Oregon native ends 10-year Sacagawea run, living history career

Baker City, Oregon (AP) 9-07

After nearly three decades of performing her “living history” programs, Joyce Badgley Hunsaker has retired from the stage with a final appearance as Sacagawea, the American Indian woman who helped guide the Lewis and Clark on their expedition across the West.

“My living history ladies’ have allowed me to go so many interesting and important places, and have allowed me to touch the hearts of so many wonderful people over the years, it’s more than a little poignant now to say goodbye to them at last,” said Hunsaker, a Baker City native who now lives in Washington, D.C.

Her last presentation of Sacagawea was given this week at Miami of Ohio University in Oxford. A record audience of 500 people attended the finale, ending 10 years in the role.

Hunsaker’s professional career includes presentations at the Smithsonian and for Congress in Washington, D.C., the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City.

“Life on the road has been awfully good to me over the years, and fulfilling on so many levels, but it’s time now to let the younger professionals take the stage,” she said.

Her other well-known role of “Fanny, the Pioneer Woman” was presented at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center and nationally. Hunsaker’s Happy Canyon role of “Maybelle Montana,” was featured live during the Pendleton Roundup.

Hunsaker developed “Sacagawea Speaks” in 1994, but her fascination with the story began with her very first library book, a children’s biography of the Indian guide from the Shoshone tribe in northern Idaho.

According to historical records, Sacagawea was kidnapped at age 11 by a Mandan-Hidatsa war party and taken as a slave to their villages in North Dakota before she turned 14 and was married off to 50-year-old Toussaint Charbonneau, a mixed-blood Frenchman who was hired as a guide by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in November 1804 during their famed expedition.

Hunsaker created her program by studying the journals of Lewis and Clark, historical research and tribal oral traditions.

She depicted Sacagawea in native clothing crafted from tanned elk skin, and wore bright bead necklaces and red circles painted on her cheeks as signs of peace. She also used sign language learned from a Shoshone elder.

Hunsaker said that she and her husband, David, deputy director of the National Landscape Conservation System for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C., eventually plan to retire to Baker City.

But she said she will stay active by advising living history performers, and also write poetry.

“My newest tack is cowboy poetry,” Hunsaker said. “I’ve had several of my poems published so far, and find it a good way to stay connected with the West while living in D.C.”

Information from: Baker City Herald,