"Sacagawea: Courageous Explorer,” by James Buckley, Jr., is one of the “Show Me History!” series that Booklist (one of the premier book review sources relied upon by librarians and booksellers) describes as “Bunking the notion that history is dull, these titles … convey the lives of notable historical figures through colorful and spirited cartoons.” The books are also accurate, something that until recently couldn’t be said about many books relating to Native Americans. Moreover, the volume about Sacagawea (Buckley notes that her name is properly pronounced “sak-a-guh-way-uh”) is being considered for inclusion in the Guys Read Gals Read program, which donates hundreds of enticing books to public school libraries, because it’s fun to read.
As most teachers will tell you, make it fun and they’ll learn, and the Guys Read Gals Read mission is introducing elementary students to books that are so pleasurable to read, they’ll want to continue reading for the sheer fun of it. “Sacagawea” fits perfectly, combining a fun presentation with excellent, up-to-date information about that amazing woman “who endured hardship in her youth but nevertheless became a fearless leader and role model for generations to come,” according to Buckley. “What did 33 men in the 1800s need to find their way through the wilderness on a trip across America? They needed a woman – and they found one in Sacagawea, the Native American teenage mother who helped the Lewis and Clark expedition survive. She and her baby braved floods, hunger, storms, and snakes to help the expedition that opened the West.”
Sacagawea played a critical role in Lewis and Clark’s explorations; in all probability the expedition would have failed without her active involvement, and the willingness of Lewis and Clark to follow the advice of a baby-toting teenager. That baby, her son Jean Baptist Charbonneau – nicknamed “Pomp” – led his own amazing life that’s described in an appendix. When Sacagawea died at age 25, William Clark took Pomp and his little sister into his own home. Pomp was classically educated in St. Louis, became a mountain man contemporary of Jim Bridger, and later guided German Prince Paul von Werttemberg on a hunting trip in 1823. They hit it off so well the prince invited Pomp to visit Germany, tour Europe, and go hunting in North Africa. Pomp returned to America and “became a famous river guide” before becoming the alcalde (a kind of judge) for the Spanish government in California near modern day San Diego in 1847. Then he became a prospector during the California gold rush, and died in 1866 aged 61.
The government’s Native American boarding schools are in the news, as are the Olympic games, and Tsokahovi “Lewis” Tewanima’s story fits in neatly. Tewanima was an 18-year-old Hopi in 1906 who was shackled and along with other Hopi youths, forced to march 20 miles from his Arizona home to build roads. A few months later, in the depth of January, they were marched 110 miles to New Mexico, packed on a train and taken 2,000 miles to the Carlyle Industrial School in Pennsylvania. It was traditional for Hopi boys to run long distances at 5,700 feet elevation, and soon Tewanima’s running ability came to the attention of legendary coach Glenn “Pop” Warner, who reluctantly gave the 5 foot 4 ½ inch, 110-pound young man a try out and discovered he had an astonishing “kick at the end of his runs.”
A year later Tewanima was selected for the 1908 summer Olympics in London. Unfortunately, his shoes didn’t fit, his grasp of English was weak, and the instructions shouted by his English-speaking trainer, who accompanied the runner on a bicycle, confused him, yet, despite the misdirecting and bloody feet, he finished ninth. In 1912, Tewanima and Jim Thorpe were both on the U.S. Olympic team. Tewanima was desperately seasick on the voyage to Stockholm but immediately had to run his 10,000 meter event, where he won the silver medal while setting the American record for 10,000 meters that stood for 52 years, until it was broken by Billy Mills, an Oglala Lakota Sioux in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Later in 1912, the 24-year-old Tewanima was finally allowed to leave Carlyle School and return home where he became a chief noted for his many civic accomplishments for his tribe, and for his refusal to ever speak in English.
Occasionally justice has prevailed for Native Americans; once it was obtained by Erle Stanley Gardner, creator of fictional lawyer Perry Mason. It’s described in a Smithsonian Magazine article from last December, “The Case of the Autographed Corpse,” by Jack El-Hai.in March 1951, an Apache medicine man, John Simon Edwards, who was serving a life sentence for murder wrote to Gardner seeking his assistance. Gardner was himself a lawyer who read the Youth’s Companion Magazine as a boy, which was published by the Perry Mason Company, who became his fictional hero in 82 novels. After making his fortune writing Perry Mason books, Gardner created the “Court of Last Resort,” a cadre of lawyers, forensic specialists and investigators all dedicated to freeing people who were wrongly incarcerated.
Edwards was convicted of murdering his wife on the flimsiest of evidence by a white judge who considered him a bad influence. The main evidence were two stones used to crush his wife’s head with Edward’s initials written on them in blood. This was presented to the court as an Apache custom, when it wasn’t at all, and, in fact, all but one of Edwards’ tribal elders supported his innocence. Gardner’s team proved that that one holdout, named Foster James, was in fact the murderer. Gardner publicized his findings in Argosy magazine, an extremely popular men’s publication in the 1940s and 50s. Gardner made Edwards’ case to legal authorities, and hundreds of Argosy readers wrote in support, and in 1955 Edwards was exonerated and freed.
Speaking of records and justice, the Guinness Record holder for “Most Translated Document” is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is currently available in 529 languages. Adopted by the United Nations in 1948, it begins “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and continues “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Were that such a document was law in 529 countries, or at least ours. As Blaise Pascal noted, “Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.