Erica Funkhouser Interview
What is it about the L&C Expedition that draws us to it?
I was interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition because, first of all I grew up on expeditions. I was really fascinated by the search for Knossos, the Shleman (?) search for Troy by, all of the sort of both epic and real journeys where people went out in search of what, of something. Often it was a lost city, that, that the quest for a lost city interested me particularly. But in the case of Lewis and Clark their, it's a very American, to me, expedition, because it's not a religious expedition. It's not like the pilgrims in, in the Canterbury Tales, looking for, you know, who are joined together because they're going to one particular religion, to a holy shrine. It's not it's not the kind of expedition that is, was entirely about conquest or commerce, although that was one of Jefferson's motives, of course. There is also this, I think really particularly American incentive to catalogue the place where we live. They wanted to know the names of all the plants and the animals, they wanted. I mean, Jefferson in particular, wanted to know, and then he sort of, he trained Lewis didn't he? I mean, I think he trained him for three or four years before they set out on the expedition as a botanist and as a zoologist, because he wanted him to figure out everything that was in this huge mass of wilderness that we had just acquired as a, as a country, so for me, the idea, the idea of, of going, of Lewis and Clark having to go out into the wilderness to see what the wilderness consisted of, seems a particularly American quest. Because on the one hand, the answers to those questions lie in scientific data, they lie in a sense of mapping. You know, part of how we understand who we are is by understanding where we are. And then there's the third component, which is the, I think the kind of spiritual component not that anybody on the expedition ever would have used that word, but the sense of what, you know, what, what do we possess here, you know, and how we are able to imagine ourselves has something to do with how we understand the land that we inhabit.
It's a journey.
It is a journey, yes.
A journey in more than one sense.
Well, I think it's a, it's a different journey for everybody who's making it. It's a, you know, the journey is different for Lewis than it is for Clark. They make different kinds of notations in their journals and it's certainly a different journey for Sacagawea. She's the only person in the group who's actually returning home, at least for part of the journey. The rest of them are going somewhere that they've never been before, that, that no white person had ever been before. So it has that element of quest, the journey has, but it also has all of the, the kind of dynamics that have to do with people traveling together in a group, you know. There's alot of different people together in this kind of moving community as it crosses the country.
Is it also a journey for our nation?
I don't honestly know how many people were aware that the Lewis and Clark expedition was going on when it was going on. I don't know if it was like the exploration of space. Was it, you know, was it written about in the, in the popular press of the day? I don't know how well known it was.
I want to take this to Sacagawea. Who is this woman?
Who is she? She's, I think Sacagawea is, in order to understand her we have, we have to kind of go back and use our sense of who she was in history, where who her tribal people were, because we have no information about her as an individual. She never wrote anything down, as far as I know. I believe she didn't know how to write. And I think that we, in order to understand who she was, we have to sort of make a series of imaginative leaps to try and understand, first of all, what it is to be a young Shoshoni, to be a Shoshoni, living among the Minitari. You know, she hadn't been among her own people for probably five or six years by the time that she ran into Lewis and Clark. She was very young. She was probably fourteen. She'd been traded back and forth between different Minitari braves apparently, before she was won by Charbonneau in a gamble, in a game, in a gamble really. He won her from, to, from another, he won her from another Minitari brave in the, in this gamble and, and he also at that time, when he had, when he won her, he'd already had another wife, so I think she was his second common-law wife. And she was fourteen. Within a few months she was pregnant. So that I think, I'm lost, I'm completely lost here...I can't remember my thought.
When Lewis and Clark met Charbonneau, they hire him for the next leg of the journey. Are they hiring him or her?
