MANDAREE, N.D —Wanda Fox Sheppard sat beneath a tree-covered arbor with community members for a two-day tribute to a woman many Hidatsa call their relative.
Sheppard counts herself among the hundreds of Sacagawea descendants on the Fort Berthold Reservation, homeland of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
Sacagawea’s Hidatsa descendants’ voices, however, have mostly been unheard, unpublished. Many of her relatives have never been vocal, boastful or pushy about their relationship because she was simply another relative.
But others outside the community are hearing their story.
Thousands of Native and non-Natives heard the Hidatsa stories of Sacagawea during the Lewis & Clark Signature Event, “Reunion at the Home of Sakakawea,” in August on Fort Berthold. The reunion was the second-to-last national commemoration to recognize Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s 1804-1806 expedition.
Several tribal citizens of Fort Berthold recounted stories about Sacagawea’s life among the Hidatsa and Mandan. The one many are becoming familiar with is told by Bulls Eye, which was published in the Van Hook Reporter in April 1925.
“They say she was a Shoshoni among us,” said Bulls Eye, a grandson of Sacagawea. “She was not a Shoshoni. Everybody knew them. They knew her father and mother, too. The interpreter got it wrong and it has been wrong ever since.”
A lot has been wrong and never corrected.
Bulls Eye’s interpreter was Stanley Dean, not Stanley Bean as reported by the Van Hook Reporter, said Sheppard. Her family has documentation to support the claim.
Many generations of Americans believe Sacagawea was a Shoshone captured by the Hidatsa as a child. But it is the Hidatsa who have full accounts of the woman and her life.
Sheppard recently paged through a hardcover book published by the North Dakota State Historical Society in 2005. She pointed to a picture of Hannah Levings Grant, who was used as a Sacagawea model for sculptor Leonard Crunelle, who completed a life-size statue in 1910.
The book’s photo caption reads that Levings Grant is a “direct descendant” of Sacagawea.
“From the very beginning they got that wrong,” said Sheppard.
Yet the people who have the platform to correct the story resist.
“She is not a descendant of Sacagawea,” said Sheppard. “We all know that.”
Sheppard’s connection came from another side of her family.
Levings Grant is Sheppard’s grandmother the mother of Sheppard’s father, Anthony Guy Fox, who married Grace Parshall, the daughter of George and Ruby White Bear Parshall. And that is where one line of Sacagawea’s descendants arise among the Hidatsa.
The Hidatsa who claim Sacagawea as a relative say she had four children — Baptiste, Otter Woman, Cedar Woman and Different Breast. Most people know only of Baptiste, the infant carried by Sacagawea as she traveled with the Corps of Discovery to the Pacific.
Bulls Eye was the son of Otter Woman.
And Cedar Woman had a daughter named Medicine Arm, who married a white man named William Parshall. The couple had three kids, including George Parshall, a great-grandson of Sacagawea.
Sheppard knows all her relatives going back at least eight generations. Sacagawea’s real name was Eagle Woman, or Ma-ishuwea. But interpreters started calling her Bird Woman, or Sacagawea, and that has been wrong all these years, too.
The story of being related to a national icon isn’t a new one, said Sheppard.
Her grandmother, Ruby White Bear Parshall, and her aunt, Pansy Parshall, used to talk about how Sacagawea and her daughter, Otter Woman, were killed while traveling to Fort Buford with 5-year-old Bulls Eye.
“My grandmother Ruby would tell me these things even after I was married and had children. I was young and didn’t listen I guess. She kept telling me she was buried at Fort Buford.”
Ruby and her husband George Parshall used to travel to Poplar, Mont., frequently.
Ruby told Sheppard: “Your grandpa stopped at her gravesite, prayed and made offerings to her and then we’d go on.”
They usually left food offerings of liver and kidney, said Sheppard.
One day, her grandmother told Sheppard to prepare for a road trip. She wanted to take her to Sacagawea’s gravesite. “I got my babies ready,” said Sheppard.
She drove Ruby to Fort Buford, between Sydney, Mont., and Williston, N.D. “When we got to this place where she said she was buried, there were no fences. But you could tell where the buildings were a long time ago. And there were burial mounds.”
It’s always been a mystery among historians as to where Sacagawea lies buried. Some claim she is buried in South Dakota. And she even has a headstone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.
Sheppard returned to Fort Buford a few years ago. “But now they have scouts’ monuments and headstones. It’s all built up to look like the old fort.”
Missoulian Reporter Jodi Rave can be reached at (406) 523-5299 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.