The Truth About Sacajawea’s Death


The story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
feels as old as time – specifically the time of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson roughly
doubled the size of the United States by buying the Louisiana Territory from France. This largely uncharted land spanned about
828,000 square miles and eventually became 15 states. That vast expanse needed to be surveyed, thus
beginning the historic adventure of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. But it likely would have been a horrific misadventure
if it weren’t for their heroic Shoshone guide and bilingual translator, Sacajawea. Born sometime in the vicinity of 1788, Sacajawea
was kidnapped at around age 12. She and another Shoshone captive were sold
to French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau who declared them to be his wives. Two months after giving birth to her first
child, Sacajawea embarked on the Lewis and Clark Expedition with her infant son in tow. She used her mastery of the Hidatsa and Shoshone
languages to help negotiate vital horse trades and relay other important information. Sacajawea and her baby may have been the only
things preventing Native Americans in the area from perceiving the expedition as a hostile
invasion. But she wasn’t just an important resource;
she was also a rescuer. When a storm threatened to capsize their boat
and an expedition member threatened to shoot Charbonneau, Sacajawea saved the day by gathering
important instruments, garments, and documents. Somehow, she achieved this feat while simultaneously
taking care of her infant son. Survival didn’t come easy for the members
of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Rain and treacherous terrain conspired against
them as they braved the terrifyingly slippery Rocky Mountains. While situated 300 feet above the Missouri
River, Meriwether Lewis took a 20-foot tumble that could have become a much longer drop
had he not stopped himself. A year later, he slipped at a narrow pass
and narrowly avoided falling 90 feet into the river. Luckily for Sacajawea, she had lived around
and was familiar with the Rockies. She navigated the danger of the terrain, but
helped her fellow travelers traverse the Bozeman Pass in the mountains of Montana. While fending off water and gravity, the group
also came under attack from bacteria, insects, and disease. Tainted jerky wreaked digestive havoc. At least three men came down with syphilis,
and some historians suspect that Lewis suffered from the disease. In June 1805, Sacajawea contracted a nasty
illness. For almost a week she had a weak pulse, a
strong fever, and respiratory problems. Some medical historians have interpreted those
symptoms as a sign that Sacajawea was grappling with gonorrhea, or chronic pelvic inflammatory
disease. Whatever the truth of the illness was, she
overcame it just like the other obstacles. Sacajawea has been afforded a significant
role in history, memorialized to the point that she’s become a near-mythic figure. Not that that’s always a good thing. “That is not my name.” “Sackuhjuhmeeyuh.” “No.” “Sack… Sack-in-the-Box.” In fact, she’s so memorialized that she somehow
has two different graves located hundreds of miles apart. At the Wind River Indian Reservation near
Fort Washakie, Wyoming, a massive granite tombstone purports to mark the final resting
place of Sacajawea. If so, then she died in 1884 at the ripe old
age of 100. However, that tombstone may be gravely mistaken,
because about 600 miles away is another grave near Mobridge, South Dakota that claims to
be Sacajawea’s final resting place. And if the burial marker is to be believed,
then she didn’t even reach age 30, dying instead in December 1812 at around 24 or so years
old. William Clark wrote in his diary that Sacajawea
died long before 1884. Headopted her two children in 1813, suggesting
that Sacajawea wasn’t around to raise them. Based on the age listed at Wind River, Sacajawea
would have been 21 when she traveled with Lewis and Clark, creating a clear inconsistency
with other biographical details. Given the timing of the adoption, it would
make sense if she perished in 1812, and expert James Ronda asserted that most scholars currently
believe she was at least deceased by the time Clark documented it in his journal, sometime
between 1825 and 1828. How did this super mom and seemingly natural-born
survivor expire? Some researchers theorize that she succumbed
to a serious illness that plagued her throughout her adult life and may have been exacerbated
by the birth of her second child, Lisette. History writes that she might have died of
typhoid fever. Whatever the cause of her death, it’s hard
to imagine that she knew she’d be so remembered in the centuries to come. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Grunge videos about your favorite
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