Although she remains a mystery, here are some of her qualities, unrecognized at the time:
- Courage. She survived at least one raid on her tribe, the Shoshone, and her capture by the Hidatsa when she was 12. Based on a few comments in the journals of Lewis and Clark, Sacagawea stayed calm through nearly 50 life-threatening situations.
- Quick thinking. Sacagawea’s husband—whom Lewis dissed as “the most timid waterman in the world”— panicked in a storm and tipped their boat, losing the most valuable treasures of the journey: the first year’s journals, medicine and food. Immobilized, the husband refused to right the boat until another man pointed a gun at him and threatened to kill him if he didn’t act.
During all this, Sacagawea leaned into the churning water and retrieved whatever she could.
Lewis later wrote about “the Indian woman to whom I ascribe equal fortitude and resolution.”
- Determination. Reaching the Pacific, the group learned of a beached whale and decided to send a party for blubber. Only men were to go, but Sacagawea talked her way in.
“The Indian woman was very importunate to be permitted to go,” Lewis wrote, “and was therefore indulged.”