Notable Native American Women
Sacajawea (1784-1812) Frontier Guide Sacajawea was a Shoshone woman sold to a fur trader, Charbonneau, when she was fourteen. Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter; Sacajawea was a translator and guide. She traveled with her two-month old baby nicknamed “Pomp.” She saved the expedition when she met her long-lost brother, a Shoshone, who prevented conflicts with unfriendly tribes. Lewis named a “handsome river” in Montana for Sacajawea, this trusted interpreter.
Sacajawea is well-known as the Native American woman who led Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition to find the Pacific Ocean. The truth is a bit different from the movie and children's book versions, however. In fact, Sacajawea was not officially a member of the expedition party. Her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau was hired as an interpreter and took Sacajawea along. She was allowed to join the party as an unofficial member because the captains thought she would be useful to help in communicating with some of the Native American tribes they met and also in obtaining horses from her native tribe, the Shoshone.
The following information is taken from the book, "Sacajawea" by Harold P. Howard published by the University of Oklahoma Press. This book is a comparison and compilation of the diaries of eight members of the party: Captains Lewis and Clark; Privates Joseph Whitehorse, Robert Frazier, and George Shannon; Sergeants Charles Floyd, who was the only member of the party who died during the journey, Patrick Gass and John Ordway.
Sacajawea was born about 1790 in what is now the state of Idaho. She was one of the "Snake People," otherwise known as the Shoshone. Her name in Hidatsa was Tsi-ki-ka-wi-as, "Bird Woman."
Some time afterward the French-Canadian trapper and fur trader, Charbonneau bought Sacajawea and her companion, Otter Woman, as wives. When her husband joined the expedition at Fort Mandan in the Dakotas, Sacajawea was about 16 years old and pregnant.
The expedition spent the winter at Fort Mandan and Sacajawea's baby, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was born on Feb. 11 or 12, 1805. He was also given the Shoshone name, Pomp, meaning "First Born."
The expedition resumed the westward trek on April 7, 1805. Their route was along the Missouri River, west to the mountains. On May 14, 1805 an incident occurred which was typical of the calmness and self-possession Sacajawea was to display throughout the journey. The incident was recorded in the diaries because of it's significance to the success of the expedition. On that day, the boat Sacajawea was in was hit by a sudden storm squall. It keeled over on it's side and nearly capsized. As the other members of the crew worked desperately to right the boat, Sacajawea, with her baby strapped to her back, busied herself with retrieving the valuable books and instruments that floated out of the boat. They had been wrapped in waterproof packages for protection and, thanks to Sacajawea's courage and quick actions, suffered no damage.
Contrary to popular opinion, Sacajawea did not serve as a guide for the party. She only influenced the direction taken by the expedition one time, after reaching the area where her people hunted she indicated they should take a tributary of the Beaverhead River to get to the mountains where her people lived and where Lewis and Clark hoped to buy horses.
On August 15, 1805 Sacajawea was reunited with her tribe, only to learn that all her family had died, with the exception of two brothers and the son of her oldest sister, whom she adopted. One of her brothers, Cameahwait, was head chief of the Shoshone. The Shoshone chief agreed to sell the party the horses they needed for the trek through the mountains. He also sketched a map of the country to the west and provided a guide, Old Toby, who took them through the mountains and safely to the Nez Perce country where they resumed river travel.
Throughout the expedition, Sacajawea maintained a helpful, uncomplaining attitude of cheerfulness in the face of hardship. This was so remarkable that it was commented on by all the men who kept diaries. There is one record of her complaining, however. While wintering on the Columbia River before starting their journey back to the east, nearby Native Americans reported that a whale had washed up on the beach about 35 miles from the fort. Sacajawea said that she had traveled a long way to see the great waters and, now that a monstrous fish was also to be seen; she thought it "very hard" that she could not be permitted to see it and the ocean too. Captain Clark took a party of two canoes, including Sacajawea and her husband, to find the whale and possibly obtain some blubber. By the time they arrived there was nothing left but the skeleton, but they were able to buy about 35 pounds of blubber.
