The Gros Ventre Story of Sakakawea
As told to Major A. D. Welch about 1924
I was invited to enter the ceremonial lodge and about ten men entered with me. I took the place inside the entrance and sat down. Some woman brought in coffee, meat and hard tack. After we had eaten of the feast, Bulls Eye, one of the Scouts, said:
I want to talk with you now. We have heard about some white men who wrote about my Grandmother. Her name was T(sakakawea)ish. These white men came along here about a hundred years ago. They made a mistake with the interpreter. He could not speak the Indian well and told it wrong. He could not talk English either. He talked French. It has been wrong ever since that time. T(Sakakawea)ish was not a Shoshoni. She was a Hidatsa (Gros Ventre). I will tell you about that now.
My name is "Bulls Eye." I am of the Hidatsa. I have seen fifty-eight winters. I was a volunteer scout. I was with the soldiers at the mouth of the Yellowstone. I was with Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln. I was young. My father's name was "Lean Bull." He was Hidatsa. He was a brave man. My mother's name was "Otter Woman." She was of the Hidatsa too. I was four years old when she was killed by an enemy. She died sitting up against a wagon wheel.
The name of my mother's mother was Sakakawea. She was my grandmother. (The two fingers to the mouth sign was given—"blood relationship sign.") The father of my grandmother was "Smoked Lodge." He was Hidatsa. He signed the treaty of 1825. The mother of my grandmother was "Otter Woman." She was Hidatsa too. My grandmother, Sakakawea, had a brother whose name was "Cherry Necklace." He lived with our relatives in Montana. These people are called "Abuarckee," or the Crows, sometimes. But they were Hidatsa a long time ago. They went away from us once. She had a half brother, too. His name was "One Buffalo." My grandmother was married to a white man.
When my grandmother was seventeen years old, her father gave her to a white man. This white man was my grandfather. His name was Sharbonish (Charbonneau). He lived among the Mandans and Hidatsa then. That was by the Knife River. This white man and Sakakawea had several children. The first one was a man child. The second was a woman child. They named her "Otter Woman." She was my mother. (Here the sign for birth was given.) The third child was a woman child also. Her name was "Cedar Woman." The fourth child was a woman child. They gave her the name of "Different Breast." The father of all these children was Sharbonish. You have called it a little different. It is the same man. None of these descendants are alive now except myself. They are all dead from the enemy or sickness.
The same year when my grandfather took Sakakawea from Smoked Lodge, they went away. They went toward the west. They were gone a long time and traveled far away. They went so far that they were among people who sometimes went to the ocean out there beyond. They had shells from the ocean and other things from there. This was on the other side of the mountains, beyond the three rivers of the Missouri. They went past these three rivers, where they flow together. Then they went on over the mountains to another river which flowed west. All the rivers and streams there flowed that way. When they came to a very bad river (Salmon River) they turned back. They came back to the Knife River then. So she knew that country they went over. This was a year before this white party came. They stayed through the winter. (This was Lewis and Clark and party.)
When these people came, they selected Sharbonish and Tsakakaweaish, my grandmother, to guide them into that country then. They had gone over it the year before. We have heard that they wrote it that she was not a Hidatsa. That she was a Shoshoni prisoner among us. But she was not a Shoshoni. She was Hidatsa. Everybody knew them. They knew her father and mother too. The interpreter is not very good in both languages, [so] they sometimes talk the easiest way. These white men were told that my grandmother knew the country well. She had been there and traveled across the mountains. They had been among the Shoshoni people. They were told that she had a brother there. Indian relationship is not like the white tell it. When an Indian makes a friend of a stranger, they sometimes call them "brothers." So I think this interpreter told the whites that she had a brother there among the Shoshoni. It did not mean the Gros Ventre had her captive from the Shoshoni. Perhaps her father, Smoked Lodge, went out there on that trip, too. So they thought he had captured her and brought her back to live with the Hidatsa. But she was Hidatsa. We are sorry that they got it wrong. It has been wrong ever since then.
They started in boats. They pulled the boats to places. Where the banks were good, they used a small pole which the whites had on board the boat, to pull them along the shores. Then they would put the mule back on the boat. They went to these three rivers and over the mountains to the ocean. While there my grandmother got many good shell ornaments from that place.
When they came back (in 1808[!]) they were on a large raft in the Yellowstone river. They passed through the country of our relatives, the Crows. They passed a large camp of these Abacsrokee at Sitting Bear Hill. Sakakawea called out to the people. She asked if her brother was in the camp. She said for him to go down the river, beyond the next bend. She would have the white boat land there. His name was Cherry Necklace. So he wanted to make her a good gift then. He had a very fine white, trained buffalo horse. This is a very good gift. He gave this white buffalo horse to Sharbonish. They loaded it upon the raft and brought it to our village. Sakakawea gave him some fine shell ornaments to wear. The Crows had good horses. This Cherry Necklace was a son of "First," a Crow woman, and his father was "Looks Down." (Indian relationship.)
That is all.
While telling this story, Bulls Eye was frequently interrupted by some member of the council, who told him that he had forgotten something. They were all agreed as to the main points of the story. They paid very close attention as he related it. . . . Those present were recorded as:
Birds Bill, Chief of the U.S. Volunteer Scouts Society
Bulls Eye, Son of Otter Woman, Daughter of Sakakawea and Sharbonneau
Dog (George Parshall), a white scout at Ft. Buford was his father
Stanley Dean, Educated Indian
Henry Bad Gun, son of Charging Eagle, who was the son of Four Bears
Black Chest, old U.S. Volunteer Scout
Thad Mason (Indian names are Looking and Hunts Along)
Arthur Mandan, interpreter, grandson of Chief Red Cow, son of Scarred Face