Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Natasha Yim and Some Weird Sacajawea Facts

It's almost Thanksgiving.

One thing that we tend to do here this time of year in the United States is to focus on two groups: guys and gals in funny black and white outfits and Native Americans.  Over the last few decades we have come to learn that much of the information we know about these two groups isn't so accurate. Like, for example, there isn't just one group of Native Americans, as I  conveniently described above. =) Thankfully, there are some amazing resources available to us and our children that are in fact accurate and celebrate the honorable role many Native Americans have played throughout history.

Sacajawea of the Shoshone, written by the lovely Natasha Yim, is one such resource. Fortunately for us bloggers, not all research could be included in the final copy of the book and what we get to learn today are some of those awesomely accurate and  wonderfully WEIRD facts about Sacajawea that didn't make the cut! Please welcome Natasha Yim!

I have always been fascinated with the story of Sacajawea. She had such an amazing adventure at a time and in territory that was little known at the time. During my research, I uncovered so many fascinating things about her life and travels, it was impossible to include everything in the book without bogging down the story. This is the challenge of writing non-fiction for kids—you have to take all that wealth of information and piles of research notes and funnel it into 2,000 - 2,500 words (Goosebottom Books’ word count length; other publishers will have different limits). We tried to fit some of this information into side bars, but even then, we couldn’t get everything in.

  So, here are a few juicy facts that did not make it into the book—my version of Natasha’s Believe it or Not:Weird but Supposedly True Facts of Sacajawea and the Lewis and Clark Expedition:

Weird Baby Fact

• Having a baby? Forget the spinal blocks and epidurals during labor. Try some ground up rattlesnake rattles instead! Sacajawea had a difficult and painful labor with her son, and was having a hard time pushing the baby out, so Meriweather Lewis crushed two rattlesnake rattles into a fine powder, mixed it in water, and had Sacajawea drink it. Ten minutes later, little Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was born!

• Don’t have the time to wash cloth diapers? Spending too much money on disposable ones? Try dried buffalo dung! Native American babies were carried around in a cradleboard strapped to their mother’s backs. To absorb feces and urine, mothers would pack dried buffalo dung around the baby and hold it in place with a blanket. This would be discarded and replaced as needed.

Weird Food Facts

• Favorite foods for the men of the Corps of Discovery were beaver tails and buffalo hump.

• Sacajawea’s husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, apparently made a delicious sausage. He cleaned out buffalo intestine and stuffed it with meat, kidney, liver, salt, pepper and flour, then boiled it in a copper kettle and fried it in bear oil.

Weird Travel Facts

• On the Pacific coast, the Corps needed to build a shelter to wait out the rainy winter. Lewis and Clark asked every member of the expedition including Sacajawea, where they should build their fort. Sacajawea wanted the spot to be near where wapato roots (similar to potatoes and something she enjoyed very much) grew in abundance. Clark recorded her vote in his journal, technically making Sacajawea the first woman in American history to have voted!

• William Clark measured their journey from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Ocean to be 4,162. Later measurements with modern equipment showed that Clark was only off by 40 miles!

• On the return trip back to St. Louis, Missouri, Meriweather Lewis was accidentally shot in the butt by Pierre Cruzatte, a partially blind Corps member, who mistook him for an elk!

• Into herbal remedies? How about this for a painful lump on your throat or neck? On the trip, Sacajawea’s son got very sick (possibly from mumps, tonsillitis or an abscess). Clark applied a poultice of wild onion, mixture of pine resin, beeswax and bear oil to his neck. Hmm...the bear oil might be a little hard to come by.



• Historians believe that Sacajawea died of typhoid fever in 1812 at age 25 (making this December the 200th anniversary of her death) at Fort Manuel in South Dakota. The Shoshone, however, claimed that she lived a nomadic life among many Indian tribes, eventually leaving Charbonneau and marrying a Comanche Indian by the name of Jerk Meat. She changed her name to Porivo, and in later life, made her way to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming where she settled with her native Shoshone tribe and died in 1884 at the age of 96


  1. Very interesting! Makes me think of A Night at the Museum. ;) Congratulations on such a beautiful book, and thanks for sharing the tidbits that didn't make the cut.

