Lewis & Clark [and Sacagawea] at Three Forks, painted by Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852–1919)

In this artwork, Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852–1919) depicts three famous explorers who trekked westward across the North American continent to reach Oregon and the Pacific Ocean. On the left, the two men holding firearms, are representations of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who began their adventure at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson in 1804. When the winter joining 1804 and 1805 arrived, the Lewis and Clark expedition camped at a place they called Fort Mandan, named after the Mandan-Hidatsa people who had a village nearby. It was there that Lewis and Clark met the third figure in the painting—Sacagawea. She was born a Shoshone, but by the time Lewis and Clark arrived, she had been captured in a raid and was sold as a wife (one of several) to a French-Canadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau, who was operating around the Mandan-Hidatsa village.

William Clark, in a journal entry for mid-November, 1804, wrote that the polygamous Frenchman’s wives visited the fort that winter. He stated (in his own imperfect 19th-century style), “two Squars of the Rock Mountain, purchased by a frenchman Came down” (William Clark, journal entry for November 11, 1804). Soon after, Lewis and Clark would hire Charbonneau (spelled by them variously as Charbono or Shabonah) as an interpreter, a decision that consequently also brought Sacagawea (toting a newborn son along with her) into the expedition. They would soon find that Sacagawea was a far more valuable guide and translator than her husband. Interestingly, William Clark did not record Sacagawea’s name in his journal until April 7, 1805, jotting it down almost as an afterthought following a list of names for the expedition members present at the time. He wrote, “Shabonah and his Indian Squar to act as an Interpreter & Interpretress for the snake Indians—one Mandan & Shabonah’s infant. Sah-kah-gar we a” (William Clark, journal entry for April 7, 1805).

Written by C. Keith Hansley

 

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