Who was Sacagawea

"Ocean in sight! Oh, that joy!" This is what William Clark wrote on November 7, 1805 when he saw the Pacific. After all, he, his partner Meriwether Lewis and his expeditionary force, which consisted of 30 men, a woman and a baby, had been on the road for 18 months before they reached their destination. The months were exhausting - and adventurous. Lewis and Clark were the first whites to look for a route from the east of the United States to the west and map it out. The order for this came from the highest authority: President Thomas Jefferson.

Travel Pioneers series

Here we introduce you to memorable globetrotters in loose succession.

In the early 19th century, the United States of America was just an area east of the Mississippi. President Jefferson had just acquired a vast area west of the river from the French in the Louisiana land purchase. But he wanted more. The big goal: The United States should soon reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The fact that this is actually the case today and that the "Wild West" did not become a British or Spanish colony was largely due to the Lewis and Clark expedition.

With their geographical discoveries, the claims of the USA on the Indian country were to be strengthened, in which so far only a few trappers had penetrated. So President Jefferson sent his former private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to explore the mighty Missouri River to its source, find a way over the Rocky Mountains, and then follow the Columbia River to the Pacific.

Because the path was full of - known and possibly even more unknown - dangers, Lewis should not lead the army force alone: ​​If something had happened to him, it would have meant the end of the expedition. So William Clark came along as the second leader - like Lewis, he was from Virginia. The practical Clark not only had military experience, but had already been on the border with the wilderness - he and the thinker Lewis not only complemented each other, they also got along well.

The precautionary measure paid off, because even bad weather could endanger the life of the expedition participants:

"Last night it rained incessantly, so that we could not find peace and quiet and left our soaked sleeping quarters early to continue our route along the river. It continued to rain, the wind was blowing strongly from the northeast, it was cold and the bottom of the steep bank extremely slippery - as if we were walking on ice. (...) I heard a scream behind me: 'Great God, Captain, what should I do?' It was Windsor who had slipped and barely managed to hold on with one arm and one foot, but I saw the danger he was in, and his fear only added to my concern that any moment his strength would wane and he would fall Nevertheless, I gave him the order as calmly as possible to slowly draw his knife and use it to scratch a notch in the steep bank in which his foot could be held. He could crawl out of the danger zone on all fours. " Captain Lewis, June 7, 1805

The "Lewis and Clark Expedition" was accompanied by men who were especially good at hunting, a man who knew the sign language of the Indians, as well as a trapper and his young Indian wife Sacajawea.

She was 16 years old and had given birth to her first baby just eight weeks earlier, which she took on a dangerous journey. The young Shoshone woman, kidnapped as a child by a hostile Indian tribe and sold to the trapper, turned out to be a stroke of luck for the expedition. Not only because she was brave and prudent, far more so than her husband, who was sometimes paralyzed with fear. At the latest when he had beaten his wife, he lost every remainder of the already low esteem of Lewis and Clark, while Sacajawea steadily rose in their favor: She not only knew about edible roots and medicinal herbs, but also saved the explorers a few battles.

Because as soon as the troops encountered Indians, they feared an attack - until they saw Sacajawea. Because women never went on the warpath, these strange whites had to have peaceful intentions. Clark and Lewis smoked many peace pipes during this time, gave the tribes small presents and provided medical care to the sick. This is how they gained the trust of the locals; also with the promise to ensure peace among the warring tribes.

"We met many Chinooks, among them the two chiefs Comcommoly and Chillarlawil. We give them coins and a flag. One of the Indians had a robe made of river otter, the fur of which was more beautiful than anyone I had seen before. Both of us, Captain Lewis and I tried to swap the robe for a number of items. After long negotiations we got it in exchange for the belt of blue pearls that our translator Charbonneau's squaw wore around his waist. " Captain Clark, November 20, 1805

Although the Indians were mostly friendly to the explorers, the journey remained strenuous and dangerous: the men suffered from illnesses and constantly wet clothes. The biggest plague, however, were mosquitoes, which bugged incessantly. The big canoes, with which the troop covered a large part of the way, threatened to capsize again and again.

The hunters were attacked by rattlesnakes and buffalo. One day Lewis shot a grizzly bear but did not kill it. While fleeing from the injured animal, Lewis finally managed to reload his rifle and kill the animal after a hundred meters.

And then there was the Rocky Mountains.

The researchers already knew from reports from trappers that these mountains would get in their way out there. What they didn't know: How big and almost insurmountable the Rockies really are.