She was the young woman who guided Lewis and Clark on the Corps of Discovery for the North West Passage from St Louis to the Pacific Ocean. Even if the meaning and result of the endeavor may be deeply questioned, her personal efforts were crucial for the expedition’s success and survival, but this is another story.
What caught my attention this time is that reliable information about Sakakawea is scarce, but the general opinion and most history books says Sakakawea was born in a subtribe of the Lemhi Shoshone called the Agaidika tribe, Idaho. In the year 1788, at age twelve, she was taken captive by the Hidatsa to a village in present day Washburn, North Dakota.
However, oral history of the Hidatsa-Mandan tells a different story. It seems that what once started as a hasty misinterpretation may have grown into a written truth.
According to this oral tradition it all started at the Awatxia people, a subtribe to the Hidatsa, who lived by a matrilineal clan system. Their way of life was multitalented, depending on agriculture as well as hunting and gathering. Parts of the year the Awatxia people used to live in a village of earth-lodges situated on a very steep plateau some miles up the Little Missouri River, in the Badlands, at the south-west corner of North Dakota. Today the site is known as Nightwalker’s Butte, named after an Awatxia tribe leader. The remains of the village are still present.
One girl born in this village was Sakakawea.
The Hidatsa and Mandan are closely related and speak the same language, which also goes for the Crow, living west of them. Further west lives the Shoshone, the horse people. One time while the men were out hunting; a Shoshone band came from the west and attacked the village. As the custom were when the men went out hunting, the younger boys and the old men were responsible for the protection against enemies. Some of the defenders were killed and some of the children and women were taken, among them Sakakawea and her younger brother. As time passed among the Shoshone, Sakakawea felt unhappy and miserable, missing her home and her family. An old Shoshone lady felt sorry for her, realizing she would never be happy among the Shoshone, so she helped her to get home to the Hidatsa. Her younger brother embraced the Shoshone as his family, so he stayed.
When Sakakawea was about 18 she married a French trapper Charbonneaux, who lived among the Mandans and Hidatsas. The same year the two of them traveled towards the west far beyond the Rocky Mountains. The next year, 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition came to the Mandans and spent the winter in their care. Sakakawea and Charbonneaux was chosen to join them as guides, because they knew the country where the expedition was going. The general and excepted opinion that Sakakawea was born Shoshone is wrong because of a misunderstanding of an interpreter. This is well known according to oral history of the Hidatsa/Mandan.
Since the village of Sakakawea’s birth was situated within the area where some of the ancestors of the Nokota Horses thrived for centuries, it is thrilling to know that the first horses Sakakawea saw and rode probably was ancestors to the horses we today call Nokota Horses.
It seems that wherever American history was made, it was done from the horseback of a Nokota!
This information puts even more focus on the importance of supporting the work of the non-profit organization The Nokota Horse Conservancy.
Sources: The essay “Mandan and Hidatsa of the Upper Missouri” written by Gerard A Baker, published 2006 in “Lewis and Clark through Indian eyes” edited by Alvin M Josephy JR.