What was the Sacagawea Mission
Napoleon Bonaparte needed money. Thomas Jefferson wanted to go west. In the spring of 1803 a deal was reached: France sold 828,000 square miles of land to the United States for $ 15 million. Jefferson's land had doubled overnight. The acquisition included the current states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Montana.
It was the famous "pig in a poke": Jefferson didn't know what the world looked like there, west of the Mississippi. Except for a few fur hunters, very isolated explorers and a few daring settler families, who mostly swallowed the country without a trace, no white man had ever penetrated into the new areas. There were only rumors: of mammoth herds, of dwarf cannibals, of volcanoes, of mountains of salt and silver - and there were cards. According to them, the great Missouri River, which flowed into the Mississippi in St. Louis, originated somewhere far to the west. Not far from the source of the Missouri, another river began that led to the Pacific. Depending on the cartographer, he was called Oregon, Columbia, Tacoutche Tesse or simply: The River of the West. The continental divide was also marked: a few meager earth waves between the Missouri and the Pacific rivers, which for some inexplicable reason were called the Rocky Mountains.
Even before buying the land, Jefferson had wanted to send an expedition to the Pacific with French passports; now it was one's own country to be explored. Jefferson entrusted this task to a somewhat solitary and melancholy young infantry captain, Meriweather Lewis. Although he was not a master of orthography, the President had also appointed Captain Lewis as his private secretary. The choice baffled some: What qualified Lewis to lead an expedition? He grew up on a plantation in Virginia and didn't need a city to survive: was that enough for this daunting task? Jefferson decided it was enough. He trusted his knowledge of human nature, and he personally instructed his secretary in botany and astronomy. Lewis idolized the president and made his ideas so much his own that Jefferson rightly felt as though he were sending his own thoughts westward in the person of Captain Lewis: modern ideas of the power of civilization, of one deeply American vocation to transport democracy, culture and peace - if possible, to the end of the world. Jefferson knew Lewis would follow his directions like the scriptures:
The aim of the mission is to explore the Missouri and its tributaries in order to find the most direct and convenient waterway through the continent based on the course and connection with the waters of the Pacific.
In the spring of 1804 the expedition was waiting for their departure in a camp near St. Louis. The group was called "The Corps of Discovery". As second in command, Lewis was assisted by his friend William Clark, lieutenant in the artillery, at 33 years older than him a good four years. Next to the lanky and nervous Lewis, Clark was solid as a rock: an indifferent red-haired closet belonging to a man. Clark accompanied his slave York. Lewis took his Newfoundland Seaweed with him on the trip. Three dozen American soldiers and a couple of French boatmen stood ready on the Missouri, a nice barge with a small cannon, a few dinghies - and a lot of luggage. After all, it was not just a matter of equipping an expedition, but of bringing civilization into the wilderness. The inventory included chronometers and telescopes, smallpox vaccine and stock cubes, a travel desk, an air rifle, parasols, natural history and shipping textbooks, and a never-tried monster of an iron folding ship that Lewis had dubbed "the Experiment". Presents awaited their use in large sacks: red handkerchiefs and blue glass beads, pocket mirrors, fish hooks and many small medals with Jefferson's portrait. With this it was intended to conquer the hearts of the Indians -
- which you are to treat as kindly and peaceably as your own behavior allows. And given the nation's interest in extending the power of reason and law to the peoples around it, it will be useful to learn as much as possible about the state of their morality, religion and knowledge in order to help those who who seek to civilize and teach them, to make work easier.
The study of the Indians was at least as important to Jefferson as that of plants and animals. Long checklists were waiting in the drawers of the travel desk: the president was interested in everything right down to the squaw's menstrual cycle.
