Death of Sacagawea 

US #2869s from the Legends of the West sheet.

December 20, 1812, is generally believed to be the day that Sacagawea died in Kenel, South Dakota.

There’s limited information about Sacagawea’s early life, including her birth date, though many historians believe she was born in May 1788 near present-day Salmon, Idaho.  She was a member of the Agaidika (Salmon Eater) of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe.

In 1800, when Sacagawea was about 12 years old, the Hidatsa tribe captured her and several other young girls and many people in her village were killed.  She was taken to a Hidatsa village near present-day Washburn, North Dakota.  The following year, Sacagawea was sold to French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who made her his wife.

Then in 1803, the United States finalized the Louisiana Purchase, acquiring the vast area that lay between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains.  To explore the unknown territory, President Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  By fall the explorers had reached the Missouri River, where they hired Charbonneau as an interpreter.  Because she spoke Shoshone, they agreed to add Sacagawea to their party.

US #2869s – Mystic First Day Cover.

Sacagawea moved into the newly built fort constructed by the expedition’s members and gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on February 11, 1805.  That April, she joined the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River.  Carrying her infant son on her back, Sacagawea guided the expedition over treacherous mountain trails and down roaring whitewater rivers.

US #UX196 – Sacagawea Postal Card.

Sacagawea often foraged for food, and when a riverboat capsized, she rescued vital supplies.  The Corps then named the river after her.  Her presence with the explorers also eased the suspicions of other tribes, because as Clark noted, “A woman with a party of men is a token of peace.”

Item #571467 – Commemorative cover honoring Sacagawea’s reunion with her brother.

When the group encountered a band of Shoshone near present-day Montana, Sacagawea discovered the tribe’s chief was her brother and was able to negotiate horses, without which the expedition might have ended.  At the end of the expedition, Clark told Sacagawea’s husband that she deserved “a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.”

Item # 571474 – Commemorative cover honoring the day Lewis and Clark left Sacagawea and her husband.

After the expedition ended, Sacagawea and her husband lived in the Hidatsa village for three years before accepting an invitation from William Clark to move to St. Louis, Missouri.  There Clark helped them enroll their son in a boarding school and Sacagawea gave birth to a daughter, Lizette.

US #2869s – Colorano Silk First Day Cover.

It is believed that Sacagawea, her husband, and daughter lived at the Fort Manuel Lisa Trading Post in the 1810s.  A journal entry from the fort claims that Sacagawea died of “putrid fever” on December 20, 1812.

However, some Native American oral traditions tell a different story.  Some believe that Sacagawea left her husband and married into a Comanche tribe and later returned to the Shoshone in Wyoming in 1860.  There were tales of a woman named Porivo (chief woman) who had a Jefferson peace medal and spoke about leading white men on a long journey.  Porivo died on April 9, 1884, and some people believe she was Sacagawea.

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  1. Good lesson. It shows that the various tribes warred against each other and the New World was not the idyllic paradise that the people who want to rewrite
    history present to us today.

  2. I wonder what happened to her son & daughter. I often wish your articles could be longer. They are so interesting that they make me want to learn more. Thank you for an email that I look forward to everyday.

  3. I would like to recognize my Mother Thelma today. It would be her 109th birthday. She loved history & she encouraged the hobby of stamp collecting, so that 5of her 8 children collect & have encouraged many others to do the same. It has been a lifetime hobby of never ending education & enjoyment.

    1. Today I tipped the 60 year mark. I’m one of Thelma’ s 21 grandchildren. My grandmother and I shared a special bond because our birthdays were a day apart. I too collect stamps. I have a photo of the day I became a stamp collector. It shows me in 1967 standing beside my aunt Joan, one of Thelma’ s other daughters, as she is showing me a stamp album. I’m not sure if it was hers or Thelma’s. But I must have expressed enough interest in them that my dad, one of Thelma’s sons, asked me if that was something I would like to do. I answered “yes”, which began a series of events that resulted in my entire immediate family becoming involved in stamp collecting. My sister and I still have active stamp collecting interests. I’m afraid to know how much I have given over to Mystic in the last 10 years…

  4. lois that is great about the hobby. I am in my 70s and started collecting stamps in the second grade as a class item. I have a great granddaughter that I am helping get started. I hope if she stays interested she may get my collection and keep it going. Lets hope.

  5. Nice history lesson Mystic. Maybe someday we will learn what really happened to Sacajawea. Did she die on this date in 1812 or April 9, 1884 after reuniting with Native Americans. In any event history tells us of the great service she provided to Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery.

  6. If Sacajawea was born in 1788, to die in 1884 would make her 96 years old. And she had a hard life, so I would think that was a different person. Nevertheless, I can see how critical her presence and help in the expedition was. Good write-up Mystic.

  7. We have a large lake in Longview, Washington named after her, which is central to the town with many homes in the neighborhood, and so her name is never long forgotten around here :D)

  8. Donna Reed plays her in the movie “Far Horizons”, although the movie is not historically accurate, it is interesting enough for all to take a look.

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