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sacajawea: Life with charbonneauIllustration: Life with charbonneau

Photo: Most Agaidikas believe Sacajawea was sold or traded to Charbonneau. Some say he won her in a gambling game played with sticks and bones. Half of the bones were painted black. Each player began the game with seven sticks. Players lost a stick each time they drew a black bone.

Photo: Gaming Sticks

Sacajawea´s fate may have been decided by whoever had the most sticks in a game played on a date never recorded against people now forgotten.
Regardless of how he came to have her as his wife, the fact that she was given to Charbonneau is the basis of a Lemhi Shoshoni claim that the Hidatsas never adopted her or welcomed her as a daughter. Few Indian parents, they say, would willingly give a daughter to such a man.
Little of what is known about Charbonneau is complimentary. Historical records portray him as abusive and obsessed with Indian women a fraction of his age. If he were living in modern times, he´d be a more likely candidate for criminal court than a place in history.
A French-speaking Canadian, Charbonneau was born near Montreal in about 1759. Then a town of only a few thousand people, the Montreal of his youth was the center of a lively fur trading industry. Like many young men of his time and place, he chose the roughneck life of a trader.
In his late 30s, he reportedly was stabbed by the mother of a woman who said he raped her daughter. The journal entry reporting it is the first known mention of behavior that revealed a lifelong fixation with younger women.
Charbonneau´s life as an itinerant trader took him from Montreal to what is now North Dakota. Compared with the primitive camps he had known in the northern wilderness, the pleasant villages and abundant gardens of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes were inviting. A man who took his comfort seriously, Charbonneau settled there in about 1797. Except for short absences - and one historic one - he is thought to have lived in Indian villages along the upper Missouri River for the rest of his life.


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