After the expedition was over in the summer of 1806, Sacajawea, her husband and son remained at Fort Mandan where Lewis and Clark had found them. In August 1806, Captain Clark wrote to Charbonneau and invited him to come to St. Louis and bring his family, or to send Jean Baptiste to Clark for schooling.
Charbonneau and Sacajawea accepted the offer and lived near St. Louis for a time. In March 1811, however, Charbonneau sold his land back to Clark and returned to the Dakotas with Sacajawea. Their son remained in St. Louis in the care of Captain Clark, who was the Indian Agent of the Louisiana Purchase at that time.
What became of Sacajawea after leaving St. Louis? There are two widely varying stories, with no proof of either. The first is that she died on Dec. 20, 1812. This information came from the records of John C. Luttig, the clerk at Ft. Manuel, SD who wrote: "This evening the wife of Charbonneau, a Snake squaw, died of a putrid fever. She was good and the best woman in the fort, aged about 25 years. She left a fine infant girl." It is a fact that, in March 1813, John Luttig returned to St. Louis with a baby whom he called "Sacajawea's Lizette." In August 1813, he applied to be her guardian, as well as that of a boy called "Toussaint," but the court record shows his name crossed out and Captain William Clark's written in. Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was often called Toussaint. John Luttig died in 1815.
Shoshone oral tradition says that Sacajawea did not die in 1813, but instead, wandered the West for a few years and eventually returned to her tribe on the Wind River Reservation. Tradition says she died there on April 9, 1884, a venerated and influential member of the tribe, and is buried between her son, Jean Baptiste, and her sister's son, Bazil, whom she adopted. There is a monument over the grave on the Wind River Reservation, of the woman called Sacajawea. Many people who were living at the time wrote and told that it was she who traveled with Lewis and Clark to the great water and that the woman who died at Fort Manuel was another wife of Toussaint Charbonneau.
There is no record of what became of Lizette. There is a baptismal record in Westport, MO for Victoria, daughter of Joseph Vertifeuille and Elizabeth Carboneau. It is not known if this was Lizette Charbonneau, Sacajawea's daughter or not.
Jean Baptiste Charbonneau lived at least until 1866. His life can be traced through various records of explorers and fur traders up until that time. He was said to be a remarkable man; superior as a guide and trapper, but also well educated and conversant in French, German and Spanish as well as his native Shoshone. He was with Prince Paul of Wurttemberg on his travels of the American West in 1823, and returned with him to Germany where he stayed for several years, returning in 1829.
He was with Jim Bridger in 1832, with Kit Carson in 1839 and in charge of a fur trading party in 1842 when they met Charles Fremont. He was included in George Frederick Ruxton's book, "Life in the Far West" as one of the important fur traders of that time. He was with Lt. Abert on an exploration down the Canadian River and with Col. Philip Cooke and his troops from New Mexico to California. In 1866 he started for the gold fields in Montana and Idaho, but is said to have died on Cow Creek near the present town of Danner, Oregon in 1866. Shoshone oral traditions, however, say that he returned to his tribe during that time and was reunited with his mother, Sacajawea where he lived until his death in 1885.
MARY MUSGROVE MATTHEWS BOSOMWORTH
Mary Musgrove was a half-breed Yamacraw Indian of the Muscogean Tribe. Her Native American name was Coosaponakesee. Her father was a white trader and her mother a Yamacraw Indian. Mary's mother was a sister of Emperor Biem, who had tried, in the terrible war in 1715, to drive the white man out of the southeast. She had been sent to South Carolina when she was ten years old to go to school. Mary could speak both Creek and English.
Mary was a tiny woman about five feet tall, wore her hair in two long braids with a band of beads across her forehead, and a feather stuck into the band. She married John Musgrove, a white trader who was the son of a South Carolina official. Mary and John's trading post was Mount Venture located on the Altamaha River.
