Opinion

Column: Sakakawea's life after Lewis and Clark was a 'mystery'





What happened to Sakakawea after she left the Lewis and Clark expedition? The Bureau of Indian Affairs looked into it at one point:
Little is known about Sakakawea after she left the expedition at Fort Mandan. There is also much confusion because Charbonneau had two Shoshone wives. It is reported that, in 1806, Charbonneau took both of his wives and two sons to live in St. Louis while he trapped for a fur company. In 1810, he purchased some land near St. Louis from Clark and attempted to farm. Charbonneau sold the land back to Clark a year later.

Charbonneau was hired to help build a trading post along the Missouri River, just south of the present-day North Dakota border.

In April of 1811, it was reported that Charbonneau was on a boat with a wife and son traveling up the Missouri River to begin work on the fort.

On Dec. 20, 1812, the clerk at the fort reported, “This evening the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake (Shoshone) squaw, died of a putrid fever. She was a good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl.” If we were certain that this was Sakakawea, which many claim, this would be the end of our story.

What lends credence to the 1812 death of Sakakawea is that, in 1813, Charbonneau signed over legal custody of Jean Baptiste and his infant daughter, Lizette, to Clark. In Clark’s notes, written between 1825 and 1826, he lists Sakakawea as “dead.”

Much of the Native-American oral tradition refused to accept this, claiming that Sakakawea did not die in 1812, but rather that she lived until 1884 under the name of Porivo, a name given to her by the Comanche tribe with whom she lived for many years.

Get the Story:
Did You Know That: Much of Sakakawea’s life remains mystery (The Fargo Forum 3/9)