When President Thomas Jefferson [1743–1826] was sworn in on Wednesday, March 4, 1801, most of the U.S. population lived within 50 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.1 Prior to 1801, the huge parcel of land in North America lying between the nearly three-quarters of a million+ square miles of land between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains was up for grabs.
Following, a land deal in 1803 between France and the United States, known as the Louisiana Purchase, the latter acquired approximately 827,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River for $15 million.
In 1804, Meriwether Lewis [1774-1809] and William Clark [1770-1838] were commissioned to explore and map the newly acquired territory, find a practical route across the western half of the continent, establish trade with - and sovereignty over - the natives near the Missouri River, and establish American presence before European powers made claims for the region.
“The contestants were the British coming out of Canada, the Spanish coming up from Texas and California, the French coming up from the Mississippi-Missouri from New Orleans, the Russians coming down from the northwest, and the Americans coming from the east,” wrote Stephen Ambrose in his 1996 biography of Meriwether Lewis.2 “And, of course,” he added, “there were already inhabitants who possessed the land and were determined to hold on to it.”
Those “determined to hold on to it,” in many cases, were the hostile Indian tribes living across the wide swath and expanse of Louisiana territory.
Sacagawea was the only female among the 31 male members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Married to a French-Canadian explorer and trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, the 16-year-old bilingual Lemhi Shoshone proved invaluable to the journey, not only as an interpreter, but also due to her remarkable skill in finding edible plants. Her greatest contribution altogether came from the presence of her infant son strapped to her back, which helped assure the different tribes that the explorers had peaceful intentions.
Charbonneau, Sacagawea, and their son left the expedition in 1806 with a parting gift of the blacksmith tools, a $533 bonus and a land warrant of 320 acres in Missouri. The place and date of Sacagawea’s death is unclear. The most accepted and the one that most historians support is 1812 as the date of her death. Others, relying on American Indian oral tradition believe that she died in 1884 in Shoshone lands.
Last Saturday, July 10, 2021, Charlottesville removed a monument featuring Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea, in addition to the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee [1807-1870] and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson [1824-1863].
In the contrived spirit of reclamation, reparation and redemption, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker pontificated, “Taking down this statue [Robert E. Lee] is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy Black people for economic gain.”
However sanctimoniously pharisaical the Charlottesville iconoclasm may have been, Mayor Walker was right on one point, that slavery - owning people as property - is sinful.
The Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea monument was made by Charles Keck [1875-1951], an early 20th century notable sculptor. His architectural works, monuments, and memorials remain prominently displayed throughout America, including in Charlottesville, where Keck honored Sacagawea as being the only woman on the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The front face of the pink granite base of the monument includes the following inscription: “Bold and farseeing pathfinders who carried the flag of the young republic to the western ocean and revealed an unknown empire to the uses of mankind.”
The monument was gifted to the city of Charlottesville by Paul Goodloe McIntire [1860-1952], a stockbroker, investor, and philanthropist from Virginia. In a letter to his trustee, W.O. Watson, McIntire wrote: “The Sculptor Keck has changed the Clark statue by the addition of a third figure, the Indian girl [Sacajawea] and also around the base of the bronze on the frieze an Indian buffalo hunt and Indian council. … the statue is greatly improved. The contract called for two figures: the sculptor threw in the Indian and she is the best of the lot!” The monument was a great success. The dedication ceremony took place on November 21, 1919. Paul McIntire’s own daughter, Charlotte Virginia, unveiled the monument in front of a large crowd of observers and a group of school children singing “America the Beautiful.”3