Thursday, July 19, 2012


I’d love to paddle the Missouri, and in just a week and a half will make the Great River Rumble, which is an event that paddles 144 miles of it. That makes hardly a decimal point in the 2,341 total miles that the river travels, but it will get me back on the water, and wet Ibi’s hull in both the Missouri and a few miles of the Mississippi. Of course, you can’t say Missouri River without your thoughts turning to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Then, any discussion of Lewis and Clark leads logically to Sacajawea (or Sacagawea), who contributed significantly to their success.

Sculpture by Leonard McMurry

Sacajawea was of the Shoshoni tribe, from near the headwaters of the Missouri River, in the mountains of Western Montana. (The Comanche tribe was a later offshoot of the Shoshoni.) She was born in 1788 in Idaho, and those of us who follow our joint interests in paddling have to love her name, which means “canoe launcher.” The Hidatsa tribe, that kidnapped her when she was twelve, called her “bird woman.” I’ll refer you to a piece I did on Sacajawea on a 16 April 2011 post rather than repeat the same information. It’s worth jumping back to that for more insight into this fascinating woman.

After the expedition, she was awarded a special medal by the United States for her great service as guide and interpreter for Lewis and Clark, and for her contribution to the American people in helping to open the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Many works of art have memorialized her as one of the greatest American Indians.


Information on her death is less clear than that about her birth. Historical documents have her dying of an unknown disease in 1812, but Native American oral tradition suggests she died on 9 April 1884, and that she was buried near the Shoshoni Agency on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

In 2000, the U.S. Mint issued a coin depicting Sacajawea and her son. Since no pictures exist of her in life, a modern Shoshoni-Bannock woman modeled for the likeness. While it is a worthy memorial to her contribution to history, this would also have to be true of this sculpture done by Leonard McMurry.

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