Thoughts from Dr. Joe:This Montana Adventure, Part III

Part three of three

We broke camp early but the adventure was far from over. Heading south, we followed the Yellowstone River, then, taking a quick jaunt through Western Wyoming we tacked our ship, pointed it west and followed the Pacific sun.

This is my last write chronicling discoveries made on this Montana adventure, a class about Lewis and Clark and surviving on the land. My students' moods are euphoric; they savor the sweetness of knowing that they have matched the mountains.

I sit in the back of the van and realize my scribbled notes on lose pieces of paper were inadvertently burned a previous night while starting a fire.

I am haunted by Sacagawea, her mysterious persona. My last write spoke of my vision of her crossing the river holding tightly to her baby boy Pomp, patiently following the captains in their attempt to find the confluence of the Yellowstone. The land has its own mythology and visions are often sent in the wind and in a moving starlit night.

Sacagawea's life is shrouded by mystery. But we do know that in 1800, when she was about 12 years old, Sacagawea was kidnapped by a war party of Hidatsa Indians, enemies of her people, the Shoshones. She was taken from her Rocky Mountain homeland to the Hidatsa-Mandan villages near Bismarck, North Dakota. There, she was later sold as a slave to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader who claimed Sacagawea as his wife. Charbonneau called her Bird Woman. Her only role in life was to bear children, and be an obedient servant to her man. However, she was about to enter a greater stage.

In November of 1804, the captains and the Corps of Discovery arrived at the Hidatsa-Mandan village. A collision of fates would eventually meld and produce an alchemy that would be at the heart of the greatest adventure on the North American continent.

Shortly after the captains' arrival, Charbonneau petitioned to join the expedition and contribute his interpretative skills. When learning that Charbonneau's woman, Sacagawea, spoke Shoshone, the captains agreed. On February 11, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to her son Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who would soon become America's youngest explorer.

Although the Corps of Discovery experienced unparalleled dangers, hardships, deprivations, mishaps and uncertainties, their trip was blessed by a success unprecedented in the annals of exploration.

Deep in the heart of the northwest American wilderness this 17-year-old girl carrying her baby was unaware of the role she would soon play in the making of true American history. She quietly accepted her fate, but along the way she was the miraculous intervention that propelled the journey. By mere happenstance and a succession of unwarranted interventions unbeknownst to her, Sacagawea moved the journey westward.

In Greek mythology a divine intervention from the gods would fall out of the heavens to solve the multitude of mishaps that befell the hero. It was called "Deux Ex Machina" (The Machine from God).

She was the Deux ex Machina, the intervention sent from God.

Sacagawea and Little Pomp signaled peace and protected the expedition from attacks from indigenous peoples. She taught the men how to find edible plants, which gave them needed vitamins and nourishment. She rescued the journals of Lewis and Clark that fell overboard from a capsized canoe. She brought a sense of calm to the Corps of Discovery as she nursed her baby amid the men.

Sacagawea knew many native languages, customs, and tribes and helped the Expedition translate and negotiate at important Indian councils. While negotiating for horses with Shoshone Indians, what Sacagawea knew was not as important as who she knew. As it turns out, the chief was Sacagawea's brother. She pointed out certain landmarks to the expedition that gave assurance they were on the right trail. She was the first woman given the opportunity to vote, thus helping the captains determine where to camp in the winter of 1805. It would be over 100 years before women in the United States were again given this right.

She died an obscure and mysterious death in 1812. She was 24. Previously, Captain Lewis had cured her but this time Lewis was not there. Captain Clark adopted and raised her child, Pomp, who would attend the finest schools in Europe. Eventually Lewis would commit suicide.

Jefferson's dream of expansion, the captains' lust for adventure and heroics, Charbonneau's acquisition of land, and the men's fortune and fame were the perfect ending and I vehemently contest that it was the divine intervention of Sacagawea who made their dreams come true.

She was the miracle that promoted the deeds of worthy men; she was the passage to India. As she lies somewhere in an unmarked grave, mystery still defines her. All I know is that we are better because she passed this way.

Dr. Joe is a practicing counselor specializing in helping middle and high school students transition to college. He is a professor of education at Glendale College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at or write him in care of the Valley Sun, P.O. Box 38, La Cañada, CA 91012.

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