The Fine Art of Betty J. Billups
Lewis & Clark
Back in the mid '70's I was offered a commission from the United States Army, to create a painting of Sacajawea, the young Shoshoni maiden who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their journey to find a Northwest Passage.
In reading the accounts, and other historian's interpretation of the same, I found two conflicting opinions. Some historians said that she "pointed the way", and thus seemed to know more than Lewis and Clark....other historians said she was "excess baggage", and that she added nothing to the expedition.
In my research, I came to the conclusion that she was neither of the above. HOWEVER, I do believe, that Lewis and Clark would never have made it throught to the coast, had she not been with them. Three major things occured, that she was directly responsible for:
First, traveling with the expedition, and being a new mother, she became a visual symbol to any tribes that they might pass by, that these troup of men were not a warring nation, but merely passing through on a peaceful mission...for no war party would be traveling with a mother and child.
Second, she knew the language of the Shoshoni, whose land the part y had to pass through, and her brother Camelweit was now chief. The Shoshoni were a realatively "poor" tribe, and were often times attacked by other tribes, who had guns (which the Shoshoni did not have)...so when Lewis and Clark passed throught their territory, the tribe had thought of killing them, to get much desired rifles. Sacajawea talked them out of such deeds.
Third, that year, winter was setting in early, and there was an urgent need to get over the Lemhi Pass before the snows came. In order to do this, the Expedition needed horses (up to this point they had traveled by river, and on foot). The Shoshoni were making ready to leave for winter camp, to bring home much needed bison for their winter storage, and would need all of their horses. However, Jawie talked them into giving her beloved Lewis and Clark the horses they were is such need for. ("Jawie" is the nickname that Winn Blevins believes they gave her, not "Janie"...a written "n" and "w" can appear to be the same...and where the heck did "Janie" come from? More logical that it would be Saca-"jaw(ie)-ea !!!)