On February 12, 1733 General James Edward Oglethorpe (founder of the colony of Georgia) sailed with four small boats down the coast and up the Savannah River to his new home. (Georgia was the first colony to be established in the 18th century.) When he landed at Yamacraw Bluff, he used Mary (who was about 33 years old at this time) as his interpreter for the first meeting with the Yamacraw Chief (or Mico), Tomochichi, an imposing man six feet tall and 90 years of age. (Tomochichi was very interested in Oglethorpe's gun, which he called a "fire stick'. He remained a fast friend to Oglethorpe until his death in 1739.) Since she regarded and believed in the white man strongly, she was very influential in convincing the Yamacraw Indians to support General Oglethorpe in the settling of Georgia. General Oglethorpe regarded Mary as a valuable interpreter and employed her for a yearly salary of one hundred pounds sterling, which in that day was equal to a great deal more than five hundred dollars. But, Mary earned all that was paid to her and more.
Not only did she interpret for General Oglethorpe, but she also aided in concluding treaties and aided in securing warriors from the Creek nation in the war that occurred between the colonists and the Spaniards who occupied Florida.
When Oglethorpe left Georgia in 1743 (1742?) he gave Mary a ring from his finger. After malaria claimed four of Mary's sons and her husband John, she married a man named Matthews, who also died. In 1744 she married Thomas Bosomworth, who was previously the chaplain to Oglethorpe's regiment. Reverend Bosomworth was a very shrewd individual. Up until her marriage to Bosomworth, Mary had never ceased to labor for the good of the colony. After her marriage to Thomas, her conduct was such as to keep the whites in constant fear of massacre and extermination.
Bosomworth set about winning the Creek Indians to his devious ways. He convinced Malatche (brother of Mary) to have himself proclaimed as emperor of the Creek nation. Then he procured from the Creek emperor a deed of conveyance to he and Mary of the islands of Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherine. Thomas then convinced the Creek nation to proclaim Mary as the "Empress of Georgia." He used Mary's influence and previous rapport to his own good.
Mary, having won support of all the Native Americans, made instant demand for surrender of all the lands that had belonged to the Upper and Lower Creek Indians. In August 1749 while meeting in Savannah, Mary and Thomas were privately arrested due to debts Thomas owed in South Carolina for cattle. The Native American Chiefs and council president met on several occasions to negotiate the return of lands to the Native Americans. Bosomworth repented of his folly and wrote to the council president apologizing for his wanton conduct.
During this time Thomas continually fought to secure the money owed Mary for her services when she was working for General Oglethorpe. Around 1759 (1757?), Governor Ellis settled Mary's claims by giving her 450 pound sterling for goods she had expended in the King's service. She was also allowed 1650 pound sterling for her services as agent. In addition, she was given 2000 pound sterling from the auction sale of Ossabaw and Sapelo. A grant of St. Catherine Island was also made to Mary Bosomworth for the many good deeds she did for the Colonists in her better days before her mind had been poisoned by Reverend Bosomworth. The Bosomworths lived there for the rest of their lives and are buried there.
George was one of the marvelous Suquamish leaders of modern
times, a giggly, intuitive woman who lived a full and productive
94 years. Born at a time when her family transported her in
a Native American canoe, she lived to fly in jet aircraft.
Once, while demonstrating how her Grandmother made Native American bread, students were astonished to see her measure out the proper amount of Bisquick and continue the lecture. She shared traditional skills with her students and family including ways to live off the land, basket making and the unspoken Suquamish language. Martha was a woman of yesterday, yet as modern as today.
At her burial (she died Jan. 7, 1987) were 83 direct line descendants, each with a story about this woman who contributed to tribal research and founded the Small Tribes Organization of Western Washington with her own money in the 1960s. She and her husband, Bennie, were parents to ten children, all proud to claim an ancestral link to Chief Seattle.
Martha Purser was born in Sheridan, adjacent to Bremerton, WA, on April 28, 1892, at a logging camp where her mother and grandmother worked as cooks. Their traditional home was on Erlands Point, where a large band of Suquamish had for centuries lived, near the present site of the Naval Regional Medical Center. The hospital features a wonderful collection of British Columbia Native American baskets and artifacts. Ironic, in that these same northern Native Americans made annual plundering pilgrimages to her home area. Martha didn't mind, she said, for she found good in everything.
