Oral tradition places a young Sacajawea with Crow

2010-07-23T00:00:00Z Oral tradition places a young Sacajawea with CrowLORNA THACKERAY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 23, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Sacajawea may have spent part of her early childhood among the Crow, Crow historian Elias Goes Ahead said.

Goes Ahead, who has been researching the Lewis and Clark Expedition from the Crow point of view, said his information came from an old account taken by a nephew of White Dog, who died in the 1930s at the age of 106.

It’s impossible to verify more than 200 years later, but the story apparently came down as oral tradition before it was written down sometime in the 20th century.

Sacajawea was born in Idaho into the Lemhi Shoshone, he said. Her date of birth is estimated between 1786 and 1790. As a child, her village was attacked and she was taken captive. The circumstances are unknown.

Goes Ahead said she came to the Crow either through adoption or a trade with the Hidatsa, kinsmen of the Crow who settled in the Dakotas.

“This girl was good at taking care of sick babies,” Goes Ahead said. “An older Crow woman took her in and taught her women’s work.

“This girl was athletic,” he continued. “The older Crows always had young women swim in contests. This girl had a nice breast stroke — she used her legs like a frog swimming in the water and she always won.”

Her swimming style was the inspiration for her Crow name — Sag-Bia, translated as Frog Woman.

Sag-Bia learned the language and stayed with the Crow until about age 10, when enemies raided a Crow camp east of Billings on the Yellowstone, Goes Ahead said. She was taken captive and ended up with the Hidatsa again. A few years later, visiting Crows recognized her among the Hidatsa in what is now North Dakota. That was where Lewis and Clark found her in 1804, when they wintered with the Mandan and Hidatsa before heading west to cross the Rocky Mountains.

Although there were four Crow bands reportedly on the Yellowstone in the summer of 1806 when Clark set out to explore it, the Crow made no attempt to meet members of the expedition.

But Goes Ahead said that according to one Crow story, Sacajawea (Sag-Bia) had a brother named Cherry Necklace, who married a River Crow and lived among her people. He said that Cherry Necklace, a shaman, met his sister at Pompeys Pillar and presented her with a white buffalo dress.

No such meeting was recorded in the journals. The only brother the journals’ record was Cameahwait, chief of the Lemhi Shoshone, who rejoiced in a reunion with his sister as the expedition traveled through the mountains of Idaho. Cameahwait supplied horses to the expedition.

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