Wyoming January 24, 2018
This Obscure Little Wyoming Cemetery Is The Sacred Resting Place Of One Of History’s Most Famous Native Americans
Wyoming is a place to find countless pieces of history, though some are hidden away in unassuming spots here and there.
One such place is a modest little country cemetery on the Wind River Reservation. No road signs mark the way, and the area is noticeably absent of typical tourist trappings such as visitors centers and gift shops. Yet, the burial ground is the sacred resting place of one of the most famous Native American women in history. It’s remote and quite ordinary, but so worth the trip.
Just off US-287, about 15 minutes past the southern border of the Wind River Indian Reservation, you'll find a seemingly ordinary cemetery that's hiding a piece of history.
It's named for the famous Native American buried inside its periphery, the Lemhi Shoshone woman who played an important part in the country's history.
Sacajawea Cemetery is on South Fork Road roughly 3 miles from Fort Washakie. You'll pass another cemetery on the way, but keep an eye out for the simple hand-painted sign indicating you've found the right place. There are no fences or walls; just a plain metal gate at the entrance.
Chosen in her late teens to accompany the Lewis and Clark expedition and serve as a guide and interpreter, the young woman spent 2 years with the group and escorted them all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
The bronze statue at the site depicts a young Sacajawea gazing at a sand dollar, a souvenir she brought back from the Pacific Ocean and presented to Chief Washakie.
The statue erected in her honor stands apart from the actual gravesite, which is almost at the center of the burial ground, about midway down a modest dirt path.
As you walk among the graves, you'll notice there are as many wooden markers as there are engraved headstones - maybe even more.
Though the cemetery isn't professionally landscaped, it's still well-kept, and visitors often leave flowers and other mementos at the gravesite.
There is a controversy about whether Sacajawea is really buried in Wyoming, but the inscription on the headstone indicates that there is no question about the identity of the woman interred there.
One report implies that Sacajawea died in South Dakota shortly after childbirth about 6 years after she took part in the Lewis and Clark expedition. The problem with that story is that the names of Native American women were not included in the written records of that era. The woman who died was identified as being Charbonneau's wife, who wasn't necessarily Sacajawea at that time.
The story that was passed down through Shoshone oral tradition is widely believed to be the truth. It says that Sacajawea did not remain married Charbonneau after the expedition and that she returned to Wyoming much later in life where she lived to be 100 years old. The engraving on Sacajawea's headstone says that the reverend who officiated at her funeral positively identified her to be the legendary woman.
The graves on either side of Sacajawea's are significant and support the authenticity of the site. The headstones identify them as her biological son Jean Baptiste...
...and Bazil, her adopted son.
The cemetery is definitely off the beaten path almost hidden to the point that you might miss it if you're not looking for it. However, the experience is worth the time and effort it takes to seek out the little graveyard.
Have you visited Sacajawea Cemetery?
What other obscure but fascinating places have you found hidden away in Wyoming?