She was descended from a German immigrant, her great grandfather Jacob Sigo, and antecedents of most of the current tribal members.
Knowledge of her cultural language was gained from her maternal grandmother. The two would gather cedar roots to make baskets, hunted for the roots, often under rotting trees. Martha cut the roots into four-foot lengths, then packed them to the beach where she worked for hours creating the clam baskets her grandmother had taught her to make. It was a knowledge passed on to her own children and grandchildren.
She left that large family when she was just 17 years old to marry Bennie George, a S'kallam Indian, born at Port Discovery in Jefferson County. They were married 63 years before Bennie's death. She swore to God that she and Bennie never had an argument. It was an arranged marriage, "It was a good match," she would proclaim.
The couple owned property on the original Port Madison Indian reservation at Sandy Hook, near Poulsbo. Each of her children owned a portion of that property.
She was proud that nine of her ten children graduated from high school. When one of the North Kitsap High School teachers said to her, when the final child graduated, "What are we going to do for the Georges now?", she responded, "Don't worry. I have grandchildren." (At the time of her death there were 34 grandchildren and 39 great grandchildren.)
She was the Suquamish tribal chairman from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. She ran a grocery store at what is known as George's Corner, at the intersection of the highway to Kingston and Hansville Road. She shucked oysters and worked at the Keyport Torpedo Station.
Her voice lives on at the Suquamish museum as one of the narrators of their video history. Her speech is slow, but full of wisdom. Her voice smiles. A parting word from Martha would have been, "You want to leave things as they are and just take what you need. Don't be wasteful. That's what the elders taught."
Boeda Strand was born in Sultan, Snohomish County, WA on June 22, 1834. Boeda was full blooded Snohomish Native American. She was a well-known basket weaver. Boeda was known by her tribe as the Head Basket Weaver. She taught, not only her people, but also many other tribes the art of basket weaving. To this day, two of her grandchildren have seven of her original baskets sitting in their home, which was Boeda's home. At the age of 90 years of age she was still paddling a canoe from Olympic Peninsula across the Puget Sound to Seattle. On December 14, 1877 in Jefferson County, WA, Boeda married Edward Strand, who immigrated from Finland.
1. Boeda (Tsi-zak-gay) was born on June 22, 1834 in WA. She died on June 22, 1928 in Hadlock, Jefferson County, WA. She was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Chimicum, Jefferson County, WA.
Extracted Marriage Record for Edward Strand and Boeda, December 14, 1877 in Jefferson County, WA by J. A. Kuhn, Probate Judge.
2. Duh-lak-kay-dim (of the Stillaguamish Tribe) father of Boeda and...
3. Squ-qua-ka (of the Snohomish Tribe), mother of Boeda had the following children:
4. Yah-il-lah-ilh (of the Yakima Tribe) Boeda's grandfather and...
5. Sktahlejamo (of the Snohomish Tribe) Boeda's grandmother had the following children:
GHIGAU - AKA - NANCY WARD
There is much written about Nancy Ward. She is mentioned in Teddy Roosevelt's book on the West, the Virginia State Paper or South Carolina State papers, in Mooney's book and in the Draper Collection. There is a Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution named after her in Chattanooga, TN. She is buried in Benton, Polk County, TN. Nancy Ward was an American Revolutionary Patriot, in that she gave cattle and clothing to Col. Sevier and his men during the Revolution. DAR placed a rock monument at the site. On one side of her is buried her son, Five Killer, and on the other her brother, Long Fellow. There is also an Association of the Descendants of Nancy Ward in Oklahoma. There is some question surrounding her date of death.
Ghigau is translated to "Beloved Woman". There is quite a history around this title which will not be told here. The early family lines can be found in Emmet Starr's book "History of the Cherokee Indians." There are many prominent Cherokee families listed in this book.
More Notable Native American Women
Rebecca Adamson (1950-) Native American Advocate -- A member of the Cherokee nation, in 1980 Adamson founded the First Nations Development Institute. This group has established new standards of accountability regarding federal responsibility and reservation land reform and has an operating budget of about three million dollars. Adamson has aided indigenous peoples in Australia and Africa also and has received many awards for mobilizing and unifying people to solve common problems.
