As the author of SACAJAWEA: Her True Story, I'm pleased with the reaction to the book but even more thrilled over the interest in Sacajawea, even from overseas. Although my e-mail is on only one website (it's email@example.com), I'm surprised about how many comments and questions I've received, including three from the United Kingdom this week. I try to personally respond to all the e-mails but I've also decided to use this forum to answer the best questions I receive, such as this one from Jeffrey Dawson, Wales: "An American friend told me about your book and I have ordered but not received it yet from Amazon.co.uk/United Kingdom. She also has sent me five of the Year 2000 Sacajawea Golden Dollar Coins, knowing my interest in the 1805-06 Lewis and Clark Expedition that ended merry-ole England's claims to the region stretching from the Mississippi to the Pacific. I surf the internet for Sacajawea stuff and read more about your book and learned that the little Indian girl is vastly widening the gap as easily the most memorialized female in American history. WOW! I have a question. As Sacajawea led the mission from the Missouri to the Pacific and back, were there any deaths among the members of the expedition on the arduous journey?"
ANSWER: There were many close calls but only one member of the expedition died during the journey. That was Sergeant Charles Floyd. He died on August 20th, 1804, near present day Sioux City, Iowa. It is believed his death was due to a burst appendix.
Carol Meminger; St. Paul, Minnesota: "I enjoyed your book and notice you spell your icon 'Sacajawea' but from time to time I see it spelled 'Sacagawea' or 'Sacakawea' or even 'Sakakawea' just as often. Can you explain this to me?"
ANSWER: I use the "Sacajawea" spelling simply because she was a Shoshone and my Shoshoni friends think of her and spell her name that way. In other words, Sacajawea is family to them and that gives them the perogative, I think. If a white family had a daughter named Kathy, for example, I would think of Kathy with a "K" and not Cathy with a "C." But I understand your confusion. Sacajawea was Shoshoni but she was captured and enslaved by the Hidatsa Indians of Knife River in present day North Dakota when she was a child. Her Hidatsa captors named her "Sacagawea," which to them meant "Bird Woman." The Lewis and Clark Expedition helped reunite her with her Shoshoni people in 1805 and by then her brother Cameahwait had become Chief of the Shoshones. Even within their own tribe, Shoshoni women often had several name changes from time to time but Sacajawea apparently liked her Hidatsa name and it closely resembled the Shoshoni name that meant "one who launches boats." So, even today the Hidatsas and Shoshones pronounce the name basically the same except for the third syllable. Lewis and Clark, on the expedition, spelled her name as they pronounced it -- "Sah-cah-gah-we-ah." The Hidatsa word for bird is "sacaga" and the Hidatsa word for woman is "wea" and combining the two was how Sacajawea originally was named. But the general acceptance of the name by her Shoshoni people affords them the right to start the third syllable with a "j" and not a 'g' and pronounce it "Sack-a-ja-wea," I think. To the Shoshones, her name is "Sacajawea" and it means "boat launcher" but to the Hidatsas her name is "Sacakawea" and it means
"Bird Woman." The third spelling -- "Sakakawea" --is promoted by the North Dakota Hidatsa and they pronounce it "sa-ka-ka-we-a." In 1814, eight years after the expedition, a man named Nicholas Biddle edited the Lewis and Clark journals and corrected many of the explorers' spelling and grammar mistakes. Biddle was the very first in the English language to discard the "g" in the third syllable and use a "j" and he did so apparently because he believed the name looked better and was pronounced easier with the spelling "Sacajawea." But the etymology of the name, even though the Shoshones themselves think of it and spell it "Sacajawea," will always be in dispute, it seems. For example, the National Geographic Society, the U. S. National Park Service, the U. S. Geographic Names Board, the Encyclopedia Americana and the World Book Encyclopedia are among those who use the "Sacagawea" spelling. But most of the memorials to Sacajawea use the "j" spelling, such as the new Sacajawea Middle School in Bozeman, Montana; the new Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho; the new Sacajawea State Park and Interpretive Center in Pasco, Washington; etc., etc. To summarize, I think of Sacajawea the way her own Shoshoni people think of her, which means I spell her name "Sacajawea" and pronounce it "Sack-a-ja-wea" and consider it to mean "one who launches boats."
QUESTION (From Susan Kemmerer; Spokane, Washington; from letter to Rich Haney, 453 N. 3rd St., Laramie, WY 82072; letter edited to conform to question): "Your book, SACAJAWEA: Her True Story, is quite gutsy and, I might add, convincing. You strongly challenge the viewpoint of noted historians -- including the celebrated Stephen Ambrose -- who claim that your (and our) precious Sacajawea died on December 20th, 1812, in South Dakota. For one, I believe your documentation that she died on April 9th, 1884, and that she is buried on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. I wonder, have you or do you expect to hear from Ambrose regarding that vast disagreement regarding America's all-time most honored female?"
ANSWER: Oh, no. Ambrose is a huge fish in a giant pond and I'm a tiny fish in a small pond, and I harbor no problems at all with either of those facts. I admire Ambrose as a great historian; he, for example, is easily the greatest biographer of Dwight Eisenhower. However, he is not an authority on Sacajawea and his status as America's most celebrated comtemporary historian, which affords added credence to the incorrect depiction of Sacajawea's death as having occurred in 1812 in South Dakota, is, I feel, injurious to her legacy and to her Shoshoni people.
QUESTION: Karen Siler; Erie, PA; E-mail: "Perhaps yours is the definitive word on when Sacajawea died (1884) and where she is buried (Wyoming's Wind River Reservation). Yet, my interest in her keeps turning up more and more Sacajawea controversies amd I wonder where they will end. For example, Pennsylvania newspapers have recently carried stories in which the Hidatsa Indians claim that Sacajawea was Hidatsa, not Shoshoni as you and others maintain. Are you aware of this Hidatsa claim and, if so, would you comment?"
ANSWER: Yes, Karen, I'm quite aware of what is actually a renewed Hidatsa-Mandan claim. It originated in the July, 2000, edition of The Circle, an influential Indian newspaper. The long article, written by Jon Lurie, begins with this sentence: "As the United States prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery (1804-1806), a tug-of-war over the legacy of Sacagawea, the expedition's famous guide, intensifies." The Hidatsas readily admit they would like to snare a larger slice of Sacajawea's ever-mounting fame, tied to the Year 2000 Sacajawea Golden Dollar Coin, the upcoming bicentennial celebration, etc. The Hidatsas and many others would like to claim her as their own.
After all, even prior to the Golden Dollar and what will be a lavish, nationwide, four-year celebration of the Lewis & Clark bicentennial, she was already America's all-time most memorialized female, by far. But she was, is and a