I think it’s appropriate that here at MotherTalkers, we take a moment to appreciate the only US currency that depicts a mother and child: the Sacagawea Dollar.
The coin shows Sacagawea, a Shoshone Indian woman, and her son, Jean Baptiste. Sacagawea was 6 months pregnant when she joined the Lewis & Clark expedition, and gave birth en route. There are no portraits of her; the artist for the coin used a modern young Shoshone woman as a model.
(It astounds me to think of how many women gave birth in similar circumstances. Of course, many died.)
Sacagawea was born in Idaho, and kidnapped and taken to North Dakota at the age of 10. At age 13, she was sold to a French trapper, Charbonneau, who made her and another Shoshone girl his wives. (He is known to have had 5 Native American girls as wives during his lifetime.) When Lewis and Clark came through, interviewing trappers who could act as guides, Charbonneau got the job because 15 year old Sacagawea was included and could speak Shoshone. It formed a roundabout translation chain:
If and when the expedition met the Shoshones, Sacagawea would talk with them, then translate to Hidatsa for Charbonneau, who would translate to French. The Corps’ Francois Labiche spoke French and English, and would make the final translation so that the two English-speaking captains would understand.
The accounts of her contribution to the expedition highlight that her brother happened to be Chief of the Shoshone tribe who supplies them with horses, and mention that she translates and knows some trails. Tribes they met were inclined to assume that the expedition wasn’t a war party because it included a Shoshone woman. I find them frankly rather condescending… she’s described in most historical articles as more of an object or talisman than as the enthusiastic teenager she must have been to win Captain Clark’s clear admiration. It doesn’t get much more “working mother” than her story. I am always sorry to read that she died at age 25, but I am also grateful that Captain Clark adopted her son and daughter.
I love this coin. It is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to handle. Having a pile of them makes me feel Iike I have a bucket of gold doubloons, I’m rich! It evokes a feeling of money that no other American currency does for me.
So why hasn’t this coin become popular in general circulation? Is it because Americans love paper? Is it because it has a woman on it? Or a Shoshone? Is it because we hoarded them all in our mattresses?
I think the real answer comes from James C. Benfield, of the Coin Coalition: “The key players in the circulation of any denomination are the store managers of chain restaurants, drugstores, grocery stores and convenience stores. All coins, and $1 and $5 bills, begin circulating in the economy from the cash drawers of these establishments. If the store manager doesn’t stock $1 coins in the morning, then you won’t get them as change in the afternoon.” Certainly I have spent them, but the only place I have ever gotten them back is from USPS vending machines. I don’t want to eliminate the paper dollar, as the Coin Coalition does, but I do like these coins.
The reason I was thinking about this coin was in fact because I wanted some. DD has now had two visits from the Tooth Fairy. When I was little, we got a quarter, but it seems that there has been some inflation since then. I’ve been giving her two quarters (and I pick out I was thinking that a shiny golden dollar under one’s pillow would be pretty exciting. Now all I have to do is figure out where I can get some for $1, not buying them mail order as collectors’ items!