History and Historiography

Getting Sacagawea Right

Sponsored by W. W. Norton & Company

For the June 8 issue of the magazine, Thomas Powers reviews Our Story of Eagle Woman: Sacagawea: They Got It Wrong, a 2021 book that argues that, contrary to the story told in standard biographies, Sacagawea’s parents were from the Hidatsa and Crow tribes, not Shoshone; she lived to be eighty-two, not twenty-five; and her “name was actually Eagle Woman—Maeshuwea or Maeshuweash—which proved too difficult for whites to pronounce.” This new history, researched and written by the Sacagawea Project Board of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, gathers a wealth of new and old material, including an extensive oral account from 1923 by a Hidatsa named Bulls Eye—Sacagawea’s grandson—that “offers a swath of history as substantial as a deposition delivered to lawyers. Outside of the Lewis and Clark journals nothing else comes close to telling us as much about Sacagawea. One way or another, every future history of her life will have to take it into account.”

Below, alongside Powers’s essay, we have collected five pieces from our archives about Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark, and American Indian history.

Thomas Powers
Getting Sacagawea Right

New evidence suggests that Sacagawea had a longer life than most historians have believed—fifty-seven years longer.

Susan Dunn
‘Our Father, the President’

“In order to fully understand George Washington, historians must not ignore the vital part that Native Americans played in his life as well as in the history of the young nation.”

Thomas Powers
The World from the
Other Side

“The seventy-seven drawings in A Lakota War Book were all completed by their Lakota and Cheyenne Indian artists before—probably many years before—the battle that made Custer immortal…. [They] give us a rich and startling view of life on the Northern Plains in the last years before the Indians who thought they owned them were confined to reservations.”

Larry McMurtry
Sacagawea’s Nickname

“For long stretches, in their Journals, she is simply ‘the Indian woman,’ or ‘Charbono’s Snake Indian wife,’ or, more rarely, ‘the Squar.’ There is a certain uneasiness in these references, though. After all, this young woman slept with her husband in their tent; they saw her every day, as she does her best to be helpful, digging up Jerusalem artichokes, gathering fennel, chopping elk bones and boiling out a fine grease. Reluctantly, and never very successfully, they begin to call her Sacagawea, which they spell several different ways.”

Larry McMurtry
Chopping Down the Sacred Tree

“A producer or studio may have the notion that they want a movie about Geronimo, but it will always develop that what they really want is a movie about the white guys who were chasing Geronimo—maybe one of them could be Brad Pitt. In a broad sense, as it is with the movies, so it has been with history. Native American history becomes, in a flash, not their history, but the history of Anglo-European interaction with them, on two continents and a number of adjacent islands.”

Gordon S. Wood
‘The Writingest Explorers’

“The astronauts of the 1960s knew more about the surface of the moon they were to land on than Lewis and Clark knew about the northwest part of the Louisiana territory they were sent to explore by President Thomas Jefferson.”

 

Leave a Reply