St. Louis celebrated and the men of the expedition fired their guns into the air as they entered the city. Although the explorers had not found the Northwest Passage, the hoped-for water route linking the Atlantic and Pacific, they had made peaceful contact with Native Americans and generated a wealth of knowledge about the geography, flora and fauna, and peoples of America's new territory. In both of these achievements Sacajawea had proved indispensable. And even though most members of the expedition were biased against Native Americans and women, none of their journals include a single negative comment about Sacajawea; they expressed only gratitude for her contributions. Yet, it does not seem that Sacajawea ever understood just how important she was to the mission, or indeed how important the mission was to the U.S. as a fledgling nation. She seems to have been motivated purely by personal loyalties to her husband and Lewis and Clark, and her love for the lands and peoples they were encountering.

News spread through the U.S. from St. Louis, and Jefferson himself quickly learned that the expedition had returned bearing much new knowledge of America's natural wealth. The entire country was fascinated by Lewis and Clark's tales, which of course included anecdotes about Sacajawea's constant help. The expedition had mapped the vastness of the Louisiana Territory and proved Jefferson's 1803 purchase a brilliant move. Furthermore, the expedition was very important for having established the first cross-continental route to the Pacific, though this route was not wholly water-based, as had been hoped. All of the members received bonuses in money and land, and the country treated them as heroes. Sacajawea got none of this hero's welcome; she simply returned to life as usual on the frontier. Jefferson named Lewis the governor of the Louisiana Territory and Clark became a brigadier general and Native American agent. The other members of the expedition ended up in a variety of careers, mostly as explorers, farmers and soldiers.

As Clark became a national hero, he soon had more to offer Sacajawea to repay her for her help. He helped Charbonneau get a job as an interpreter of Indian languages for the U.S. government. Clark even offered to help support a trading business for Charbonneau, although Charbonneau backed out of this deal. Always extremely fond of Sacajawea and her family, Clark called Sacajawea by the nickname "Janey." Given Clark's offers to raise Jean Baptiste, some writers have speculated that Clark and Sacajawea had an affair while on the expedition. Although possible, this seems unlikely. Most probably Clark simply maintained a high level of gratitude and fondness toward this brave and stoic woman who had so often saved his expedition from doom.

Popular pages: Sacajawea