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  Field Notes From
Searching for Sacagawea

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On Assignment
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From Photographer

Chris Johns

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top), and Bobby Model (right)


On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Searching for Sacagawea

Field Notes From Photographer
Chris Johns
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    For the past five or six years I've worked in southern Africa. When I was in places like Mozambique, I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio. I came to realize how much I missed working in the United States and hoped that my next assignment would be a return to home. So it was great news to hear about the Sacagawea story and to be selected to photograph it.
    Not only was it a return to the United States, it was a return to the American West where I grew up. I drove across the country with my daughter, Louise, from our home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and met the rest of the family in Oregon. 
    Growing up in Oregon, I was acquainted with the Lewis and Clark story and Sacagawea's role. My father was a geography and history teacher, and he was fascinated with Native American culture. I was also interested in having my daughters learn about an extraordinary woman's life. The strength of Sacagawea should be an inspiration to all of us, especially to young women.

I wanted desperately to get photos of Roosevelt elk in the Oregon rain forest. There are some great passages in Lewis and Clark's journals about observing these elk during a very cold, damp winter when the explorers were camped at Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River. It was rather frustrating to see these elusive creatures in the mist and fog of this dark rain forest morning after morning, and I was never able to put the photograph together. The ones that get away like that are difficult.

I found a rattlesnake to photograph on a bluff above Pompey's Pillar, a place named after Sacagawea's son. My son, who was five at the time, was extremely curious about the beautiful snake. Trying to keep an energetic five-year-old away from the rattlesnake and at the same time prevent him from falling into the river turned out to be a real challenge.

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