Rapid City Journal Online


New story of Sacagawea
By Jodi Rave Lee, Journal columnist

NEW TOWN, N.D. - On Memorial Day, as he's done for the past 25 years, Jerome Dancing Bull raised the red, white and blue flag at Holy Family U.S. Scouts Cemetery.

Sixty-five smaller U.S. flags, placed there that day by VFW Post 9061 members, fluttered at the foot of veterans' headstones. Flags marked graves in nearly half the cemetery.

Many bore a two-line inscription: "Indian Scout, 6th U.S. Infantry."

Among the names at this cemetery, 16 miles east of New Town in the Shell Creek area: One Buffalo, Likes White Women, Bears Tail, Red Feather, Spotted Bear, Dancing Bull, Chases Enemy.

A web of history swathes the cemetery where many of Jerome Dancing Bull's relatives lie buried - particularly Bulls Eye.

Bulls Eye was the grandson of one of the most famous women in North American history, Sacagawea. Her likeness now graces the U.S. dollar coin. She is lauded as the resilient guide of Lewis and Clark's 1804-06 expedition to the Pacific Coast. The explorers left the Mandan and Hidatsa villages near the Missouri River in North Dakota with Sacagawea and her French trapper husband, Toussaint Charbonneau.

After a three-language interpretation - from Hidatsa to French to English - Lewis and Clark said Sacagawea was a Shoshone girl captured by Hidatsa warriors.

Only so much of that story is true, according to the oral tradition of a Hidatsa family.

Bulls Eye's story was recounted by the Van Hook, N.D., Reporter in 1925. "We have heard that they wrote that she was not a Hidatsa," Bulls Eye said. "They say she was a Shoshoni among us. She was not a Shoshoni. The interpreter got it wrong and it has been wrong ever since then."

Jerome Dancing Bull's grandfather - his mother's father - was the nephew of Bulls Eye. His name was Plenty Dog, also known as George Parshall. He was among eight tribal members present when Bulls Eye provided the account of his relationship to Sacagawea.

Bulls Eye said his mother's mother was Sacagawea. And her father was a Hidatsa named Smoked Lodge. And Sacagawea's mother, he said, was a Hidatsa named Otter Woman.

Sacagawea, known as Bird Woman in the Hidatsa language, had four children with Charbonneau, one boy and three girls. The boy - the baby she carried across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific - was named Baptiste. Bulls Eye said the girls' names were Otter Woman, Cedar Woman and Different Breast.

The Bird Woman and Charbonneau had traveled far beyond the three rivers of the Missouri in Montana before meeting Lewis and Clark. "They went so far they were among people who sometimes went to the ocean out beyond there," Bulls Eye said. "So she knew that country. This was the year before that white party came among us ... When these people came, they selected Sharbonish and Sakakawea to guide them into that same country where she had been the year before."

Sacagawea knew people far beyond the Knife River villages. When interpreters learned she had "a brother" near the Rocky Mountains, they misunderstood the context of the "Indian relationship," Bulls Eye said.

They took it literally, thinking if she had a brother there, the Hidatsa must have captured her.

"We are sorry that they got it wrong," he said.

Sacagawea returned in 1806 to the Knife River villages with Lewis and Clark. She remained there when the Corps of Discovery continued its trip down the Missouri. It's said Sacagawea acquired a taste for coffee in her travels. Bulls Eye said he was 4 when he traveled with his grandmother, Sacagawea, and his mother, Otter Woman, to a trading post near Glasgow, Mont. Coffee was among the trade items his grandmother sought.

During that 1869 trip, the wagon in which the women had been traveling was attacked. Otter Woman and Sacagawea were shot. His mother died propped against the wagon wheel. Bulls Eye left the coulee the next morning with his injured grandmother, Sacagawea.

"I can remember it well. I have never forgotten it," he said. They made it to the trading post, but the 82-year-old woman died there from her wounds.

For many, the Bird Woman is a mystery. Records of her death are not known to exist. She is said to be buried in four locations. Also, families from three tribes - the Hidatsa, Shoshone and Comanche - all cite lines of lineage to Sacagawea.

Meanwhile, Bulls Eye's story continues to be told. It's been recited in one language, Hidatsa, for generations. As Jerome Dancing Bull stood in the Holy Family U.S. Scouts Cemetery, not far from Bulls Eye's grave, he spoke of the times he heard Sacagawea's story told on travels between North Dakota and visits to Crow relatives in Montana.

"We would go to Crow Fair when we were small and my mother would tell us, 'Your great-great grandmother is buried up there and died up there.' She'd tell us that - in those hills you know - meaning Sacagawea," he said.

At the cemetery, Dancing Bull's final salute is to the family memory.

"That's our story," he said. "Oral history."

Jodi Rave Lee is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation. She writes on American Indian issues for Lee Enterprises and the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star. Contact her at (402) 473-7240 or jrave@journalstar.com.