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Illustrations by Ario Murti
This article was prepared in consultation with Suzy Avey, Director of the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural and Education Center, and with Louise E. Dixey, Cultural Resources Director for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.
When she was just a teenager, Sacajawea became part of a journey that changed the United States.
Sacajawea (sak-uh-juh- WEE-ah) grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. These peaks towered over her homeland in what is now the state of Idaho.
Little did Sacajawea know that one day she would cross them as part of one of the most famous expeditions in U.S. history.
Born around 1790, Sacajawea was likely the daughter of a Shoshone (shuh-SHOH-nee) leader. When she was about 12, the Hidatsa*, another Native American group, kidnapped her. They took her to their village 800 miles away, near what is now North Dakota.
About five years later, the Hidatsa sold her to a French Canadian fur trader. The two were married. As Sacajawea was getting ready to have a baby, a team of white explorers arrived.
*Also known as Minnetaree
Path to the Pacific
A few years earlier, the U.S. had bought territory from France, doubling America’s size. The explorers, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, were sent to map the region and find a water route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.
Lewis and Clark needed interpreters to speak with the different people they would meet along the way. They hired Sacajawea’s husband, who spoke French. They brought her because she could speak Shoshone.
The expedition had about 30 or 40 men. Sacajawea was the only woman to take part in the journey.
Up to the Challenge
At the time, there were no cars, paved roads, or complete maps. The team traveled on foot or by boat. Each day was a challenge.
Sacajawea wound up doing much more than interpreting. She knew which plants could fight hunger and illness. She also repaired clothing.
As the group entered the Rocky Mountains, Sacajawea helped guide them through the Shoshone’s land.
When the expedition neared her homeland, Sacajawea was surprised to meet her brother again. The two had a happy reunion. And he helped provide the explorers with horses so they could finish their journey.
Honoring a Hero
To Lewis and Clark’s disappointment, there was no direct route by water to the Pacific. But with Sacajawea’s help, they had been able to map the region.
In his journal, Clark wrote that she had “been of great service to me as a pilot through this country.”
Today, Sacajawea is still celebrated for her bravery and skills. Parks, schools, monuments, and a U.S. coin have been named or created in her honor.
Check out a few big moments in Sacajawea’s life.
As a kid, Sacajawea was taken from her home by the Hidatsa.
While helping explore America’s West, she saved the day many times. Once, she rescued supplies from a river.
The expedition completed the Long, exhausting journey to the Pacific Ocean. Sacajawea carried her baby on her back for most of the trip.
1. In what way was Sacajawea different from other members of the Lewis and Clark expedition?
2. William Clark wrote that Sacajawea was “of great service” to the expedition. What details in the article support that idea?
3. How does the sidebar “A Life of Courage” support the article?