  2. This is great stuff. I absolutely love these kinds of weird facts. Thanks for sharing these.

    1. Aren't these facts great?! Thanks for your comment Rosi!

  3. Thanks, Elizabeth, for hosting me on the SACAJAWEA OF THE SHOSHONE Blog Tour! And thanks, Christie and Rosi, for stopping by. I loved all the weird facts too. You know what they say: Truth is Stranger than Fiction!

    1. Natasha, thanks so much for writing this beautiful post! Truth IS stranger than fiction! =)

  4. Wow! These facts are fascinating! I love hearing all these weird things that didn't make it into the book. I'd really like to know which version of her death is the right one. I wonder if they'll ever know for sure? Thanks Elizabeth and Natasha!

    1. Aren't they interesting?! And I hear ya...I don't think I am going to be able to ever sleep well again knowing that Sacajawea' death is an unsolved mystery. =) Of course I am hoping it was the latter of the two theories!

  5. Thanks for these fun facts! Love them- especially the buffalo dung diapers- eeew! How did they know when to change them ? :-)

    1. How did people think of the option of buffalo dung for diapers?Fr me, THAT is the question! Yeesh!

  6. @ Susanna—I don't think they'll ever know for sure. If Sacajawea didn't die in 1812, then who was the woman at Fort Manuel? She was nameless in the records but noted as "the wife of Charbonneau". Some theorize that it could have been Charbonneau's first wife, Otter Woman, who accompanied him back West and not Sacajawea. I visited a 2nd grade classroom the other day, and one little boy said, "I think the first story is true because back in those days, people didn't live very long because they didn't have medicine for a lot of things and people got sick a lot. So, I think most likely she died young." Smart kid!

  7. Natasha - Love the bonus facts! Here's a question I've pondered: how did you and your editor decide on a spelling for Sacajawea? I've seen it with a j or a g. I imagine the historical records use many versions? Thanks!

    1. Great question Cathy! Thanks for your comment!

    2. Hi Cathy,

      In the book, there is a sidebar on the spelling of Sacajawea's name and meaning. It has been spelled numerous ways over the years from Sahkahgahweah and Tsakahkahweeah to Sacagawea, and has been said to mean Bird Woman to Boat Launcher. Even Lewis and Clark didn't seem to know how to spell it as Sacajawea was mentioned about 8 times in their journals and each time they spelled it differently. Some of this can be attributed to the translation of her name from Shoshone to Hidatsa, then phonetically to English. However, a Shoshone website, http://sacajawea.idahostatesman.com/index.htm reports that the Shoshone people prefer the spelling Sacajawea and that in their language it means "a burden that is pulled or carried."

  8. Thanks for sharing all these little-know facts. It was very interesting and makes me very happy that I have modern conveniences!!! Whew!

    1. Seriously! We are so lucky! Life is pretty easy nowadays. =) Thanks for your comment Penny.

  9. COngratulations Natasha on another great book! I love all these facts in history that you could not include in your book. The kids would have loved to read on that kind of stuff especially the one about the rattlesnake rattles and the one about the dung. Kudos to you once again. More power to you on your writing. Take Care-Celine

  10. Hi Everyone,

    It has just been pointed out to me that the fact I noted about using buffalo dung as diapers sounded like I was referring to ALL Native American tribes and ALL Native American babies. This was a post about Sacajawea facts so I meant only to convey facts about Sacajawea and her people, so I just want to clarify, in case it was confusing, that not all Native tribes lived in areas where there were buffalo, so mosses and cattails and other plants were stuffed into cradleboards to absorb waste.

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