On May 14, 1804, the Corps of Discovery set out. Day after day, week after week, the ships tormented their way up the coffee-brown Missouri. Driftwood, rapids, sandbanks, you could hardly move, you had to drag the barge for miles on ropes, the first soldiers considered the advantages of deserting. One man died of a ruptured appendix. Captain Lewis, always botanizing, almost broke his neck while he was hunting for a rare plant on a rock. Wonderful strange animals: coyotes, antelopes, then the first legendary mammoth herds: buffalo. Everything was sampled for Jefferson, and even a live prairie dog puppy was stowed on the boat. The diaries filled up. The mosquitoes were as big as blowflies. In the evening the French played their fiddles and the Corps of Discovery danced with mixed feelings under the great sky over the prairie.
The first Indians: Otos, then Sioux. The American flag was hoisted, glass beads, mirrors and Jefferson medals were handed out, the miracles they brought with them were demonstrated - the air rifle, the burning mirror, the black slave - then the peace pipe was lit and the chiefs were asked to hear. Lewis always gave the same speech that a Frenchman who barely understood English translated into a language remotely reminiscent of Indian. "Children", began the speech -
Children, as envoys from the great chief of the seventeen great nations of America, we come to tell you that a meeting has been held between the great chief and your former fathers, the French. And at that meeting it was agreed that the great chief of the seventeen nations would henceforth be the father of the white and red men who dwelt on the waters of the Mississippi and Missouri. If the children obey the Father's commandments, the Missouri will become a road of peace; but if his actions annoy him, they and their clans will henceforth suffer from want.
The Indians reacted with now more friendly, now less friendly perplexity. Most ungracious were black buffalo and buffalo medicine, chiefs of the Teton Sioux. They listened to the speech with stone faces and refused gifts. Lewis and Clark came up with a strange idea: The entire troop was put in gala uniforms and had to drill for the Sioux. March! Company stop! Present the weapons! A strange war dance on the banks of the Missouri. Black buffalo and buffalo medicine wordlessly ran away. Later they did everything in their power to prevent the crazy whites from continuing their journey. There was a scuffle, shots in the air. Nobody was harmed. Nobody understood what the other wanted. The expedition continued on its way.
Autumn came, and with it rain and storm. Lewis botanized, Clark drew maps. The Mississippi was a thousand and a half miles behind them. Friendly Indians: Arikaras, then Mandans. They did not understand what the invisible chief of the seventeen nations wanted from them, but they were hospitable and helpful. They went hunting with the soldiers and, to the horror of Lewis and Clark, lent them their daughters and wives at night. In the vicinity of today's Bismarck / North Dakota, the winter quarters were set up, draughty wooden huts. The Missouri froze over. Clark loaned his slave York to the mandans who needed the black man for a buffalo spell, but not a single buffalo was seen. Glass beads took on a new meaning: a moment ago they were gifts, they suddenly became currency, they were exchanged for firewood and dogs for slaughter. A derelict fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, stranded with the Mandans, forced Lewis and Clark on to his services. He extolled his secret weapon: the Shoshoni girl Sacagawea. She was kidnapped as a child and later sold to Charbonneau. Now she was about fourteen and pregnant. His wife can interpret, Charbonneau boasted, and she also serves as a kind of hostage: nothing protects better from attacks than a squaw in the boat.
Christmas, New Year, dog in bouillon cube soup as a feast. Sacagawea gave birth to a son in early February. The ice thawed at the end of February. The barge was floated and sent back to St. Louis with the French. It transported enough plants, animals and rocks to fill a small museum, plus detailed reports for the president. The journey continued on April 7, 1805. Three dozen soldiers. A slave. A dog. A fur trader, a girl, an infant. Off to the Pacific! William Clark had drawn new maps. Here, too, the Rocky Mountains looked like a few scattered hills. Six primitive dugout canoes replaced the boat. Soon it would be easy to go downstream ...
And we viewed our small fleet, though not quite as respectable as Columbus' or Captain Cook's, with the greatest pleasure.
Lewis' and Clark's writings are, the further the expedition goes west, more and more marked by a strange conflict of conscience: map versus landscape, Jefferson's wishes versus the ruthless truths of the continent. There is no navigable upper Missouri whose source is adjacent to the source of the Columbia River. There is no waterway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At times it seems as if Lewis and Clark angrily shook their heads - or hoisted the flag - at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, as if the mountains had to obey the great chief in Washington just as much as the Indians. It was a hard way. Twice "the Squaw" - the name Sacagawea was usually too awkward for the diarists - carried her little son hundreds of miles on her back across the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.
