When the Shoshone people share her story, it's filled with so many telling details you sense it must be true.
"They say when she saw her tribe again, she put her hand to her mouth and tears came to her eyes," said Zedora Teton Enos of Fort Washakie, Wyo. "She was back with her people again."
The "she" in the story is Sacajawea, the young Indian woman who helped steer Lewis and Clark through the Northwest wilderness. The "people" are the Shoshones of Wyoming.
Today, the Shoshones say Sacajawea lies beneath a stately granite marker in the Sacajawea Cemetery of Fort Washakie, Wyo. Two of her sons are buried next to her. Nearby, there's a small cabin where visitors can rest and meditate. But though the Shoshones of the Wind River region claim her bones, Shoshones from as far away as Fort Hall, Idaho and Brigham City, Utah, claim her spirit.
"When I was a little girl, my grandparents took me to her grave," said Patty Timbimboo Madsen of Brigham City, the cultural resource specialist for the tribe. "For what she endured, she is inspirational."
The story of Sacajawea, of course, has been a staple in grade school history texts for generations. It is a story that often blends fact with folklore. She was born in what is now Idaho in 1790 and, as young girl, was stolen away by the Hidasta Tribe during a raid. She lived with the Hidastas in the Dakotas.
Later she married the French fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau, whose skills prompted Lewis and Clark to hire him and his Shoshone bride as guides. For the next 15 years, Sacajawea lived out one of the nation's greatest adventures. At one point, with her baby strapped to her back, she salvaged valuable maps and papers from a capsized boat.
She eventually returned to her tribe only to learn her parents had perished and her brother was now the chief. Eventually, she moved to St. Louis for a spell with her husband. After she left St. Louis, people lost track of her. Shoshone tradition and oral history say she wandered around the West, eventually returning to the Wind River region, where she died on April 9, 1884 the date on her grave marker at Fort Washakie.
Recently, Sacajawea was selected from a group of many other notable Americans to have her picture on a $1 coin. Schools, clubs and other organizations have also adopted her name over the years. She has become an American icon.
But her greatest and most enduring legacy is among the Shoshone people themselves.
"We went up to Idaho and had a card signed by the girl who posed for the image on the coin," Madsen said. "She was a descendent of Sacajawea herself."
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