The Youngest Member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
He was an explorer, guide, trader, military scout during the MexicanAmerican War, fur trapper, a gold prospector, and hotel operator in Northern California. As a baby and child, he was called Pomp, Pompy or Pompei. In fact, Pompey’s Pillar National Monument in south central Montana is named after him. The pillar stands 150 feet above the Yellowstone River and bears the signature of William Clark, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
His full given name was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, and the privately planned community of Charbonneau, Oregon was also named after him. It lays within the city limits of Wilsonville, Oregon. Mr. Charbonneau was an educated man. He attended St. Louis University High School (SLUH) which was then known as St. Louis Academy, and spoke French, English, Spanish and German. He was at one time appointed the mayor (Alcalde) of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.
On April 30, 1803 representatives of the fledgling United States signed the Louisiana Purchase Treaty. The treaty subsequently arrived in Washington, D. C. on July 4, 1803. In May of 1804, the Corps of Discovery Expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Lieutenant William Clark began their mission from near St. Louis. The Corps consisted of a select group of U. S. Army volunteers. The primary objective was to explore and map the new territory. Thirty-three left on that expedition.
The expedition camped for the winter (of 1804-1805) in the Mandan nation’s territory, not far from present day Bismarck, North Dakota. After the expedition had established their camp, nearby Indians came to visit in significant numbers, some staying all night. Over a period of several days, Lewis and Clark met in council with Mandan chiefs. It was here that they met a FrenchCanadian fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his wife. Charbonneau had purchased his teenaged Shoshone wife Sacagawea from Hidatsa kidnappers the year before. The Hidatsa had taken Sacagawea from her homeland along the Continental Divide in modern-day southwestern Montana and southeastern Idaho, where she was the daughter of a prominent Shoshone chief.
The Hidatsa considered such captives as little more than slaves, and were happy to sell Sacagawea and another woman to Charbonneau, who used them as slaves and sexual companions.
It was during this winter that Charbonneau began to serve as the expedition’s translator. Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau as an interpreter for their anticipated expedition to the Pacific Ocean and the return trip, provided he agreed to bring along his young wife. The leaders knew they would have to obtain horses from the Shoshone to cross the Continental Divide, and Sacagawea’s services as an interpreter could prove priceless.
Charbonneau agreed, and she became the only female to join the expedition.
However, Sacagawea was pregnant. Two hundred and thirteen years ago, on February 11, 1805, Sacagawea gave birth to a healthy young boy named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. The cries of the baby announced the arrival of the newest and youngest member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. When the party set out to travel up the Missouri in April 1805, the new mother carried Jean Baptiste on her back in an Indian cradleboard. The Sacagawea dollar (also known as the “golden dollar”) depicts the baby being carried by his mother in this fashion.
The baby was nicknamed “Pomp” or “Pompey” by Lt. Clark, who developed a strong affection to him. Jean Baptiste accompanied his mother on every step of their epic journey to the Pacific Ocean and back.
Charbonneau died on May 16, 1866. He was with a group traveling in rugged terrain. The men reached an Owyhee River crossing near present-day Rome, Oregon, where an apparent accident occurred and Charbonneau fell into the river. The accident’s cause is unknown.
Image is from coins.com
Mr. Halliday can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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