"The one dollar coin shall feature a likeness of Liberty, represented by a Native American woman, inspired by Sacagawea and other Native American women."
Sacagawea was born into the Shoshone Indian tribe sometime circa 1789. Translated, her name means "Bird Girl."
The Shoshone tribe was located in what would later become known as the Rocky Mountains.
When Sacagawea was eleven years old, she was captured by a raiding party and stolen from her tribe. She never saw her parents again.
She was kept as a slave and traded from tribe to tribe. Eventually, her ownership was transferred to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur-trader who often traveled with and lived among the Indians. Historical accounts are not clear, but Charbonneau either purchased Sacagawea outright or won her in a game of chance. He also picked up a second girl, most likely named "Otter Girl," at the same time. It is possible that he took both Shoshone girls at the same time because they wished to stay together.
Although no painting or sketch was ever made of her during her lifetime, there are now more statues of Sacagawea than of any other woman in American history.
Toussaint Charbonneau also owned a third girl, from the Mandan tribe, and most likely had a number of other Indian wives as well. These girls were sometimes referred to as his "wives," but the term was used in the French sense meaning simply that he lived with them - there had never been any marriage ceremonies.
When Sacagawea was fifteen years old, she became pregnant by the forty-five year old Charbonneau.
When Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter and guide for their expedition, they informed him that he could only bring along one of his Indians. He chose Sacagawea.
From 1804 to 1806, she and and the rest of Lewis & Clark's "Corps of Discovery" journeyed to the Pacific Coast and back. This was the first time that any white men had journeyed through the Northwest territories. Sacagawea's contributions to the journey were vital to their survival.
When the soldiers were about to die of starvation, she instructed them as to which roots were safe to eat. She found other food for them and was able to track down honey by following the flight path of a single bee.
When the soldiers' boots wore out, she taught them how to make mocassins from elk skins.
Once, while journeying by canoe, one or more of the boats was smashed by colliding with logs. Charbonneau swam to shore with their baby, while Sacagawea repeatedly dove for, searched for, and rescued the expedition's supplies - including medicines and a large brass compass which had sunk and was vital for the journey's success.
Whenever the Corps encountered various Native American tribes on their journey, the Indians saw that the explorers were accompanied by a young mother and her baby. Since war parties never travelled with women and children, they realized that the expedition had peacful intentions and refrained from attacking them.
By the time the expedition reached Sacagawea's homeland in the Rocky Mountains, the soldiers were exhausted and near starvation. They were met by sixty Indian warriors. Through an amazing coincidence, it so happened that Sacagawea's brother had become chief of the Shoshone tribe - he recognized her and had his tribe render assitance to the explorers. In addition to giving them food and shelter for the duration of the harsh winter months, Sacagawea pursuaded him to sell horses to the expedition so that they could journey onward in the Spring.
If not for Sacagawea, the government's exploration of discovery in the North West would never have succeeded. The discoveries of Lewis and Clark opened up previously unexplored territory for the coming of the white man.
"Your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing route to the Pacific Ocean and back deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that journey than we had in our power to give her."
- William Clark in a letter to Toussaint Charbonneau