The way I understand it, when Lewis and Clark met Charbonneau, they didn't, he didn't appeal to them personally. They didn't like him very much. But they knew that they, that they, they knew that his wife could speak Shoshoni as well as Minitari as well as French. And they knew that, that they needed to get horses from the Shoshoni in order to make the crossing over the Rockies, over the Bitterroots, and the Shoshoni were the Indians living closest to the Bitterroots, and they were already well known as horsemen. So they really wanted someone who could speak Shoshoni. They were fortunate to discover her in the Mandan villages, and I think that they tolerated, my sense is that they tolerated Charbonneau because his wife was so useful to them and during the course of the journey..interruption..
So they meet this French-Canadian Charbonneau. Are they hiring Charbonneau or are they hiring the woman?
My sense of what Lewis and, my sense of how Lewis and Clark responded to the discovery of Sacagawea who was one of the fur trader Charbonneau's wives, was that if they, they could tolerated Charbonneau in order to get Sacagawea who could be very useful to them on the journey. This was before they even knew her, and already they were very interested in her because she could speak Shoshoni. They needed, they knew that they needed to get horses from the Shoshoni in order to make the crossing across the Rockies, through the Bitterroots.
It's an act of foresight on their part. They know they will need to get horses and the important person is the one who will help us communicate.
Well my sense of what happened in Fort Mandan is that, that they, they started to talk to Indians from several different tribes, started to talk to Native Americans, I don't know what kind of ....interrupted... Started to talk to Indians from various, from several different tribes, and everyone was telling them the same thing. That they would need horses for the crossing. They were of course traveling by boat until they got there, or on foot, and so they wouldn't, they weren't going to have any horses. I don't think they even had pack mules. I mean they, so they needed to get all of that horse power from some Indians, and all of the Indians that they were in contact with among the Mandan villages were telling them that the, the best horsemen and the horsemen closest to the Rockies were the Shoshoni. It was a kind of a gift to them to find a Shoshoni woman, a young Shoshoni woman living among the Minitari. She already knew how to speak Minitari and she knew some French because she was the common-law wife of this fur trader, Charbonneau.
Let's move forward a little. It's in the spring of 1805. They're bringing out on the expedition not only a teenage girl, but her infant son. What would that be like?
Well, first of all I want to say that, that one indication of Sacagawea's importance to Lewis and Clark is that they delayed their expedition for three months while they waited for her to have her baby. The baby was born in February and, of 1805, and they didn't leave the Mandan villages until April. They were waiting for Sacagawea to become strong enough to travel, apparently, I mean, among other things, they were waiting for that. And some indication of her determination to go with them. I think at some point, my sense is that Sacagawea realized that, number one, that she was being asked, it was an honor to be asked to accompany this, this expedition. And secondly, she, they were asking her if she would help lead them back to the place from which she had come. You know, she was born there, she hadn't been there since she was nine or ten when she was kidnapped with other relatives by a hunting expedition and brought east to the Mandan. And I think that, that she was determined to go, and my sense is that she made that clear to both Charbonneau and to Lewis and Clark. But going meant going with her child, with Baptiste. She....
Hold on for a second--we ran out of film.
I think in order to understand her roll in the expedition, it's important to try and think about the dailyness of the expedition. I mean, when we think about expeditions, especially one that is this long and this extensive, we think of it as this massive journey, of just traveling every day, packing up and moving and going forward and trying to figure out where they were going and how they would get there and what they would eat, you know, that kind of thing, and I think in, in the very daily ways, Sacagawea played an important role, not as a guide as she's been mythologized into, but as a person who could read the landscape fairly well. I think she could read rivers. She could read a valley, you know. She had a sense of what the landscape said about direction and where they, where they were going. She had some, she had, she had some sense of what could be eaten along the way. Apparently she showed Clark how to dig up onions some pl.., at some point along the way. She understo..., knew about camas root which is a root that they ate quite alot of in the expedition. She was, she was good at looking for food.
Let's go back. The dailyness of it. Help us to understand the dailyness of it.
