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Sakakawea Statue on Capitol Grounds


The 12-foot high bronze statue of Sakakawea, with her baby son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, on her back, greets visitors to the State Heritage Center, Bismarck.

Dedicated on October 13, 1910, the statue was created by well-known Chicago artist Leonard Crunelle. It shows Sakakawea, the world’s most famous woman, with her baby in a cradleboard and strapped to her back. She’s looks west toward the country she guided Lewis and Clark through.

The human model for the statue was Hannah Leavings Grant or Mink Woman, a Hidatsa from the Fort Berthold Reservation and Sakakawea’s granddaughter. Mink Woman, dressed in a buckskin dress, was first the subject of a painting by Margarethe Heisser of Minneapolis. Crunelle then used the painting to develop a model of the statue.

Crunelle started on the project in 1905, when the North Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs started fund raising for the statue. They distributed 20,000 copies of a booklet, Sakakawea Statue Notes, which sold for a small fee.

However, most of the money came from other efforts like the State Historical Society of North Dakota, the Federation of Women’s Clubs, school children saving and collecting pennies and the sale of North Dakota’s first Christmas seal in 1909.

In 1907, the State Legislature donated the site on the capitol grounds and appropriated $1,500 for the foundation and pedestal construction. The statue was unveiled and dedicated at sunset on October 13, 1910, while the regimental band from the 14th U.S. Infantry played the Star Spangled Banner. A crowd of about 5,000 looked on as the statue was presented.

Born in France in 1872, Leonard Crunelle immigrated to Brazil, Indiana, in 1882 and then to Decatur, Illinois. After working in the mines around Decatur for a dozen years, he moved to Chicago to study with famed sculptor Lozado Taft.

Crunelle died in Chicago in 1944, at age 72.

In the year 2000, restoration and preservation work was performed on the statue, with funds from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American Art, Heritage Preservation Conservation Treatment, Target Stores, National Endowment for the Arts, North Dakota Facilities Management and the Bismarck Tribune.

The work insures that the Sakakawea statue, honoring a key member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, will continue to greet visitors to the State Heritage Center for many years to come.

by Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.