STREAMS TO THE RIVER, RIVER TO THE SEA: A NOVEL OF SACAGAWEA by Scott O’Dell (Houghton Mifflin: $14.95; 191 pp.; age 12 up). For the last 25 years, author Scott O’Dell has averaged nearly a book a year, an exciting track record considering most of them are still in print, and he continues to offer high-quality fiction to young readers. This latest novel is of Sacagawea, a kindred soul to the other Indian women celebrated in O’Dell’s “Sing Down the Moon,” “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and “Zia.”
He draws from “The Journals of Lewis and Clark,” but does not quote them directly, saving us the chore of deciphering their curious spellings. In a clear, simple narrative, Sacagawea describes meeting the explorers just after she’s been gambled away to the temperamental trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. Soon after the birth of her child, she becomes guide and interpreter on what is to be the famous expedition of 1805-06, a 4,000-mile trek to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Missouri and Columbia rivers. She describes the 18 months she walked and rode in canoes or on horseback, her infant son, Jean Baptiste, strapped to her shoulders in a cradle board. What seems remarkable is that she was barely 15 years old!
“Streams to the River, River to the Sea” ends after their journey, Sacagawea now deeply in love with William Clark, and he urging her to accompany him to St. Louis so her son can be educated. What follows--and what would make a marvelous O’Dell sequel--has been the springboard for dozens of books and myths.
O’Dell mentions in his foreword that she had two sons, traveled around the Western mountains and lived to be about 80. Some accounts say she later married a Comanche and had five more children, a daughter and another son the only ones to survive infancy. Jean Baptiste apparently became a learned and charming linguist who by coincidence guided the son of Clark over the same route in 1943.
One legend, however, says Sacagawea perished of fever in 1812 at Ft. Manuel and that the Shoshone woman who lived quietly to old age was actually Charbonneau’s first wife, Otter Woman. Some believe Sacagawea is buried in South Dakota or Montana, but a tombstone on the Wind River Valley Reservation in Wyoming claims to guard her remains. The date 1884 suggests she was about 93.
In O’Dell’s usual fashion, he has done a superb job of plopping us into his story and making us want to know more. It’s inspiring to think young readers might wander to the library, curiosity piqued, to hunt for their own conclusions.
It’s worth noting that the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction is a $5,000 prize given annually “to encourage the writing of significant historical fiction for young people.” It would take several paragraphs to list all the awards his books have received, but you might recall that “Island of the Blue Dolphins” (1960) won the Newbery Medal, and he received Newbery Honors for “The King’s Fifth” (1966), “The Black Pearl” (1967) and “Sing Down the Moon” (1970).