In May of 1804, two men set out on an important journey that would take them across the country and discover new land, but none of it would have been possible without the aid of one woman. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was planned by Thomas Jefferson, in order to explore the unknown in the newly purchased Louisiana Territory, and also to find a water route across the continent. Along the way the group of men met a quiet native, named Sacagawea, whose impact would later have a large effect on the success of their important journey.
In late October, The Corps of Discovery reached the Mandan Indian Villages in what is now known as North Dakota, where they built a fort and spent the winter. There, Lewis and Clark met a French Canadian trapper named Toussant Charbonneau, who was hired to be an interpreter. His 17 year old Shoshone Indian wife Sacagawea and child, Jean Baptiste, also went along on the trip.
The explorers were thrilled at their good fortune. They hoped she could possibly lead them back to her native people. Also, Sacagawea could serve as a translator (Women in World History 32). “If and when the expedition met the Shoshones, Sacagawea would talk with them, then translate to Hidatsa for Charbonneau, who would translate to French.
The Corpsâ€TM Francois Labiche spoke French and English, and would make the final translation so that the two English-speaking captains would understand.” Her language skills and knowledge would later prove to be a great help to the success of the expedition (Moulton 7).
Sacagawea, with her infant son, became the only woman in the small band of about 40 or so men. As they approached more and more west, many Natives had never seen white men before and were ready to protect their land. Lewis was sure the presence of a young woman and a baby would be an obvious sign their purpose was peaceful (Armstrong 65). Over the course of the journey, Sacagawea identifyed many edible berries and roots, which were used as medicine as well. Also, she mented clothes and nursed the sick and injured (Moulton 7).
On May 14, 1805, Sacagawea especially impressed her fellow explorers when strong winds nearly capsized the boat she was riding in. She helped to hold down the boat and recovered many important papers and supplies, that would otherwise have been lost. Her calm effectiveness was also noticed compared to her panicking husband who could not swim. Lewis, who was never as fond of Sacagawea as Clark was, was extremely grateful for her help (Women in World History 32).
On November 24, 1805 the expedition reached the place where the Columbia River emptied into the Pacific Ocean. There the members of the Corps held a vote to decide where to settle for the winter. Sacagawea was allowed to vote as well as Clark’s slave, York, and were counted equally to that of the men. That day was the first in recorded history either a woman or a black man were allowed to vote. After the voting, the explorers settled on a site near present-day Astoria, Oregon, where they stayed for the winter of 1805 through 1806 Women in World History 33). Sacagawea’s impact continued when the group approached the Rocky Mountains and Shoshone lands. She was not sure if she remembered the path to her people, but on April 17, 1806, they saw the camp of the Shoshone. She reconized the Chief to be her brother Cameahwait, and arranged for the explorers to stay with the natives. They were given shelter and food and rested there for two weeks. Lewis and Clark knew they would need horses to cross the Rocky Mountians, which Sacagawea helped to get from the Indains. She later gave a tearful goodbye to her family and left with the explorers to travel the rest of the way to the Pacific Ocean, for she knew her job as translator would be vital to the success of the mission (Armstrong 65).
Today, Sacagawea is remembered as a heroine for her help during the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Her impact of the misson was endless, for she acted as a translator and as a symbol of peace. She helped to show the way to her native people, and pointed out edible foods. Also, she mended clothes and helped to save many valueables. Sacagawea’s help throughout the mission left such a large impact, no one can deny that without her the expedition would not have been a success.