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Mythbuster: Sacagawea

Sacagawea was the only Indian woman on the Lewis and Clark expedition, also known as the Corps of Discovery. Sacagawea was mainly an interpreter and helped as a guide to find food. She also helped Lewis and Clark in the purchasing of horses from her home village. Sacagawea was kidnapped from her Shoshone tribe by the Hidatsa tribe and married a French- Canadian man, Toussaint Charbonneau who had settled or joined the Hidatsa tribe. Charbonneau however, had two Shoshone wives and there is a myth that a Shoshone woman said to be Sacagawea had died in April 1884. The problem is that we do not know if Sacagawea was in fact the same Shoshone woman who was said to have died that year.

Sacagawea was born around 1788. In 1805 she had a son making her out to be around 17 years old. Her and her family were a part of the expedition in that year and there were some recordings in the Lewis and Clark journals. She had left the expedition with her husband and there were not many recordings of what had happened with her and her family until 1809 when they visited William Clark. In 1812 Sacagawea gave birth to her daughter and reportedly fell sick due to what is now called diphtheria. In the year of 1812 Sacagawea would have been about 24 years old.

Researchers believe that Sacagawea died in 1812 a few months after her daughters birth. They believe that she was in her mid twenties. At the end of Sacagawea and her husband’s part on the expedition Clark records in his journal that “Chabono… sent his baggage with his wife and son… to the canoes provided for them (Aug. 17th 1806 Lewis and Clark Journal).” This recording is a very important part to this myth because other researchers have said that the wife that went with Charbonneau on the canoe and boats was not Sacagawea but instead was his other wife. This idea is crucial because it would mean that Charbonneau’s other wife was the one who died in 1812 rather than Sacagawea.

Charbonneau and Sacagawea were said to have moved together to St. Louis to farm but Charbonneau gave up farming after a few short months and returned to Fort Manuel with his wife. The tricky thing is that historians don’t know if Sacagawea or his other Shoshone wife was the one returning to Fort Manuel on the boat. One researcher, Dr. Grace Hebard, believes that the wife who accompanied Charbonneau to Fort Manuel was not Sacagawea. She said that Sacajawea’s after some abuse from her husband “Sacagawea disappeared from her tepee and left Charbonneau, never to return” (Hebard 154).

The theory that Hebard believed and was published was that Sacagawea left her husband and went to live with the Comanche tribe. Hebard says that the woman who accompanied Charbonneau on the boat to Fort Manuel was his other wife. On the boat however, his wife fell ill and died of a sickness in 1812. Sacagawea is reported having a daughter in 1812 and falling ill after the birth.

Although the events on the boat match up with the idea that Sacagawea was the wife that went with Charbonneau to Fort Manuel Hebard believed otherwise. She insisted that Sacagawea left her husband and fell into the Comanche tribe and died at the age of nearly 100 in 1884. And that the wife on the boat was Charbonneau’s other woman.

In a list of people that were in the Lewis and Clark expedition, Clark had written the status next to their name, living, or dead. Near the bottom of the recorded list next to Sacagawea’s name said dead. This list was created in 1825 to 1828. Which means that if The list was made in those years Sacagawea had to have been the wife who died in 1812.

In my own opinion after my readings and finding of many different documents, I believe that Sacagawea died at the age of 25 in 1812. She is said to have fallen ill after her daughters birth in 1812 and a woman on the boat with her husband had fallen sick in 1812. The times of the death and events in 1812 match up with the idea that Sacagawea did die in that year. Although there is no concrete evidence of her death, she is said to have already been dead in 1825 by Clark. “There were stories that it was another wife of Charbonneau’s that died in Fort Manuel, but historians don’t give much credence to this(Biography).” Sacagawea would have also had to be 97 years old if she died in 1884 and in modern times with the medical technologies we have today it is very hard to live up to that many years, so I do not see how in 1884 someone would live so long. The myth continues however because it is very hard to prove without documents or evidence.

Author: Veronica Perez


Clark, William. The journals of Lewis and Clark. August 1806.

Hebard, Grace Raymond. Sacagawea, a Guide and Interpreter of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, with an Account of the Travels of Toussaint Charbonneau, and of Jean Baptiste, the Expedition Papoose. Glendale, Calif.,: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1933.

Howard, Harold P. Mystery of Sacagawea: Indian Girl with Lewis and Clark. Stickney, S. D.: H. P. Howard, 1969.

Perdue, Theda, and Ebrary Inc. Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives. In Viewpoints on American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Sacagawea. Biography of Sacagawea. A&E Television Networks, 2009.

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