Lewis and Clark Expedition
Youmans Hist 214
November 4th 1804 (Fort Mandan) --- December 1805 (Pacific Coast/Fort Clatsop)
The entire expedition of Lewis and Clark, starting from St. Louis and back, took a total of three to four years, depending on if you consider the planning part of the expedition. The goal of the expedition was simply to discover what the United States has acquired after buying the Louisiana Territory. With that, there was a curiosity to see if there was a possibility of the Missouri River connecting with the Columbia, which led to the Pacific Ocean. President Thomas Jefferson selected a group of Army volunteers led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark. Before the expedition, nothing was known about this area, so you could just imagine the fear of literally entering the unknown. The leg of the journey I decided to look into, I believe, is the most important part of their expedition. It starts when they meet Toussaint Charbonneau, a fur trapper, who was married to Sacagawea, who we are all familiar with. Sacagawea was Lewis and Clark’s main tool, to help navigate through the undiscovered land. I wanted to examine exactly, just how much she was an asset to them, and find it out in their own words, through their journals. Starting on November 4th, the camp is settled at Fort Mandan along the Missouri River. In both, Lewis and Clark’s journal, they describe a cold, yet clear morning. As they were cutting down trees and building shelters, a man by the name Charbonneau greeted them both with several Indians. Charbonneau wished them to hire him and his wife Sacagawea as interpreters, in which, they complied.
4th of Novr. a french man by Name Chabonah, who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars were Snake Indians, we engau him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpet the Snake language
This was the first sign of Sacagawea in the expedition. On February 11th, 1805, Sacagawea gives birth to her first and only son. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who Clark nicknamed him “Pompy” would be the youngest individual with the Corps of Discovery. Just nearly a month later, Sacagawea proved her real worth for the first time when the boat she was sailing nearly capsized when a squall hit and Charbonneau panicked. Sacagawea showed her resilience and lack of fear and managed to gather crucial papers, books, navigational instruments, medicines and other items that might have otherwise disappeared, all while simultaneously ensuring her baby’s safety. In appreciation to Sacagawea’s mindful decision, Lewis and Clark named a branch of the Missouri for Sacagawea several days later. However, Clark, in particular, developed a close bond with Sacagawea as she and Baptiste would often accompany him as he took his turn walking the shore, checking for obstacles in the river that could damage the boats. Sacagawea, again proved her worth five days later when the first members of the Corps crossed the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Sacagawea did, as planned, translate the captains’ desire to purchase horses to the Shoshone they encountered. Sacagawea was surprised and happy to recognize the Shoshone’s leader, Chief Cameahwait, as her brother, and they had an emotional reunion. Sacagawea played a huge role, not only in translating and navigating, but she also was familiar with the food and medicine the land offered them in time of need.
For example, Clark writes:
The men who were complaining of the head ake and Cholicks yesterday and last night are much better to day. Shabonos Squar gatherd a…