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One of the reasons Lewis and Clark's boat nearly capsized was that Charbonneau had been steering it. Charbonneau was not an expert with boats, and he made a mistake with the rudder. Since Charbonneau could not swim, he became very panicked as the boat lurched onto its side and water started pouring in. One of the other crewmembers helped get the situation under control, but not before a lot of important material fell over the sides. This was just one example of Charbonneau's many mistakes that were to plague the expedition.

While her husband's panicking caused the problem, Sacajawea managed to undo much of it with her calm manner. She had been sitting in the stern of the boat, and instead of panicking after the boat fell sideways, she rescued the items she could. Leaning out from the boat to fish out books and tools, she practically saved the mission single-handedly (the other hand was holding Jean Baptiste). So far away from any cities, almost all of the supplies Sacajawea rescued were irreplaceable. Clark was ecstatic, and praised her good sense and competence in his journal. Lewis, although he never had the same fondness for Sacajawea that Clark did, noted that she had saved the day. Somewhat ironically, Charbonneau's wife, who had been allowed to come along as a favor to the French-Canadian, now saved the whole expedition from her husband's incompetence on the water. Sacajawea also saved some of the captains' journals. Had these not been recovered, the record of the early part of the trip (and much of Sacajawea's life) might be lost to later historians.

Around the time of the boat incident, the expedition members were starting to sense that they were near groups of Native Americans. Sacajawea proved helpful again by identifying carefully hidden signs of their presence and determining that they were not Shoshonis.

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