The country swallowed the blessings of modernity: compasses and chronometers slid out of capsizing dugout canoes, a waterfall devoured a parasol, the travel desk shattered in the rubble and the wonderful folding ship called "Experiment" could not be sealed and it was left behind. Half starved, with sore feet, the Corps of Discovery wandered the wide open country and named him like Adam in Paradise. A river was named "Jefferson". A second "wisdom". A third "philanthropy". Without the escort and pack horses of the Indians, Lewis and Clark would never have seen the Pacific. Almost four hundred gruesome miles of walking were between Missouri and Columbia. Lewis and Clark unwaveringly logged the wilderness, lists of edible roots, bird calls, Indian words. You shot a grizzly and before you cooked it you gave it an autopsy. Knee high the snow on the Rockies. Diarrhea, fever, frozen toes. On October 16, 1805, the expedition found the Columbia River. On November 7th, the surf of the Pacific could be heard. The coast was difficult to get to. The second winter quarters were set up, in storms and rain on the banks of the river, the ocean remained miles away. Now you were there. But what did they actually want in the Pacific? Indians said a whale was stranded. For the first time in eleven months, the girl Sacagawea pissed off:
The squaw became very annoying because she wanted to go to the coast. She noted that she had traveled a long way with us to see the great water, and now that a sea monster had also come, she would find it very hard not to look at either of them.
A cold, wet winter. Tough moose and whale fat, then again nothing. The barter goods were long gone, even jackets and coats, the American flag and Sacagawea's only belt. They stole a canoe and firewood from the Indians and confessed this contrite in the diaries. The troops had long been clad in elk skin and sewed mocassins. In April 1806 the Corps of Discovery set out on its journey home, four thousand miles for the second time. Again Captain Lewis looked for a waterway for his President, but the Yellowstone River did not dig a tunnel through the Rocky Mountains either. New Indians - Blackfoot, Crows, Nez Percés. Undeterred, Lewis delivered his old speech to the Red Children of the Chief of the Seventeen Nations. Attempts were also made to establish friendship among warring tribes. Pax Americana: always a great success according to the diaries. A pipe with Lewis and Clark, and from then on the sun of peace shone over the prairie. America still dreams this way today.
Down the Missouri. The company smelled the stable. Buffalo were shot for fun now. A stray bullet hit Captain Lewis' buttocks and he botanized from then on on all fours. On September 23, 1806, the Corps of Discovery reached St. Louis again after two and a half years.
We saw cows! Normal, vulgar, wonderful cows! We screamed out loud with joy.
Those who had returned were received as heroes. They had not opened up a waterway. But the gate to the west was open.
William Clark was named "Superintendent of Native American Affairs" in St. Louis. The Indians liked him. They called him Chief Red Head. Clark died peacefully with his family at the age of 65.
Meriweather Lewis couldn't take the return to civilization. He fell into alcohol and melancholy. He could not exercise his office as governor of Missouri. At 35, he shot himself in the head and chest and bled to death.
The soldiers returned to their troops, two took their leave and became trappers. The slave York was released. The fur trader Charbonneau lurched further west.
And Sacagawea? She died of blood poisoning in her early twenties. Today she is one of the most famous women in American history. Everyone knows her statue: the braided squaw with the child on her back, pointing her hand to the west. The Sacagawea legend is a strange web of wishful thinking and false romance and lacks almost any historical basis: the Indian woman who shows the white man the way to bring her people the blessings of civilization - historians and novelists, painters and sculptors, film directors and unfortunately feminist historiography has also contributed to the badly kitschy Sacagawea myth. No American school book without him, no souvenir shop between St. Louis and Portland without shelves full of plastic Sacagaweas.
We know little about the real Sacagawea. She was Shoshoni. She died young. She wanted to see the ocean. She carried her baby across the Rocky Mountains twice.
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