Black the West

by L. T. B. Sunderland

News and Press Releases
Arts and Crafts


Sacajewea, a Northern Shoshoni, was stolen as a child probably by the Crow (Absaroka) and later possibly traded to their close relatives the Hidatsa (Minnetares). Years later, a French Canadian fur trader, Tousaint Charbonneau won her in a poker game. By then, she probably spoke the Minnetare language, as did Charboneau. Charboneau was hired by Lewis and Clark November 4, 1804 as an interpreter, and because Sacajewea could guide the Corps of Discovery to Northern Shoshoni country. Sacajewea gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste, affectionately known as Pompey, on February 11, 1805. The expedition reached the Northern Shoshoni villages of Chief Cameahwait, Sacajewea’s brother, on August 17, 1805. On November 7, 1805, Clark wrote in his journal, "Ocian in view! O! The joy." November 24, 1805, the Corps of Discovery voted and decided to spend the winter near present Astoria, Oregon. It would rain all but twelve days of that winter, and it was usually foggy between the rains. The men spent most of their time pursuing sexual encounters with Indian women of the area. All but Lewis, Clark, Sacajewea, and Charbonneau apparently had syphilis. Sacajewea was alone in a cabin full of sleeping men with her baby Pompey at the westernmost point of the continent ... where her and her people believed the spirits of all their ancestors dwell.  It was a foggy night.

For the Shoshoni and the memory of Sacajewea ...


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


Who calls me granddaughter?  Who here knows my tongue?
It comes from beyond the walls ... or I dream as I lay among
Snoring White men. Sleep. Sleep.  I must sleep. Oh, I long
For my people. We came too far west. ‘Tis the song
Of my ancestors that I hear?  No ... a dream. I was wrong.
Sleep ... sleep ... sleep ...


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


SACAJEWEA I am awake! I dream not!  No one else here speaks Shoshone.
It comes from beyond the walls ... should I awaken Charboneau?
He would beat me for that.  It is I alone that must go.
Into the fog ... into the night ... only then will I surely know
If the stories are true ... Pompey, your mother must step away, so
Sleep ... sleep ... sleep ...


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


SACAJEWEA This blanket’s not enough for warmth.  I barely see the path ahead.
The fog is thick and hides the moon.  Do I shiver from cold or dread?
Grandmother! Is that you grandmother ... who calls me from my bed?
Grandmother! Do you call me?  Grandmother! Are you no longer dead?
Grandmother! Have you just passed west just as the stories said?
Or do I sleep ... sleep ... sleep?


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


SACAJEWEA Grandmother, I see you through the fog.  You are young ... and look so like me
You are beautiful. My eyes are tearing.  The stories are true. I am so happy.
But how did you know I was here?  Oh how did you know it was me?
GRANDMOTHER I heard you singing granddaughter, singing to your son Pompey.
Singing the lullabies and play songs that I sang to you as a baby.
I knew it was you granddaughter.  I knew you would here my plea ...
In your sleep ... sleep ... sleep ...


Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


Who are these men so pale and brash who give trinkets for women and smell
Like bear dung? And from where fid they come, please tell?
SACAJEWEA Many winters past ... an Absaroka raid on our band ... our men fought well.
But I was stolen and sold as a slave to the Minnetares who decided to sell
Me to a White man named Charboneau who was hired to guide along a trail
By one Lewis and one Clark to this western place the stories foretell.
You awoke me from my sleep... sleep... sleep...


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


What of these men? Are there many more?
SACAJEWEA      Yes. At least that’s what they say.
They seem to think they own this land.  That’s why they came this way.
They’ve been counting Indians, making charts, and giving things away
Like shiny trinkets, and pots and pans, and a disease called syphilis that they
Give along with the pot and pans and the trinkets they give away.
(Yawn) I soon must sleep... sleep... sleep...


GRANDMOTHER Granddaughter ... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


Will you meet me again on tomorrow’s eve, and bring too your son Pompey?
SACAJEWEA Oh yes, grandmother, on tomorrow’s eve in your arms my son will be.
GRANDMOTHER I’m afraid your child would drop to the ground, spirits can’t hold anything.
The two laughed and laughed and fell themselves when on each other’s shoulders they leaned
Sacajewea cried,
SACAJEWEA I want to hold you.
GRANDMOTHER You will one day, when you’ve passed on like me.
Now you should go to sleep... sleep... sleep...


SACAJEWEA Grandmother!... Grandmother!... Grandmother!...


CORPS Quiet!  , several men called out.  On her pallet came dark reality.
It wasn’t real. A fantasy.  Nothing was as it seemed.
Consciousness was a nightmare.  Peace was only when she dreamed.
Her grandmother was a phantom.  Nothing was as it seemed.
In disappointment she laid awake.
SACAJEWEA This whole episode a dream?
Just for some sleep... sleep... sleep...


GRANDMOTHER Good night granddaughter... granddaughter ... granddaughter ...


Sacajewea smiled and went to sleep... sleep ... sleep.

Copyright 2002 by Four Directions Press