Well, that's a, for me really a process of imagination. She's mentioned, Sacagawea's mentioned so seldom in the journals that, and whatever she was involved with in terms of taking care of this infant, none of that is recorded in the journals whatsoever. We hear nothing about, about the baby except once when he's sick toward the very end of the journey. So that in addition to the, the getting up and striking camp and moving on that everybody had to do every morning, for example, she was also tending to this infant and carrying it almost the entire expedition on her back as far as we know. I don't, my understanding is that she had a kind of a wooden cradleboard and carried the infant on her back, strapped to her back, so that he was, she was, she was carrying him in addition to, to, you know, walking herself for the miles and miles that they went every day. And there was alot of walking. She walked almost the entire time. Sacagawea didn't have a horse until the, Clark made sort of a gift to her of a horse before they crossed the Bitterroots apparently so that she rode then. But the rest of the time she was walking. She didn't spend alot of time in the boats apparently. She walked along the bank.
Thousands of miles with a baby on her back.
Thousands of miles. With the baby. Baby. And, and my sense is that, that the, they were, they were kind of one. My sense is that she and this infant were, were walking on this journey together, you know, to some extent I believe she was probably motivated by bringing him back as well as herself to the, to the land that she had come from.
We talked about her different roles. Did she display courage?
I think Sacagawea displayed physical courage, at least once that we're sure of from the journals. Clark recorded in his journal that early on in the Missouri, one of the big boats overturned and it had been Charbonneau was at the helm. He was not particularly good boatman to begin with, but he flubbed up something on the river. The boat overturned. I think it was the first big capsizing that they had to, to manage and the goods that were in the boat of course started to go out into the river. It included their spirit level, the pemmican, all kinds of tools, their, the box, the tin box that held the journals that they were keeping. I mean they were all about to be washed down river. And Sacagawea apparently rescued them, leaned over the boat with the baby still on her back, grabbed the things out of the river so that they were saved and dried and they lost almost nothing as a result of her quick thinking in, in that accident. That's a kind of physical courage that I think she displayed several times during the journey. I also think there's the, you know, that kind of greater, just emotional courage it must have taken to make first of all the decision to go with them, you know. Why, why would she risk traveling with these strangers, leaving circumstances which were at least better than the circumstances into which she'd been born. The Shoshoni, the tribe that she'd been born into was a fairly destitute tribe from what I've understand about them. They were living high up in the Rockies, there was very little food, they had very little material culture, you know, they were, they were not a wealthy tribe at all and they were hungry alot of the time. And I think she found herself among the Mandan in much better circumstances so that she made a choice that involved giving up what she'd known at least for the last five or six years, and that was materially more comfortable than what she'd known earlier. She made the decision to leave all that and travel with these strangers.
What do you think the men's opinion of her was in comparison to their opinion of Charbonneau?
It's so hard to know what, what the men in the group thought of her, you know, because there, there isn't that kind of recording. The journals don't have that kind of character sketch. They don't really very much describe one another, you know. They don't say, "Oh, he was a, you know, hale and hearty fellow and always fun at the campfire." They don't, they don't make those kinds of recordings. That's what, in a way, our job to do, imaginatively is to understand what could have been the relationship between these thirty or forty people traveling together for such a long time. I think that, my sense is from a few journal entries, is that she was fairly close to the Frenchmen. I think it was easy, Cruzatte seems to have been a favorite of hers. He played the fiddle often at night when they, when they stopped and she loved to watch the men dance apparently. We know that she spent a certain amount of time walking with Clark, when he would get out of the boats and walk alongside the river. My sense is that, that he was interested in her, that he was to some extent captivated by her, by the information that she had about how to survive in the land that they were crossing. And some evidence of this is, I think, his offer at the end of the journey to educate her son. To take her son and put him a white school in St. Louis, which Sacagawea declined but I think that he was very fond of the child by the end of the journey.
They didn't seem to think much of Charbonneau.
