board she kept hidden the obsidian dagger that would allow her to defeat Crow Talker. She knew he lived by the ocean and only needed the expedition to get her there to fulfill her ancient duty.
Anna – I’m going to slap you one of these days.
Scipio -Eventually our heroes reached the Pacific ocean in time to make camp for the winter. It was to be a miserable time. It was always raining which meant their leather clothes could never dry and all their gear was always damp. It also meant they couldn’t dry any meant to preserve it. Clark reported in his Journal that Charbonneau struck Sacagawea and Clark had strong words with the Frenchman. She was one of their group now and an equal. They even voted on where to make camp and she got a vote like everyone else. Sixth DP point. Striking what everyone in the expedition considered to be one of the bravest, most patient and caring women they had ever met.
Anna – Some local Indians came along with whale blubber which apparently was good to eat, but I think it sounds revolting. But Lewis and Clark wanted to go find this carcass for food. They were about to leave without Sacagawea because she wasn’t a hunter, but she stopped them and said she had come all this way and she was going to see this giant fish. So, they brought her along, but by the time they reached it, it had been picked clean to the bones by other Indians. But at least she got to see the skeleton of the great beast. This shows a strong will and an equally strong curiosity. Perhaps traveling over such great distances made her bolder?
Jane – Like gentlemen, Lewis and Clark wished to bring President Jefferson a gift. One of the local Indians had a shiny beaver robe that was exquisite. But they had nothing left to trade. So, Sacagawea traded her prized beaded belt for the robe so they’d have something to bring back to Jefferson. That was most considerate of her. During Christmas it was noted that Sacagawea gave Clark several white weasel tails as a gift. I’m not entirely certain what significance that holds, but it does appear to be special in some way. I think perhaps that she was ‘particularly close’ to William Clark.
Scipio – The long, wet winter eventually ended and they started on their journey back home. They made excellent time and Sacagawea was able to interpret with a friendly tribe because they had a Shoshone captive with them. At one point they had to choose which pass through some mountains to take and Sacagawea said she knew the mountains and picked for them the shortest way. The fact that they listened to her on so many occasions shows their respect for her knowledge.
Anna – I do not think that its any exaggeration to say that the expedition would not have made it without Sacagawea. She helped in many ways, finding food, rescuing vital equipment, good will ambassador so they weren’t slaughtered and translator. And yes, sometimes she pointed the way.
Gaspar – Hard core. In fact, she was so hard core that the United States Army declared her an honorary Sergeant in 2001.
Scipio – After the expedition Clark adopted Sacagawea’s baby and raised him as his own. But what happened to Sacagawea? Nobody knows. There are two theories. One, that she died in a trading camp of sickness, but some think that may have been Charb’s other Shoshone wife. The other theory was that she went back to her people. The Shoshone have a oral tradition that she returned and spent the rest of her days there. They even have a grave marker to honor her. Which is true? I don’t know. I’ll leave that to the reader to decide.
Gaspar – Like Charb’s ultimate DB score. That I leave to the reader.
Anna – Gaspar has been hardly fair and unprejudiced, but yes, he probably was a rotten pig.
Jane – And please do not forget Zach’s book, “Fearless: Powerful Women of History.” I blush to say this, but I and to be found within those pages, so please purchase this book and do enjoy. Below is the “Link,” I think you call it.