Young woman’s aid proved invaluable to explorers

Were it not for France’s aid during the American Revolution, the Colonies might not have won their independence from Great Britain.

Had the German army not been slammed by the brutal Russian winter of 1941-42, the Red Army might not have been able to turn tide against the invaders and helped change the course of World War II.

And had Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the legendary explorers who blazed a trail from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast not had the help of a young Native American woman, they might never have found their way.

The names “Lewis and Clark” has become synonymous with discovery and exploration. Let’s add the name Sacagawea to the pantheon of great explorers.

The second part of Ken Burns’s acclaimed documentary airs Tuesday at 7 p.m. KACV-TV and it tells the story of how Sacagawea — a Shoshone Indian — aided the two explorers on their journey of discovery to the mouth of the mighty Columbia River.

Sacagawea led the explorers deep into the untamed West. Their journey started — and ended — in St. Louis, Mo. It followed the Missouri River north and west into what would become the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, Washington and finally down the Columbia River where it flows into the Pacific Ocean.

They needed help all along the way getting past people who never had seen white men. What might have happened had they not had the help of the young woman who would help them? How would they have communicated without someone there to interpret languages no one ever had heard?

Sacagawea never lived long enough to reap the acclaim she would have deserved. She died in 1812 at the age of 24 of an unknown illness, just six years after Lewis and Clark returned from their monumental expedition.

“Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery” takes viewers on an incredible tale of hardship and suffering. It would end successfully and the explorers would return eastward and report to President Jefferson of this great land existing well beyond anyone’s imagination.

These two men had help. Lots of it from a young woman named Sacagawea.

The rest, as they say, is history.


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