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Mayor launches campaign to save Sacagawea statue


(This story has been updated to note a correction: The St. Charles City Council took no action on this move by the mayor.)

A statue of Sacagawea, Merriwether Lewis and William Clark removed from Charlottesville, Virginia, this July might find a new home in the city of St. Charles.

Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea 		    		      (Source: City of Charlottesville)
Merriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea (Source: City of Charlottesville)

That is if Mayor Dan Borgmeyer can raise the funds, garner the right support and present a proposal that honors the native American woman responsible for the success of the Corps of Discovery expedition that launched locally from the banks of the Missouri River.

Sacagawea,  a Shoshone translator and guide, joined the Lewis and Clark expedition when it stopped to winter over in modern-day North Dakota. She was 16 to 17 years old and had a 2-month-old baby when the exploration party set off for the Rockies in April of 1805. During the journey, her knowledge of terrain saved lives and prevented the Corps of Discovery from being seen as a war party. 

As a result of her role in mapping the West, Sacagawea has more statues dedicated to her than any other American woman, according to the National Park Service. However, the Charlottesville statue – built in 1919 by artist Charles Keck by request of the city – recently received criticism from several of Sacagawea’s direct descendants, nieces, who said her position on the sculpture depicted her as subservient and “a dog going along for the trip.” 

The Charlottesville City Council voted to take the statue down; however, before its removal was complete, on July 10, there were already several entities making bids to its the news owners. One of those inquiries came from Borgmeyer.

“I looked at the statue, and she was a tracker and a forward planner,” Borgmeyer said. “And my interpretation of the statue … was that she was, in fact, looking at a trail and demonstrating reading prints, or trails. So, I didn’t really believe it was a subservient position.”

Personal writings from the sculptor, who added Sacagawea of his own volition, state that he wanted to portray her as more interested in the immediate surroundings and unaware of the thoughts of the explorers.

Charlottesville has confirmed that it will pass the statue on, with all proposals from potential owners due by 3 p.m. on Aug. 27. 

The city will decide within 90 days who will get the statue. Charlottesville officials have confirmed that their highest priority is giving the statue to an entity that will show Sacagawea not as subservient but as necessary to and honored by the expedition. That’s a task Borgmeyer is ready to take on.

“Lewis and Clark spent time in St. Charles. (Sacagawea’s) part of our history. We thought we could elevate her history, elevate her contribution and give the statue a significant presence in our community,” Borgmeyer said.

The mayor has started a committee with two other men: Dan Foust (committee chair) and Greg Greenwald (vice-chair). The group has already launched a GoFundMe page and plans to plaster the county with signs and QR codes to spread the word and raise money.

“We’re trying to raise $50,000. We think that will put us in a league of our own,” said Borgmeyer, who also shared that they would use the upcoming Little Hill festival to gain support. “We’re trying to go very viral with this, on social media, with our mailing list with the city and county, historical society and everything else.”

News of the campaign has already reached descendants of Sacagawea’s husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, and several have pledged full support of the city’s efforts. Borgmeyer said. He added that he also has reached out to Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear, the principal chief of the Osage nation. Standing Bear has agreed to present an overview sent by the city to the tribal council, who will then vote on whether they will give their support to the proposal.

If the city does win the bid, there are three main locations already being considered for the statue: a lot at the corner of Fifth Street and Boone’s Lick Road that is highly visible at the entrance to the historic district, the roundabout in front of the St. Charles Convention Center, and a plaza between city hall and an old government building. Wherever the statue lands, Borgmeyer wants to place a large bronze plaque next to it that explains Sacagawea’s contribution and involvement with the expedition.

“She definitely was an important part of our history,” Borgmeyer said. “Rather than taking a historical statue down or tearing it down and putting it in a warehouse, we need to exonerate Sacagawea and hold her up as someone that was very important to Lewis and Clark and the western discovery.”

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