Sakakawea's Death

Page 4 of 14

As told to Major A. D. Welch about 1924

Following is the story as told by Bulls Eye, the grandson of Sakakawea, of his grandmother as told in the preceding pages. The same men told me the Gros Ventre story of her death. This story rings true and is the most plausible account of the death of this Indian woman of Lewis and Clark's time. The same council of men were present and I used the same interpreter. This story is accepted by the writer as the true one, as all other accounts are surrounded by too many doubts and weak places in the stories.

Bulls Eye said:

I will tell you how my grandmother, Sakakawea, died. My mother, Otter Woman, died at the same time nearly. This place was in Montana. It is near where Glasgow is now, on a creek which we called Sand Creek place. My grandmother was married to this man, Sharbonneau. She had learned to like coffee terribly well. She could not get along without coffee. When she got out of coffee she would travel long distances in order to get a new supply. She saved the coffee from the posts and would put it on her head so it would smell like coffee.

During one of these trips to a trader's post to get coffee, the party she was with had two wagons with oxen hitched to them. My grandmother and my own mother, Otter Woman, and myself, were in this party. I was only four years old, so do not remember who the rest were. We were on Sand Creek, near Glasgow one night, and camped there. There was a trader's place not many miles away and we were going there to trade.

I was asleep on the ground between the wheels of one of the wagons, by the side of my grandmother; my mother was under the front wagon wheels. My mother said to grandmother: "Take the child to the willow gulch." So Sakakawea took me by the arm and ran into the brush of a gully close by. The firing of guns kept on for a while and then quit. All the yelling had ceased. My grandmother took me out then and we went back to the wagons. It was early in the morning when we left the coulee. I can remember it well. I have never forgotten. Several dead people lay there around and under the wagons. My mother was sitting up against a wheel of one of the wagons. She was covered with blood. She had been struck and was badly wounded there. Grandmother did not cry. She was also hit in the side by a bullet but had not said anything about that. My mother said, "Take the boy to the trader's place. I am dying now. The boy is young to look after now." She died there against the wheel, then. That was the last I heard her speak. But she pointed to her mother's side and signed for her to go away. So we walked over the hills and prairie to the trader's store. I got well and lived. Sakakawea, my grandmother, died at the trader's place, seven days after that."

This, we believe, is the true story of the death of Sakakawea, the Bird Woman, and is but one of the tragic stories which the Gros Ventre Indians have kept secret, but it is well known to all the old people of that tribe. The old woman of Stower; the "wife of Charbonneau" of Luttig, who died of a fever; the "Sacajawea" of Dr. Hebard—these stories may not be corroborated. But this story of Bulls Eye, the son of Otter Woman, who was the first daughter of Charbonneau and Sakiakawea, the "Bird Woman," can be for the old people of the Gros Ventre, the "Minnitaree of Lewis and Clark," all know it, and many of them were present when it was told to the writer, and will re-tell it to any white man they have confidence in.

Sakakawea was born in 1787; she was seventeen years of age when employed by Lewis and Clark in 1804; Bulls Eye, her grandson, was four years old when she met her death in the fight upon the wagon train; Bulls Eye was born in 1835, for his age is not fifty-nine; consequently, Sakakawea, the Bird Woman, was killed when she was eighty-two years of age, in 1869.