Ada Deer (1935-) American Indian and Civil Rights Activist -- Deer was the first member of the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned an MS in Social Work from Columbia. Deer led her tribe in gaining passage of the Menominee Restoration Act, which restored their land and treaty rights as American Indians. At the national level, Deer became Deputy of Indian Affairs and is now the Director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
La Donna Harris (1931-) Indian Rights and Civil Activist -- Harris, member of the Comanche tribe, has served since 1970 as president of Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), a multi-tribal organization devoted to improving life for American Indians. She has served on the National Rural Housing Conference and the National Association of Mental Health. Harris has expanded the AIO to include the “American Indian Ambassadors” program, which provides one-year fellowships for Native American students.
Winona LaDuke (1960-) Author and Environmentalist -- Winona LaDuke has worked for nearly three decades on the land issues of the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota including litigation over land rights in the 1980′s. She currently serves as the Director of Honor the Earth and Founding Director of White Earth Land Recovery Project.
Queen Lili’uokalani (1838-1917) Monarch -- The last reigning monarch of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani inherited a difficult situation in 1891. Foreigners forced through a new constitution which took away voting rights from most Hawaiians. A revolution, encouraged by the American government, forced Lili’uokalani to abdicate in 1893 and in 1889, the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States. Among her legacies are over 200 songs she composed, including the very popular Aloha Oe.
Belva Lockwood (1830-1917) Lawyer, Women’s Rights Activist -- Lockwood graduated from the National University Law School in Washington, D.C. in 1873. In 1879, she was the first woman admitted to practice before the Supreme Court where, in 1900, she argued and won $5 million for the Eastern Cherokee Indians. She ran for president in 1884 and 1888 as the National Equal Rights Party candidate. Lockwood joined the Universal Peace Union, and in 1889 was a delegate to the International Peace Congress.
Wilma Mankiller (1945-2010) American Indian, Civil Rights Activist -- Mankiller lived in San Francisco in 1969 when she and friends from the Indian Center successfully occupied Alcatraz and brought national attention to the needs of Indians. She returned to Oklahoma and became deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1983. She was elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma in 1985, the first woman to be elected to this position. Mankiller served for 10 years and in 1991, she won with 82% of the vote.
Maria Montoya Martinez (1887–1980) Artist, Potter -- Martinez lived in the small, ancient Tewa Indian village of San Ildefonso, New Mexico, where she learned the traditional Pueblo way of making coiled pottery from her aunt, Tia Nicolasa. She and her husband rediscovered the ancient techniques of firing polychrome and black-on-black pottery. These fine designs are highly praised today, and this blend of the old and new has helped produce economic self-sufficiency for the Indian village.
Susette La Flesche Tibbles (1854-1903) Indian Rights Advocate, Author -- Tibbles taught at an Indian school after being educated in the East. In 1887, her Indian tribe, Ponca, was forcibly removed from their land on the Dakota-Nebraska border. Tibbles lectured in the East and made many converts to the cause of Indian rights, including Helen Hunt Jackson. In addition to writing Indian stories, in 1881 Tibbles addressed the Association for the Advancement of Women on “The Position, Occupation and Culture of Indian Women.”
Sarah Winnemucca (1844-1891) Indian Rights Activist -- Winnemucca, a Paiute Indian, was a liaison between the Paiutes in Nevada and the army in the 1870s. After the Bannock Uprising in 1878, Winnemucca lectured to publicize the injustices suffered by the Paiutes. She wrote a book, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, which won wide popular support. She took thousands of signatures on her petition to Congress that passed a law giving land grants to the Paiutes, but the Secretary of the Interior ignored its provisions.
Mourning Dove was the pen name of Christine Quintasket, an Interior Salish woman who collected tribal stories among Northern Plateau peoples in the early twentieth century. She described centuries-old traditions with the authority of first-hand knowledge. More. --
Joel Chandler, Stories of Georgia; Spartanburg, SC; The Reprint
Company, 1972 (originally printed 1896).