The series continues to wind down as on this Sunday morning the world is watching the results of the French election. One way or another Marine LePen will get a moment in my spotlight in this series, and my fingers are still crossed it will be not merely for making it to the runoff, but for being the first woman president of France.
Today we’re back on the positive side of things, and our guest of honor today is almost as much of a folklore legend as she is an actual historical figure: Sacagawea, the Shoshone Indian woman who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their journey to explore the American continent early in the life of the United States. Sacagawea herself was married to (and at least orignally owned by, having been taken as a prisoner by another Indian tribe in her early teens) a French trapper, to whom she bore a son shortly before the expedition set out. So she ended up backpacking a young child halfway across the country, and Clark became the boy’s lifelong benefactor in the process. Lewis and Clark took her along because of her Shoshone heritage, expecting that they would need a translator and negotiator during their passage through Shoshone territory. As luck would have it, the chief of the tribe Lewis and Clark encountered while trying to pass through the Rocky Mountains was Sacagawea’s brother. The crossing was difficult and the expedition owed its survival in part to Sacagawea’s foraging knowledge once they cleared the far side of the mountain range. Her presence also served to confirm to the tribes they encountered that their intentions were peaceful, as war bands did not include women.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition treated all members as valuable, if not equals–Sacagawea got a say in group decisions like where to set up camp and even what sights the group went to take in, including something that to Europeans like Lewis and Clark was nothing special, a washed-up whale on a Pacific beach. Clark in particular recognized Sacagawea’s tremendous contributions to the expedition and invited her, her husband, and her son to join him in St. Louis, where Clark provided for the boy’s education and eventually adopted him after Sacagawea’s death.
There is no question Sacagawea had a hard run of it. Taken as a prisoner, sold as a slave, married off as a young teenager, she had far more cause to bemoan her lot in life than a whole army of pink-hatted harpies do in today’s world–and that’s before she hiked over half of North America with a kid slung on her back. But there is no indication she helped Lewis and Clark under any protest or did anything other than behave in an exemplary manner as she guided the expedition across the continent and into both history and legend. Well done.
Next week, we’re still ticking down the list of badly behaved women, stay tuned.