Reviews > Culture

The mom on the dollar

Culture | Sacagawea may be PC to some, but she is also a patriotic symbol

Issue: "Georgia twisters," Feb. 26, 2000

The real reason for the public's rejection of the Susan B. Anthony dollar was not that it looked like a quarter. Rather, it was the constant reminder, every time you jingled your coins, of the political and cultural clout of the radical feminists.

Not that Susan B. Anthony, the 19th-century crusader for women's rights, was a bad person to honor. For her, women's rights included the right not to have their babies killed by abortionists, a fact today's radical feminists-who have a far different worldview than their 19th-century sisters-want to keep out of sight. But still, she was turned into a feminist icon, and the U.S. Mint clearly was bowing to feminist pressure in putting Anthony, with her tight lips and her bun, on the basic unit of American currency. The coin was just too annoying.

The public, though, seems to be more receptive to a new Treasury Department attempt to replace the greenback dollar. Though the new coin contains absolutely no precious metal, its gold color at least conjures up associations with pieces-of-eight, doubloons, and actual wealth. The Mint's populist way of distributing it-through Wal-Marts rather than banks-is also endearing.

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The picture on the coin is of Sacagawea, the young Indian woman of the Lewis and Clark expedition, with her baby on her back. Featuring a "Native American" scores PC points for the Mint, though pennies and nickels had done that years ago, and featuring a woman at the same time scores even more PC points. But this woman is a mom. Not only that, considering Sacagawea's exploits-traveling thousands of miles through every kind of hardship and danger, while taking care of a baby, and then taking the same trip back home with a 2-year-old-she can stand for the modern mom, who certainly deserves honoring.

Sacagawea, in her actual life and history, stands as a great American role model and a worthy symbol for American patriotism. The same could be said of the other head on the coin, her baby, little Jean-Baptiste (named for John the Baptist), who, though less known, became one of the most colorful figures of the American West.

When Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon I-all the land west of the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains for a mere

$15 million-he really didn't know what he had. The treaty gave the United States all the land drained by the Missouri river, but no one really knew how long the river was, let alone if the land was suitable for settlement. Jefferson gave his brilliant young aide, Captain Meriwether Lewis, a crash course in surveying and basic science and sent him off with Captain William Clark, an experienced frontier soldier, to explore the new American West.

With a company of some 30 men, plus Sacagawea (there is no evidence that she had to pick up after all of them) and later her baby when he was born on the way, the group paddled up the Missouri River. Along the way, they made maps for later settlers to follow, took soil samples for future farmers, discovered scores of animals and plants previously unknown to science, and attempted to make friends with the various Indian tribes. The hope was that at the end of the Missouri River, they would find the Columbia, a waterway to the Pacific coast. What they found instead was a little obstacle: the Rocky Mountains. With a heroic effort, the company crossed those mountains and made it all the way to what is now the coast of Washington state. Then they turned around and came back, blazing new trails and recording data that would prove crucial for later pioneers. The expedition took three years.

Sacagawea was a member of the Shoshone tribe, living in what is now Western Idaho. When she was 12 years old, she was kidnapped by the warlike Hidatsa-Mandans who used her as a slave (thus giving the lie to the current politically correct propaganda that Indians only practiced warfare and slavery because they learned them from the whites). A French trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau bought her out of slavery and took her as his wife.

Lewis and Clark hired the couple as translators. Sacagawea knew Shoshone and Hidatsa; Charbonneau knew Hidatsa and French; another trapper knew French and English. The delicate negotiations with the various Indian tribes were conducted by means of this three-person, four-language translation relay.

Sacagawea was only 17 when she joined the expedition. (Teenagers can now say they are honored by their own coin.) A few months later, she had her baby. Jean-Baptiste, nicknamed "Pompy" by the men, became a great favorite for his playful ways. Indian tribes knew that a woman and child would never be brought on a war party, so their presence helped convince the various tribes that the company came in peace.

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