As I strolled the Knife River trail
a dust cloud swirled and fell
and earth lodges appeared by the score
extending from the path to the river banks.
Hidatsa women sang at their chores,
husking corn -
beading moccasins -
scraping a buffalo hide.
A band of hunters dismounted
and released their ropes -
dropping two deer and an elk
by the hanging rack.
Triumphal shouts from the river
turned all heads to the shore
where warriors, returned
from Shoshone fields,
lashed up canoes and dragged
their human spoils up the rise.
Several squaws reached out
from the gathering crowd
seizing two of the squirming children.
A Shoshone girl with terror in her eyes
cringed as a warrior raised his arm.
"No, tell your Hidatsa name!"
Sobbing she choked through broken tears,
"My name is Sacagawea."
I bolted to breach the walls of time
to face death in her defense
but a new whirling cloud intervened.
When the dust fell away
all the lodges had vanished
with all the Hidatsa villagers.
Kneeling down to the Dakota grass,
I caressed a circular hollow
etched deeply in the silent earth.
August 6, 2010
Lewis and Clark wintered in the Mandan Villages along the Missouri River in present day North Dakota in 1804. The Knife River flows into the Missouri River just a couple of miles downstream. Several tribes lived together for their mutual security. The scene in this poem happened a few years earlier. The French Canadian trapper, Toussant Charboneau, either bought Sacagawea or won her in a card game. She was pregnant when the Corps of Discovery arrived and Lewis helped "midwife" the birth of her son, Jean Baptiste Charboneau.
When Lewis and Clark found out she was Shoshone they hired her and Charboneau to help negotiate for horses to cross the Rockies. As luck would have it, the Shoshone Chief that had the authority turned out to be Sacagawea's brother or cousin (the Shoshone language used the same word to define both relations). Sacagawea's presence with the Corps of Discovery probably saved the expedition from annihilation on several occasions.
The Hidatsa's at Knife river and in other communities lived in large circular houses framed out in tree lumber. The open circles inside were hollowed out into crater-like depressions. Today, the hollows from their houses dot the landscape like the surface of a golf ball.
Knife River is one of the most moving sites I have ever seen or expect to see - ever!!