No, I don't. My sense is that, that they were at odds with Charbonneau. Clark especially, I think, was at odds with Charbonneau almost the whole expedition. They found him selfish and incompetent. They didn't, he wasn't very good at managing the boats. He would bring them misinformation, he lied to them about certain things, he, he was very difficult for them to deal with, and they didn't like, they didn't like the way that he treated his wife. There's one mention in the journal that Clark finds one morning that, I think he actually sees Charbonneau hit Sacagawea in front of their camp in the morning. And he severely reprimands him. I think Charbonneau was nearly fired from the expedition a few times, wasn't he? I mean I think there a few times when they try to get him to go back, you know, because...
But they didn't because they needed her?
Yes, right. And there was no question, I don't think there was any question of them separating. I mean, they were a unit, Charbonneau and Sacagawea.
Let's move up the river a little bit. There is one moment where she is very ill. Can you describe it.
Well, there, one of, another one of the very few mentions of Sacagawea in the journals has to do with her being ill. So first of all, it was her importance to the group was great enough that it was, that it was worthy to mention that she'd gotten sick. I mean I think people were sick in this expedition all of the time, but there's a sil..., their illnesses weren't described in detail. This illness was described in detail. Their attempts to treat it with, I think they attempted to treat her with opium, with all different kinds of things, I don't know what she had, I think that she had a fever of, she certainly had a fever but I don't know what it came from. And...
We just ran out...
They come to the Three Forks River where Sacagawea had been captured by the Hidatsas--Lewis says she showed no emotion. Do you think there was no emotion going on?
Oh, I think that moment when she comes to the Three Forks must have been deeply powerful for her, just full of resonance. I mean it was the place, the Three Forks was the, the, the literal place from which she and her cousin, her mother, other relatives had been either killed or kidnapped and, by the Hidatsu? I think they were the Hidat..., the Hidatsu warriors who'd then traveled, brought them east. I mean I think that for her to come back to this spot which was a, you know, it was a real, a grounding point for her as a Lemhi Shoshoni, this was the place that she and her people had come always in the summer months I understand, to hunt for berries and to, to look for food, and they'd been on a hunting expedition when they were kidnapped, when she was kidnapped. It was, you know, the same, this same stream is the stream that she was standing in when she had been kidnapped. And to come back here those six or, five or six years later must have, must have been incredibly powerful for her. I think, my sense is that she'd been, as they, as they'd grown, as they'd walked closer and closer to this spot, she'd understood that, she'd recognized places and she had a sense that, that they were getting closer to the Three Forks. But the Three Forks were a, they were a, you know, a landmark, they were a landmark for her. And I think that it must have been terrifying because it was the moment when she, she knew that soon she was going to find out who among her people were still alive. She had no idea who, she'd been gone for five years, she had, she had no idea if any of her family members were still alive, if her tribe even existed still. She had no idea if she would be recognized by them, you know. Imagine being a girl of nine, leaving your people, coming back a young woman of 14 or 15 with a child, I mean, will they take you back in? I think that, that all of the questions she must have had about who she belonged to must have risen to the surface. She didn't know whether she was a Frenchman's wife or a traveling partner of these two American soldiers and their troops. She didn't know if she was a Shoshoni. She didn't know if she was a Minitari with whom she'd lived before she became Charbonneau's wife. Who was she? And now she was going to find out at least some of the answers to that question.
About a month later she finally comes up and sees ?????
