Every Historian Who Studies Lewis & Clark Falls in Love with Sacagawea

But they can’t agree on her name.

The problem is that Sacajawea was Shoshone, but Sakakawea was captured at age 12 by the Hidatsas. So is her name Shoshone or Hidatsa? The problem is further compounded by the fact that Lewis and Clark couldn’t spell. Clark was the most creative — for example, he spelled Sioux no less than 27 different ways in the Journals.

Sacagawea is the official federal spelling. It is considered to be a Hidatsa word meaning “Bird Woman,” though apparently that is not how the Hidatsas spell it.

Sakakawea is the Hidatsa/North Dakota spelling. According to the North Dakota Historical Society:

Official North Dakota policy is to use the “Sakakawea” spelling based largely on the writings of Russell Reid who researched the subject in the early 1900′s. Most of the rest of the United States, however, including the Hidatsa in North Dakota, tend to use the “Sacagawea” version as being closer to the meaning of her given name. The source of debate ever since, the true spelling of her name is difficult for a number of reasons. First of all, Hidatsa is not a written language; Lewis and Clark themselves employed over a dozen different spellings of her name in their journals. Secondly, coming from an oral tradition, the proper spelling of her name presents difficulty because of the phonetics involved. The controversy probably will not be resolved any time soon, but it is probably best to use the spelling that contemporary Hidatsa people prefer.

Sacajawea ia the spelling adopted by Wyoming and some other western states, relying on the Shoshone. According to the web site Trail Tribes:

The Lemhi Shoshone call her Sacajawea. It is derived from the Shoshone word for her name, Saca tzah we yaa. In his Cash Book, William Clark spells Sacajawea with a “J”. Also, William Clark and Private George Shannon explained to Nicholas Biddle (Published the first Lewis and Clark Journals in 1814) about the pronunciation of her name and how the tz sounds more like a “j”. What better authority on the pronunciation of her name than Clark and Shannon who traveled with her and constantly heard the pronunciation of her name. We do not believe it is a Minnetaree (Hidatsa) word for her name. Sacajawea was a Lemhi Shoshone not a Hidatsa. Her people the Lemhi Shoshone honor her freedom and will continue using the name Sacajawea. Most Shoshone elders conclude that her name is a Shoshone word: Saca tzah we yaa which means burden.

Lewis and Clark (or at least Clark) called Sacagawea Janey. Clark raised the boy, John Baptiste Charbonneau (called Pomp by Clark) from age six and arranged for him to be educated in Europe when Pomp was 19.

The best evidence suggests that Sacagawea died in 1812, though some believe she lived until 1884.