Yarrow House

Sacajawea, Her Story

for Sacajawea (1788-1812?)

I. “When we halted for dinner the squaw busied herself
in searching for the wild artichokes. Her labor soon proved
successful, and she procured a good quantity of these roots.”
Meriwether  Lewis, April 09, 1805

I haven’t always lived here by this fort.
I have crossed the high mountains and traveled
to the edge of the land and seen the great salty waters.

My people live far away from here.
When I was a child, the Hidatsu stole me.
That was the first time I traveled.

I cried but only to myself, and when we came
to the Hidatsu village, no time to cry.
Only working. Gather wood, haul water,

do what I was told. They sold me to the Mandans.
New people. New things to learn. Not too bad.
Then Charbonneau won me in the dice game.

And I became a woman in his bed.
His other women, like a family sometimes.
He drank the firewater, and it’s true,

it makes a man mean. When he drank, I’d slip away
and tell my story to myself. Remember the way
back to my people. Or I’d dream of a pattern

to sew if I had the beads someday. The white men
wanted someone to guide them up the river.
Charbonneau said he knew the way. So he said.

He said many things. The white men took him on.
They wanted someone who could talk
with my people. And so they took me, too.

II. “The Indian woman confirmed those people
of our friendly intentions, as no woman ever
accompanies a war party of Indians in this quarter.”
William Clark, Oct. 19, 1805

In the winter, Pompy, my lovely son, was born.
In the spring we set out. My sixteenth spring.
We traveled up river in our boats all summer.

I have many stories. When the boat rolled over,
I caught the bundles that fell out and dragged them
to shore. When I was sick and close to dying,

the red-haired one healed me. When I found berries,
Red-Hair wrote their names in his book.
They showed me the white ways to make a camp,

to cook their food, to mend their clothes. When the leaves
began to fall, we found my people. And what surprise,
their leader was my brother. I wept to see him.

I was so happy to know that he still lived. But
the father of my son was going with the white men,
and truly I did not want to stay behind.

I wanted to see the great waters, the land beyond
the high mountains, and the people who lived there.
We crossed through the mountains and came to a river.

We made new canoes and went downstream. 
Winter months we half starved in the camp that we built
near the mouth of that river. Cold and wet all the time.

And my son, healthy and growing day by day.
And, yes, the great waters roll endlessly,
and the people there, yes, different, but still people.

III. “The Indian woman was very importunate, said she
had traveled a long way with us to see the great waters,
and that now a monstrous fish was also to be seen,
thought it very hard she could not be permitted to see either.”
William Clark, January 6, 1806

They came, this morning, the men who live near here,
and told us of a marvelous sight—a monster
in the shape of a fish. The great fish can be eaten,
its flesh fat and sweet like dog or beaver.
Their words are not clear. I listened to their hands,
and it seemed they said the fish was dead

upon the shore of the great waters. I have not
been there yet. And why must I be left behind
after coming all this way? I told the red-haired one

I too must go to see such a wondrous fish creature.
They say it is as long as five canoes.
Can it truly be a fish? I will see it.

When we reached the shore of the great waters,
all that remained were its huge bones.
The people had already cleaned the meat from it.

The men bartered for pieces of the fat and flesh,
and  I paced around the remains with my son,
Indeed, it was as long and high as they said.

I will make a song and later when my son
is old enough to remember, I will sing it to him
about the day we saw the marvelous fish,

and the great waters rushing in, over and over,
and the little birds at their edge, unafraid,
running in and out with each crashing wave.

IV.“With us was a Frenchman and his wife
who had accompanied Lewis and Clark to the Pacific.
The woman was a good creature, of a mild
and gentle disposition, greatly attached to the whites,
whose manners and dress she tries to imitate,
but she had become sickly and longed to revisit her native country.”
Henry Brackenridge, April 2, 1811

Now I live here by this fort—Lisa they call it—
with Charbonneau’s other women, sisters
to share the work and company to while

away the time. We plant our corn, tan hides,
sew clothes—moccasins, dresses, shirts.
White cloth feels good to wear, but tears so soon.

They laugh at the designs I sew with beads.
Not proper designs but mixed up with patterns
of the people beside the great waters.

Patterns to remind me of our travels in that year.
Pompy lives with Red-Hair now, to learn
to write in a book. Only my daughter is with me.

There are other edges to this land, the whites say,
where the great waters rush onto the shore.
I would like to cross them one day and see

the people on the other side. They are not water
people. They are not sky people. They are people
of the earth, like us, they say. Sometimes I travel

with Charbonneau when the white men
want someone who can talk to my people.
So many things to see, new things still to learn.

Other days, when I am feeling sick,
I miss the old familiar foods, the smells
of the village, telling stories by the fire.

© Judith Yarrow, 2013

Onetime reproduction for non-resale purposes permitted by the author with the following credit line: by J Yarrow