I, I can't imagine that kind of, what, what that kind of reunion must have felt like for her. I think that she must have, my sense is that Sacagawea never imagined that she would see these people again, first of all. And then, as the weeks and months went by and they traveled closer and closer to the place, she must have had to think about what that reunion would, would feel like. And then to actually see them, and they were the, they were the first people that she'd seen in many years who actually spoke her language. They were wearing what she recognized as her clothing. They were, they were using the gestures that she recognized as her tribe's gestures. They were speaking her language. And, and within minutes she'd recognized her cousin Running Deer, one of the other girls who had been kidnapped from the Three Forks. So, so she'd also been taken off to a Hidatsu village and somehow managed to escape. I mean, there's another whole story in their of her journey, how she got back to the Shoshoni, we have no idea. And Sacagawea makes this reunion with her relatives, discovers that her brother is in fact the chief of the, of the tribe. And he'd been told, Chief Cameahwait had been told that they had a Shoshoni, that Lewis and Clark had a Shoshoni girl, woman traveling with them. But they didn't know, Cameahwait had no idea that it was Sacagawea. I mean, until they saw each other, until that moment of face to face reunion, they didn't, you know, he didn't know that it was his own sister who was the, the Shoshoni coming back to the tribe. I think that, it must have
She's had this incredible reunion with her own people and then she moves on. Why doesn't she stay?
Sacagawea's decision not to stay among the Shoshoni is one of the things that really drew me into her as a character. Because she had arrived home. This was, this was, I think that Lewis and Clark had anticipated taking her as far as the Shoshoni. They hadn't anticipated taking her any further. They thought that she would stay with her people while they continued on to the Pacific and they would rejoin her, she would rejoin them when they came back east again. They spent weeks, I believe, among the Shoshoni. I mean it was, must, part of the reason I believe it must have been a powerful reunion was because of how long they stayed there. I mean they were, there was alot of discussion, alot of celebration, alot of reunion and the Shoshoni welcomed Sacagawea back into their tribe, they offered, they said that she could share her cousin's hut, that she could stay there with them, you know, while the men continued on. And she said, I think what happened was that she got there and she said, well I don't feel home, at home among these people. You know, this is part of my past and now I'm on a different journey. There's again that metaphor of the journey, and I think she recognized that at that point her journey was with Lewis and Clark. She didn't want to stay home. She didn't want to, she got caught up in the spirit of discovery I think, and she wanted to see the, the place where all these rivers on the other side of the continental divide were headed. She wanted to go to the end, she didn't want to stop. After having gone this far, she didn't want to stop. She said, no, I'm gonna, I'm gonna continue with them, I'm gonna, you know, she wanted to see it through, I think, out of curiosity. Out of, I think, I sense, I sense, that, that she was a kind, had a kind of willfulness, a sort of stubbornness that had probably helped her survive as long as she'd survived. But she developed a relationship with these people and she wanted to see it through and that meant going all the way to the Pacific.
As part of the Corps of Discovery.
Yes, yeah, a vital part of it. And not only do they feel that she's a part, but she herself, I think, has taken the Corps of Discovery into herself and said, "I belong to these people and now I'm traveling with this tribe. I'm not traveling with the Shoshoni and I'm not traveling with the Minitari. I'm traveling with this tribe called the Corps of Discovery and wherever they're going, I'm going."
They're in the Bitterroot Mountains--it's snowing, they're wet and hungry. She's there with the baby...hunger is new to the men, but not to her, is it?
No, my sense is that in the Bitterroots, she distanced herself a little bit from the other men who were terribly hungry, I mean just starving and complaining about it and desperate, so desperate that they were willing to eat some of their pack horses. Sacagawea refused to eat horse. It was something that she didn't believe, you know horses were sacred to the Shoshoni. She wouldn't eat a horse, she wouldn't even eat a broth that had been made from horses. And she, she went, when that, when the hunger that they suffered in the Bitterroots came to them, I think that she used all of her inner resources. She'd been hungry alot as a girl. The way I understand the Shoshoni culture, the men eat first before the women, and the older women eat before the younger girls. So, I think that as a young girl in the Shoshoni tribe, she had experienced terrible starvation previously. And when she got to the Bitterroots, I think she said to herself, "I know this, I know how you do this. You go inside to overcome this." It was a kind of incredible will and determination, because not only did she have to keep herself alive, but she had to keep this baby alive, too. And I think she did it with extraordinary kind of endurance and determination and also a belief that, that, I don't know, I don't have words for that, I don't have words for that.
