The United States Mint issued the Sacagawea gold dollar from 2000 to 2008. It was the first dollar made with an outer layer of manganese brass, which gave it a gold color. The obverse design features Sacagawea and the reverse depicts a flying eagle. In 2009, the dollar transitioned to the Native American $1 coin program using the Sacagawea obverse combined with different reverse designs each year.
sacagawea was the shoshone indian who attended the historic lewis and clark expedition. From 1804 to 1806, when she was still a teenager, she led adventurers from the great northern plains to the Pacific Ocean and back. Her husband and her son, who was born during the trip, also accompanied the group.
Reading: Who is on the one dollar coin
Around age 11, Sacagawea was captured by a Hidatsa raiding party and taken back to her Shoshone tribe. She was later sold into slavery with the Missouri River Mandans. She was then sold (or given away on a bet) to Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian fur trader, who made her his wife.
hired by lewis and clark
Charbonneau was hired by Captains Lewis and Clark primarily because of the skills possessed by his wife, Sacagawea. Ella Sacagawea was only 15 years old at the time and she was already six months pregnant. Despite these possible limitations to such an arduous journey, she knew several indigenous languages and, being a Shoshone, was able to help Lewis and Clark contact their people and acquire horses that were crucial to the success of the mission.
their contribution far exceeded anything lewis and clark expected. She provided crucial knowledge of the topography of some of North America’s most rugged countries and taught explorers how to find roots and edible plants previously unknown to European-Americans. With her infant son strapped to her back, she single-handedly rescued Captain Clark’s journals from the Missouri whitewater when her boat capsized. had she not done so, much of the record of the first year of the expedition would have been lost to history.
Most importantly though, sacagawea and her baby served as a “white flag” of peace for the expedition. they entered potentially hostile territory well armed but understaffed compared to the Native American tribes they met. Because no war party was ever accompanied by a woman and a baby, the Native American response was curiosity, not aggression. They spoke first, and Sacagawea often served as translator. not a single member of the group was lost due to hostile action.
after the expedition
It’s no wonder that after their journey ended, the adventurers felt a lifelong debt to sacagawea. In fact, Clark wrote to Charbonneau that Sacagawea deserved a higher reward than the expedition gave him. His sense of indebtedness to Sacagawea is reflected a few years later when Clark accepted the responsibility of raising Sacagawea’s son and, after Sacagawea’s death at the age of 25, a daughter as well. Sacagawea’s grave is in Lander, Wyoming.
the coin design selection process
The public played a unique and historic role in choosing a design concept for the dollar. In June 1998, the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee (DCDAC) met in Philadelphia to decide on a design concept in a public session. The committee included a member of Congress, a university president, the president of the American Numismatic Society, the assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, a sculptor, and an architect. U.S. director of mint philip n. Diehl chaired the committee without voting rights.
the dcdac heard 17 presentations of design concepts from members of the public, as well as numerous messages submitted by the public. the committee recommended that the dollar coin bear the image of sacagawea.
the public reviews the designs
the mint invited 23 artists to submit designs featuring an image of sacagawea on the obverse and complementary designs of eagles on the reverse that reflect peace and freedom. The mint then invited representatives of the Native American community, numismatists, artists, educators, historians, members of Congress, mint and treasury employees, and other members of the public to review and comment on all the received designs. Additionally, historians advised the United States Mint on the historical merits of each finalist design.
Using these comments as a guide, the mint narrowed the designs down to seven and submitted them to the commission of fine arts in December 1998.
choose the final design
the fine arts commission provided its recommendation to the mint. after much review of all input received to date, the mint submitted the final designs to the secretary of the treasury. On May 4, 1999, the Mint presented the design selected by sculptor Glenna Goodacre at the White House.
The mint consulted with Native American historians and representatives on various aspects of the design. Historical records use conflicting spellings of Sacagawea’s name. Based on several highly regarded contemporary works, the mint decided to use the “sacagawea” spelling. The question of how Sacagawea would have carried her baby is also something the Mint spent a lot of time examining. The consultants concluded that it is reasonable to assume that at some point in her journey, Sacagawea carried her child on her back in hidatsa custom rather than a Shoshone cradle.