by Tim Woodward The Idaho Statesman
Photo: Challis Baldwin, 14, right, and Leela Abrahamson, 11, are great-great-great-great- nieces of Sacajawea, the Shoshone Lemhi woman who accompanied and helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Challis portrayed her aunt in a documentary film that will air tonight on Idaho Public Television, and Leela portrayed Sacajawea's friend. The experience brought the two girls closer to Sacajawea "I know I couldn't live up to being her." Challis said, "but it made me feel proud that we're related to her." Photographer: Katherine Jones/The Idaho Statesman
FORT HALL - When a man with a painted face chased Challis Baldwin into the Salmon River, threw her onto the back of an Appaloosa horse and rode away, she acquired an instant bond with the most famous woman in Idaho's history.
"I was scared," she said. "And as scared as I was, I realized how much worse it was for her. For her, it was real life."
Baldwin is a great-great-great-great niece of Sacajawea, the only female member of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The 14-year-old from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation played her famous aunt in "The Journey of Sacajawea," a documentary film premiering tonight on Idaho Public Television.
"It's the first Sacajawea documentary I know of," producer-writer Lori Joyce said. "Every single Lewis and Clark documentary gives her minor exposure.
" Nowhere will "The Journey of Sacajawea" be more closely watched than at Fort Hall. Since 1907, Fort Hall has been home of Sacajawea's tribe, the Agaidika or Lemhi Shoshone. Members of the tribe long have been concerned about conflicting versions of the details of Sacajawea's life and what they see as illegitimate efforts by others to claim her.
Leela Abrahamson, Baldwin's 11-year-old
cousin who played Sacajawea's young friend in the abduction scene, said, "Everyone
tries to claim her because she's famous. But she was from Idaho, and she was
"You know how horses can feel things? I think the horses were scared because we sere so scared. And what we saw was almost what happened. What really happened was horrible. Sacajawea had to watch her mother and other people die and then be taken away from her family. Holy cow, this woman went through a lot of trauma! It gave me a new respect for her."
The scene was filmed in September four miles south of Salmon. Rozina George, the girls aunt, was in charge of props and wardrobes. The "captors" - one of whom Baldwin baby-sits for - were so realistically outfitted as Minnetaree (Hidatsa) warriors and so convincing as hostile attackers that the girls didn't recognize them. The men threw the girls to the ground, slung them screaming over their shoulders, carried them wet and shivering on horseback over narrow mountain trails. One of the horses slipped, throwing Abrahamson face-down in the mud.
My mom has always told me the sacajawea stories, but I didn't feel them until then," she said. "It takes something like that to make you feel what she went through. It's not in the history books.
" It was an honor to play her," Baldwin added. "I know I couldn't live up to being her, but it made me feel proud that we're related to her
." The abduction scene is a small, but powerful, part of the 60-minute documentary. Narrated by singer Rita Coolidge, the film devotes much of its focus to Sacajawea's role in the expedition that made her an American legend. There are more statues and sculptures of Sacajawea - including on used in the film and soon to be dedicated in Boise - than of any other North American woman. Without her help in gathering food, interpreting and procuring horses, the Lewis and Clark expedition might have failed.
Joyce, producer of the acclaimed Martin Luther King Jr. documentary "In Remembrance of Martin," began working on the Sacajawea film in 1999. Teaming her Idanha Films with a production team from Idaho Public Television, she oversaw filming in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and Oregon.
"We did it in a car with air conditioning, but I still was able to get tiny glimpses of what it must have been like for her," she said. "She was with 31 men; I was following their route with two men. And the mosquitoes? They're still there!"
Financial support for the film came from the Idaho Humanities Council, the Governor's Idaho Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Committee, the National Park Service, Idaho Power, Hewlett Packard, the Idaho Community Foundation, the city of Salmon and the Bureau of Land Management. It was done on a small budget.
Working in a darkened "edit bay" in the basement of Idaho Public Television's Boise offices, Joyce and director-videographer Alan Austin boiled 800 minutes of footage into this 60-minute story.
"You can put it up against any of the million-dollar productions," Austin said. "I get off on trying to do it for as little as possible."
Although today's premiere will be limited to Idaho Public Television, Austin is confident of wider exposure..."I'm sure it will be all over, because nobody else has ever done it. It should get a lot of play."
"The biggest challenge in making 'The Journey of Sacajawea,'" Joyce said, "was to hang on to the vision I had for the show. Everyone has their own idea of what it should be."
At Fort Hall, members of the Lemhi Shoshone tribe will be watching to see how much of their perspective on the Sacajawea story is included.
Strong feelings exist among the tribes over conflicting versions of the details of her life and the spelling, pronunciation and meaning of her name.
Some historians have said she lived to be old; others say she died as a young woman. Some say her name should be spelled and pronounced with a hard "g", others say with a "j". Even her tribal affiliation has been a source of contention.
The Lemhi Shoshone believe that Sacajawea died at about age 24 and was buried at Fort Manuel Lisa, SD.
Rose Ann Abrahamson, Leela's real-life mother and Sacajawea's mother in the documentary, says the tribe spells and pronounces Sacajawea with a "j", and that neither of the commonly accepted meanings of "bird woman" or "boat launcher" is correct. "In her native language," she said, "Sacajawea means 'burden,' though it may not be considered a burden by the person who is carrying it."
"I'll be curious to see how Rita Coolidge pronounces it," she said.
Coolidge and most others in the film pronounce the name with a hard "g". Joyce also chose the "g" spelling for the title. But the film leaves no doubt that its heroine was a Lemhi Shoshone from Idaho's Salmon River Valley or that two centuries after her journey, she remains an inspiration for women of all ethnic backgrounds.
"The journals of Lewis and Clark talk about her important contributions to the expedition," Joyce said, "but not to the type of person she was, based on the way she was raised in her culture with her people. I tried to avoid the politics. My vision was to talk to all of the tribes who were part of her life and to tell the beautiful story of this woman who contributed so much in such a short span.
"When you ask people: Who was on the Lewis and Clark expedition? ~ they say Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea. She's still a source of inspiration not just to Native American women but to all girls and women today. I wanted to explain why we, as Americans, have a continuing fascination with her, and I think we've done that. I think this is the best thing I've ever done. It has magic all over it."