As they're going down the Columbia, it's all new territory to her. What's her roll there?
As they're going down the Columbia, Clark says to Sacagawea, quite explicitly I believe, he says in the journey (journal?), they needed her as a symbol that they were not on a war, on a, that they were not a war party. That the Indians that they were confronting on the Columbia were hostile, they were potentially the most hostile tribe that they would meet in whole journey. They didn't particularly, they weren't particularly friendly. They were fishing, they were, they were nervous, they were anticipating trouble to some extent. And for these white men to arrive on boats without a woman, especially an Indian woman among them, would have been a signal that they were, that they were looking for a, that they were a war party of some sort. So she was very important as a sort of sitting up on the chair of this boat as proof that Lewis and Clark were not making an aggressive expedition, that they were just, I don't what you're doing if you're not making an aggressive expedition. Just going down the Columbia.
They're at the mouth of the Columbia River--they've reached part of their destination. They hold a vote. Tell me what all that signifies.
I think the vote that they take at the, at the mouth of the Columbia is, is an incredibly dramatic moment in American history. And I for one know that as a young student of history, in elementary school in particular, we always learned about the Lewis and Clark expedition as a, as a kind of space flight, you know. They left Missouri, we would draw the map, we'd draw the trail on the map, bingo, they start here above St. Louis and, bingo, they end up here at the mouth of the Columbia. No sense whatsoever of the kind of, the journey that this group of people were making together. But when they get to the mouth of the Columbia, they're, they're, they know they have to stay there somewhere around there for the winter because they can't turn around to come back east yet, and Clark and Lewis ask the group, really, for a sense of the meeting. They're asking for a vote. They're asking for a vote. One voice, one vote. And everybody got to vote equally. Sacagawea voted, Ben York voted, the every, the French engage' voted. Everybody voted equally to try and decide where they would, if they would stay, I think it was on the north bank or the south bank of the Columbia for the winter. It was a powerful moment. They had been talking about it for days, anticipating how they would make this decision and I think these two, for me brilliant leaders, decided to throw the decision back at at the democratic unit and say, "What do we think? Where are we going to spend the winter?" It was, it was a kind of a political solution to a very essential survival issue. I mean whether or not they were going to survive might depend on where they decided to spend the winter and it was so important that everybody was allowed a vote in it. I know it was, my sense is it must have been terribly important to Sacagawea because, because her name actually appears in the journals as Janey. I don't know whether Clark had trouble pronouncing her name or whatever, but the name Janey does appear and he took the time to write out her name and the vote that went with the name in the journals and I think that was a, it had to have been a powerful, powerful moment for her of acceptance into the, symbolic acceptance into this tribe that she'd been traveling with for so many months.
It's an American moment.
It's an American moment, yeah. Well, I think, you know, the women certainly didn't have the vote for, you know, over another hundred years. And here was a woman voting. And a black man voting. And that didn't happen again for a long time.
A harbinger of the future?
I don't know that it speaks to the future so much as it, as it, to me, it, it, it says alot about what must have happened to these people in the process of traveling together. They, they knew, I think, that they wouldn't survive if they didn't work together as a unit. So survival sort of forced a kind of democratic spirit that, that might not have been there naturally.
Shortly thereafter it's Christmas, and she gives a present to Captain Clark. What does she give.
I don't know the language for this, I have to look it up. I can't remember what it's called.
It's Christmas 1805--Sacagawea gives Clark a present. What is it?
What I like about the Christmas celebration is that there, Christmas is not her holiday, obviously. But she's picked up on the sense of anticipation and festivity among the other men. They've made a, they've made themselves what I think must have been a pretty hideous feast of rancid elk meat and some dried fish, I don't know what all constituted their feast, but they'd been anticipating it for days, talking about it and, and people were kind of scurrying around looking for little tokens, Christmas gifts to give each other. And I think that, my sense is that Sacagawea responded to this as a, as a feast day, and the person to whom she wanted to give something was Clark. So she prepared alot of white weasel furs for him and gave them to him as a present on Christmas day. He records that in his, in his journal.
