More About Otter Woman…

May 24, 2010

In response to a comment from “Joanne,” I did some looking into Joseph Robidoux (III, founder of St. Joseph, MO), who, she said, had an Indian wife named Otter, possibly in between white wives. This was my comment answering hers:
Further research revealed quotes about Robidoux having children by many “Indian” women. Either he (aka Joseph Robidoux III) or his son (Joseph Robidoux IV — there are also nephews and cousins named Joseph Robidoux, making things even more confusing) is said to have married an “Otoe” woman ca. 1840. Possible confusion with tribe/nation “Otoe” and individual named Otter? Maybe. Probably.

Otter Woman apparently plays a role in the novel “Sacajawea” which I haven’t read because first, if the author couldn’t even get the woman’s NAME right, what else is wrong? And second, she proposes a romantic relationship — or at least feelings of romance, and this is what I’m told, I repeat I haven’t read the novel — between Sacagawea and Wm. Clark. I think Clark liked and respected Sacagawea — especially in comparison with her useless husband — but I doubt that he viewed her as a romantic partner. Who knows? He clearly wouldn’t have put that in his journal, nor would the men (although possibly in later gossipy lurid memoirs?), but it’s possible that he really missed his family, and the presence of a young woman and a baby brought back warm and happy memories for him. At this point I’m not thinking that Robidoux and Otter Woman are connected, at least not without a lot more evidence.

One other possibility arises; the Wind River Shoshone have a grave they marked (and still honor) as Sacagawea’s; they claim she came back after the expedition, and raised her orphaned nephew Bazel (spelling uncertain), and died at the advanced age of 106. If they’re right (although Anderson and Schroer, 1999, call it a “regrettable circumstance” resulting from oral histories, misunderstandings, and confused memories — in other words, they are so not right, according to these two), is it possible that Otter Woman was the “wife of Charbonneau, a Snake [Shoshone] squaw” who “died of a putrid fever” at Fort Manuel in 1812? Leaving the “fine infant girl?” (who later arrived with Jean-Baptiste at St. Louis; both were taken into the guardianship of Clark… so it seems more likely the one who died in 1812 truly was Sacagawea.) It does get confusing; so long ago and so few written records, especially about women, and more especially about Native women. But Otter Woman still deserves to have her history told!

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One Response to “More About Otter Woman…”

  1. renee elizabeth said

    hello. it’s a confusing story to figure out. my grandmother said she was from an lizzabetta or lizbette (she couldn’t remember exactly) and that she was also from sachagawia somehow & the story of the canoe and the papers, and that the body was moved or taken up to the gravesite in the great northwest. she mentioned the plains indians and i think the battle of little big horn, teepees, and indians who sneeked about in bushes as camaflauge. but there was also the story of lewis and clark & i’m not sure of the connections. i must say that i find alot of resemblances in lewis and in the snake people in my family. as far as clark goes, i think there was someone i went to school with who was a descendent of theirs somehow. my grandmother’s grandfather or great grandfather was born in humbolt tennisee, which is not far from where lewis was buried. the “otter” name for the otter women must have come from the otter belt/pelt that some of northernwestern american indian people had. i found a picture of one on the internet. i wonder maybe if lizette was raised by the otter women,or someone else & grew up and married and had children, but it’s a mystery. i don’t know why charbonneau would have given up these for adoption, and to clark? who knows. lol. it does seem that the son who was adopted became an adventuer & did well in life because of his schooling. but God bless the women folk who must have had a hand in seeing to the good upbringing of those children.

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