Sacajawea: The Story of Bird Woman and the Lewis and Clark Expedition
By Joseph Bruchac
By now Captain Lewis had been gone many days. Our trip up the river past the Beaverhead Hill had been a very hard one. The men had suffered so much. Sometimes as they waded in the cold water, the canoes would swing around in the current and knock them down, bruising them and almost drowning them. Many of the men had wounds and great sores on their bodies. Your good uncle was still unable to walk far because of how badly his feet had been hurt by so much walking and by the thorns of the cactus.
Your good uncle was very worried about his brother captain. That morning he decided your father and I should walk out with him. We would walk ahead of the boats to the place where the rivers forked.
It was a good morning. The serviceberries were ripe and I picked them as I went along. Because his feet were so bad, Captain Clark could not go quickly, and so there was no hurry.
Suddenly I saw a little group of people coming down the valley ahead of me, through the high grass that still sparkled with the morning dew. Several Indians were coming toward us on horseback. I rubbed my eyes. Could it be true? They were wearing clothing that looked so familiar.
"Look," I said to Charbonneau, "look." I jumped up and down. Your father, catching my excitement, began to jump up and down with me. As Captain Clark came up to us, I spoke with hands.
My people-I signed to him, pointing with my lips at them and then sucking my fingers. They are my people!
Soon they had reached us and jumped off their horses to embrace us. One of them was not a Shoshone at all. It was George Drouillard, wearing an ermine robe. My people must have given him that robe to honor him. It meant that he and Captain Lewis had been welcomed by them. It meant all would be well between our party and the Shoshones.
"I am Numi," I said to the Indian men.
"We are also the People," they said back to me in the men's language of our people. Their words were more beautiful to me than any song. I did not recognize among them any friends or family, yet I knew that I had finally come home. What I did not know was how much sadder and sweeter my reunion soon would become.
As we went along to reunite with Captain Lewis at their village, those young warriors could not resist asking me questions.
"When were you taken by the Minnetarees?" one of them said. He was carrying Drouillard's gun. Drouillard had given it to him to carry, to prove that he was not leading them into an ambush.
"Is it true that you have a man among you who is as black as the charcoal from a fire?" said another.
They were so excited they could hardly wait for my answers. One of them held up a trade mirror given him by Captain Lewis.
"Do your friends have many things like this among them?" he said. "Look, it is like hard water! And it is brilliant like the sun sometimes. Other times it shows my face."
"Five winters ago," I said. "... Yes, he is named York and is my friend ... Wonderful things like that are as common among these people as pebbles along the shores of the river. They have great power."
That gave them much to think about. They rode for a while in silence.
"Maybe," said the first young man who had spoken, "it is true what your pale-skinned friends say. Maybe they will give us many guns like this one to keep. Then the Pahkees will no longer be able to raid us. We will be able to go out onto the plains and hunt buffalo whenever we wish. We will no longer have to hide in the mountains and starve."
I looked more closely at him and the other Shoshone men. In my excitement I had not noticed before how thin they all were, how the bones of their faces showed so clearly. I hoped that what he said would become true for my people.
August 17th. Saturday. 1805.
Those people greatly pleased. Our hunters killed three deer & an antilope which was eaten in a Short time the Indians being so harassed & compelled to move about in those rugid mountains that they are half Starved living at this time on berries & roots which they geather in the plains. Those people are not begerly but generous, only one has asked me for anything and he for powder.
Journal of William Clark
Shoshone Cove, Idaho
What a day that was for us all, Pomp! After we met Drouillard and the few scouts sent ahead with him, we proceeded to the place by the forks where Captain Lewis was camped awaiting us. There were sixteen more Shoshone men and women there with him. Their main chief had gone back to the camp, Camp Fortunate we called it, to make ready our welcome, so we did not meet him just then.
"Billy," Meri said to me as we shook hands amid the blizzard of Shoshone hugs that came at me from all directions, "these poor people are starved."
And it was the truth. Not a one of them-man, woman, or child-had an extra ounce of flesh on his or her bones. Meri told me later how Drouillard managed to shoot a deer for them, and the starving men with him immediately cut open its belly to eat the guts raw. They behaved more like a parcel of famished dogs than like men. Yet he also noticed that they did not touch any of the better meat of the deer, but ate only those parts that they felt Meri and his companions would not want for themselves.
Hungry and savage as they were, they behaved better than most civilized gents would in such a state. When Captain Lewis took only one haunch of that deer for himself and gave the rest to the Shoshones, who had enjoyed no success at hunting for weeks, they were mightily gratified, thanking him again and again. I saw right away that we would have to do some serious hunting for these poor devils with no firearms.
But any discussions Meri and I might have had at that moment of reunion was brief. As soon as we were done with the round of national hugs, the whole party of Indians started to sing. They sang the whole way to Camp Fortunate.