Please read a poem>
Fort Clatsop on the Columbia River, Christmas 1805
We have built a circle of cabins where we await the warm weather in which it is safe to start east.
Well, they were camped within view of the ocean, but a distance away from it and some, the men were had been in the habit of going down to the beach to make salt, to collect water to make salt. And one day they came back to camp and said that a huge whale had been beached there. And the, there were several reactions. Of course, they wanted to get back to it to get the meat and the blubber to eat. And they also, they wanted to see it. And so, many men, kind of the excitement went through the group, and they said, alright, we'll all go, we'll make an expedition, Clark will come with us and we'll go down to the beach and see the whale. And my sense is that that's the first moment in the expedition when Sacagawea says, "Hold it, you guys, I want to go too." I think that she had not, as far as I know, made any demands or requests on Lewis and Clark, but at that point, she said to them, "Look, I came all this way, and I've been within view of the ocean, now I want to go down there and see that thing, which had a kind of a mythic resonance for her because the Shoshoni had always described it as "The Big Lake That Stinks." I mean it was a part, it was comparable to our going to the moon, you know. I mean, if you get to the moon, you want to walk on it. She got to the Pacific, she wanted to stand on that beach, she wanted to see that water. And so she pretty much demanded that she get to go with them. They took her and they walked down to the beach. It was a very disappointing and difficult journey because they got to the beach and discovered that the whale had been gutted. The Tillamook who lived there had already taken all of the meat. And so there was, the men were disappointed at what they saw. Sacagawea for whom water was an important image in her whole life, I think, wasn't at all disappointed. I mean, she just, this was a great and powerful moment and she'd brought Baptiste, I think, in particular because she wanted to be sure that he made this journey to "The Great Lake That Stinks," too, so that he could see the Pacific.
Do you think her experience both out and back--how was it different from the men's. The fact that she's a woman and an Indian.
I guess I don't really distinguish in terms of gender between how the, the voyage was for her as a woman as opposed to a man. I think that she, remember that she, unlike anyone else in the Corps of Discovery, is making a return voyage. She's going back home, in the sense that we, most Americans believe that you can't ever go home again. And in fact Sacagawea's experience confirms that for us. She got home and she couldn't stay there. She didn't, she didn't want to, to go back to that other life. I think that it, in a sense, that journey, at least from what we know of her from the oral tradition, made her into a confirmed wanderer. She wandered, apparently, for the rest of her life after the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I think that it was a, she was journeying to a place that had mythic resonance for her, which makes her journey different from that of Lewis and Clark and the other members on the expedition who were, after all, paid. They, it was, you know, they had commercial discoveries to make, they had scientific discoveries to make. But they weren't, I don't think, making a journey, they were making a journey forward in, you know, the kind of classic American journey of progress into the future. We will cross this land and then we will know who we're going to be in the future. I think for Sacagawea it was more a journey of confirmation of who she had been in the past, who she was as a, as a Shoshoni woman.
As we think about the expedition, the fact that a young woman, an Indian, was with them, what does that do to the meaning and the significance, do you think?
