With one exception. Of course.
Looking at the map before we left, planning our route, I realized that along Wyoming State Highway 287, in the middle of the Wind River Indian Reservation, in those small pink letters that indicate a historic site, it states "Grave of Sacajawea". Because of my husband's general interest in history, certainly not out of a love for stopping at cemeteries with me, I was able to convince him it was a good idea to check it out. It also helped that it was generally along the route we were going to take anyway.
Knowing literally nothing of Native American burial practices, we drove into the cemetery - which we barely found - blind. There was no one else there, but it was clear we were in the right place. The statue and memorial site for her can be seen from the road, and once you get close enough, you see that the cemetery, which is still obviously being used as a burial site, is named, "Sacajewa Cemetery."
Her memorial is beautifully done, with a larger than life statue, and a plaque explaining her role in the exploration of the American West. It also includes a transcription of state records, and an brief sentence or two as to why this spot has been designated as her official burial location.
The rest of the cemetery was also fascinating, but since I am unfamiliar with the customs of this nation, whose land we were standing on, we chose not to stay long. We certainly wanted to tread lightly, so as not to offend or misstep. Almost all of the burial sites were mounded, and nearly all of them included a wooden cross, many of them very colorfully decorated, in addition to a "traditional" headstone. The cemetery was vibrant with flowers, rocks, memento's from life; all placed on or near the mounds.
Upon arriving home, I decided I needed a little education in this area. I found several interesting websites that discuss both the traditional and current customs of the Shoshone tribe, who currently populates this reservation. One in particular is quoted here:
"Mourning, consisting of from three to-five days of loud lamentation, was a part of the funeral rites. Of late years they have buried their dead, and an interesting part of the ceremony is a procession around the open box or coffin, when all who wish well to the departed take his hand in a last friendly clasp.2 It is the custom to put on the grave the tepee, bedstead or stretcher in which the Indian died, and the Indian graveyard looks not unlike the backyard of a junk shop."
- Shoshone Indians of Uinta County, Wyoming, a page on the Uinta County, Wyoming Genealogy site. (http://www.wyominggenealogy.com/uinta/shoshone_indians.htm)
Although I will not agree with the "junk shop" terminology used on the site, the rest was intriguing.
One thing I learned on vacation: I still have a lot to learn about genealogy.
All photos copyright Jen Baldwin, Ancestral Journeys, 2012.