The Making of Sacagawea: A Euro-American Legend

The Making of Sacagawea: A Euro-American Legend

The Making of Sacagawea: A Euro-American Legend

The Making of Sacagawea: A Euro-American Legend


Sacagawea is one of the most renowned figures of the American West. A member of the Shoshone tribe, she was captured by the Hidatsas as a child and eventually became one of the wives of a French fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau. In 1805 Charbonneau joined Lewis and Clark as the expedition's interpreter. Sacagawea was the only woman to participate in this important mission, and some claim that she served as a guide when the expedition reached the upper Missouri River and the mountainous region. Although much has been written about the historical importance of Sacagawea in connection with the expedition, no one has explored why her story has endured so successfully in Euro American culture. In an examination of representative texts (including histories, works of fiction, plays, films, and the visual arts) from 1805 to the present. Kessler charts the evolution and transformation of the legend over two centuries and demonstrates that Sacagawea has persisted as a Euro-American legend because her story exemplified critical elements of America's foundation myths - especially the concept of manifest destiny. Kessler also shows how the Sacagawea legend was flexible within its mythic framework and was used to address cultural issues specific to different time periods, including suffrage for women, taboos against miscegenation, and modern feminism. In concluding, Kessler summarizes the history of Sacagawea narratives and provides useful connections to other Native American works. This study attests that the Sacagawea legend illustrated and reinforced Euro-American frontier myths while it simultaneously allowed a populace to test and comment on critical, timely concepts unfolding within a dynamicsociety.


This text, in addition to its very specific investigation of the creation and proliferation of the Sacagawea legend, explores broad implications about the status and function of the "other" in American culture. Overlaying the exploration of the causes and consequences of particular narrative traditions, including myths of native savagery, manifest destiny, and the American frontier, this work exposes some ways in which "otherness," in terms of race and gender, has been comprehended and translated on the continent.

This study also scrutinizes the possibilities and promise of cultural change. Although I ask whether or not America can begin to transform assumptions and meanings long associated with Sacagawea and other "Indian princesses," the question articulates a more sweeping concern. Can Americans begin to change how they perceive each other and comprehend their differences?

Writing a book is never a solitary pursuit, and I have many people to recognize for their aid and support. Particular thanks go to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's inter-library loan staff for furnishing crucial items for this study and to Roz Veltanaar for her help in creating a map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition trail. I am also indebted to Dr. John Pope who endorsed my Friday escapes from administrative duties so that I could write.

I am most grateful to Drs. Leonard Carlson, Robert Detweiller, and William Doty for their encouragement, guidance, and suggestions. Their advice and recommendations have helped me to frame the questions necessary to conduct this inquiry and to clarify my thoughts and assumptions about American mythologies and culture. The ideas and viewpoints that I advance here are my own; I accept responsibility for them.

For their patience and endurance, I thank my friends and family. I especially commend Mary Pat and Bob Whiteside and Sarah Fogle for surviving, without too much moaning or too many complaints . . .

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