I think, I think what's important about Sacagawea's presence, and she has historically been used in different ways, you know. She's been used as a, in a way to domesticate the journey, because it had a young woman and a baby on it, there must have been alot less carousing than there was on expeditions. That she's used symbolically, she's been used politically, the suffragettes from the, from the west who wanted to elevate her position in the expedition, they really had alot to do with her being described as the guide of the expedition, even though she wasn't the guide. I mean the, the, but they used her that way because they wanted to, to have a model, a role model for a woman who had been equal to men in something as important as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which I think other than a battle, was probably the most elevated position a woman could possibly rise, rise to. I think it's important that she was there for me more as an Indian woman than just as a woman. Because this was essentially a peaceful journey, I mean, as expeditions go, it was must less exploitive of the people who it encountered than many expeditions in history. And I think that Lewis and Clark's impulses were truly to discover, not to conquer, and I think that, that Sacagawea's presence there confirmed that in a, in a way. I also think that we ought, as Americans and as people interested in our own history, to be able to make more use of Sacagawea's presence on the expedition with a baby. I mean it's a, it's a way of entering in to history in a, in a way that lots of young girls and young women could respond to. I mean, in a way that they might not be able to respond to the statistics that are collected about the size of bears or the, you know, the, the many kind of map, the catara.., the details of cartography and map making that they were obsessed with. I think, I think it just gives us a way, she gives a, Sacagawea, I think her story is an invitation for lots of people to think about what, what that journey was like for everybody in the group. She's a, she's a kind of a, she is a means for us to enter that experience which might not otherwise be inviting to us imaginatively.
You had said earlier she was a Shoshoni, had been a member of the Hidatsa, a member of this new tribe, which by the time this whole expedition is through, what is she?
I think by the time the expedition is over, it's not possible to label Sacagawea anymore. I mean, I think in many senses it's not possible to label either Lewis or Clark anymore. They, you know, they, they, they stop being who they were symbolically before they started and they are just extraordinarily complex individuals and we're not allowed to give them labels anymore. And I think what happened to Sacagawea apparently from what we know about her in the oral tradition of the Comanche, of the Bannock, she traveled from tribe to tribe as an older woman, she lived in many places, many people, many different tribes sort of claim her, relatives of her, descendants of her, she, she was, what she was by the end of the expedition was her own woman. I don't think that she was a, a, a, a, a Shoshoni, simply a Shoshoni woman anymore. In some sense the expedition forced the people on it to abandon whatever tribal identity they came to the expedition with, and to act for the spirit of the whole.
In other words you're saying they became Americans?
Well, it depends on what you think Americans have become, you know, whether they're tribal or not. I mean, I don't, I...
If you could join the expedition, what moment would you choose?
If I could go on any, back to any moment on the expedition, I would go back to Three Forks, I would go back to the, first of all I would want to be on a part of the expedition where they were on the river, just because I love rivers. And I, I think that that reunion with her tribe must have been extraordinarily powerful and extraordinarily difficult. I, I would, I would definitely wish to be with her when she was reunited with the Shoshoni, because I would love to know what their life was like before and after the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through their territory. I, I would love to be able to sort of sit in on the conversations between her and her cousin, for example. I'd love to, I'd love to have been there at the moment where she says to Lewis and Clark, no she's not going to stay with the Shoshoni, she's going to continue with them. It's a real kind of a pivot in the journey, I think, for her, where she says, "I didn't do this, I'm not here just to go home, I'm here to go somewhere further."
Cut for a second.
Should I say that this is an exert or do I just read?
For once I was not hungry
Just keep going.
I don't need to say the end of that again where I flubbed up?
Fort Clatsop on the Columbia River, Christmas, 1805
We have built a circle of cabins where we wait the warm weather in which it is safe to start east.
Say a couple of times "Sacagawea."
Sacagawea, Sacagawea, Sacagawea. Sacagawea,
Sacagawea went down to the ocean.
Sacagawea went down to the ocean.
And then we saw Sacagawea.
And then we saw Sacagawea.
I want to ask one question. We really don't know what went on in her mind--we only have the men's journals. We can only imagine what her experience was like. Can you say a little bit about that?
There's almost nothing written down about Sacagawea's experience with Lewis and Clark. There, the details, the number of times she's mentioned in the journals is minimal and the only way that we can really understand, the only way that we can enter the experience she must have had on the expedition is imaginatively. We have to kind of imagine ourselves into her experience because, like millions of other great experiences in this country and in history, it was a mute one. It's not recorded, we, you know, if we're going to know anything about it, we have to participate imaginatively.
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