Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Sacajawea of Myth and History

David Remley

One of the most persistently puzzling important women in western American history is Sacajawea, who travelled to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark. Since about the turn of the century, she has been represented variously in many fictional works. She is also the subject of numerous historical articles and of at least three biographies. These writings represent her as, on the one hand, the "guide" of the famous Expedition and, on the other, as useful in various ways, but hardly as a guide. These writings also tell two widely different stories of what happened to the Indian woman in later life. One story has her travelling throughout the West and settling finally with her people, the Shoshone, on a reservation in Wyoming. There she is supposed to have died late in the nineteenth century; to this day a marker indicates her grave in an Indian cemetery. The other story of Sacajawea's later life has her dying of a "putrid fever" on the upper Missouri River at Fort Manuel in 1812. Grace Raymond Hebard gives the first of these two versions in her biography, Sacajawea: A Guide and Interpreter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition ( 1933). Hebard based her work primarily upon extensive interviews with friends and descendants of an Indian woman who died in Wyoming and who claimed to be the woman with Lewis and Clark. Harold P. Howard gives the other version of Sacajawea's later life in his biography, Sacajawea ( 1971). The virtue of Howard's study is that he uses written documents from the period to reach what he calls "a reasonable conclusion." These documents strongly suggest-though by no means to the satisfaction of two more recent biographers, Ella E. Clark and Margot Edmonds -- that the real Indian woman is buried along the Missouri River near the site of old Fort Manuel although no one has located her grave there 1 Unless someone should discover more hard evidence, it is likely that historians will never be absolutely sure which woman is the real Sacajawea of the

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