Within a month, a near-tragedy earned Sacagawea particular respect. The boat in which she was sailing nearly capsized when a squall hit and Charbonneau, the navigator, panicked. Sacagawea had the presence of mind to gather crucial papers, books, navigational instruments, medicines and other provisions that might have otherwise disappeared—all while simultaneously ensuring her baby’s safety. In appreciation, Lewis and Clark named a branch of the Missouri for Sacagawea several days later. Clark, in particular, developed a close bond with Sacagawea as she and Baptiste would often accompany him as he took his turn walking the shore, checking for obstacles in the river that could damage the boats.
Five days after the first members of the Corps crossed the Continental Divide at Lemhi Pass, Sacagawea did, as planned, translate the captains’ desire to purchase horses to the Shoshone they encountered. Sacagawea was surprised and happy to recognize the Shoshone’s leader, Chief Cameahwait, as her brother, and they had an emotional reunion.
Sacagawea also put her naturalist’s knowledge to use for the Corps. She could identify roots, plants and berries that were either edible or medicinal. Sacagawea’s memories of Shoshone trails led to Clark’s characterization of her as his “pilot.” She helped navigate the Corps through a mountain pass—today’s Bozeman Pass in Montana—to the Yellowstone River. And although it couldn’t be quantified, the presence of a woman—a Native American, to boot—and baby made the whole corps seem less fearsome and more amiable to the Native Americans the Corps encountered, some of whom had never seen white faces before. This eased tensions that might otherwise have resulted in uncooperativeness at best, violence at worst.
After reaching the Pacific, Sacagawea returned with the rest of the Corps and her husband and son—having survived illness, flash floods, temperature extremes, food shortages, mosquito swarms and so much more—to their starting point, the Hidatsa-Mandan settlement, on August 14, 1806. For his service Charbonneau received 320 acres of land and $500.33; Sacagawea received no compensation.