Wednesday, May 29, 2013
POMP’S CIRCUMSTANCE: LOCATING JEAN BAPTISTE CHARBONNEAU
On the Cedarville, Burns, Winnemucca Tour
Fifth in a series…
The high sweeping desert of Oregon is as good a place as any to enjoy eternity. Sacajawea’s son, Jean Baptiste “Pomp” Charbonneau would know. A bit west of Jordan Valley, Oregon is where his epic tale ended – a tale that might not have been so epic had it not been for the confluence of history and compassion.
As an infant, he was carried halfway across the continent as his mother guided Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on the Journey of Discovery. Along the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone, flowing out of the Absaroka Mountains, according to the Journals of the Corps of Discovery, “[William Clark] carved [Jean Baptiste’s] name on a rock formation which he named Pompey’s Pillar for Sacajawea’s child, who traveled in his dugout and had become ‘my boy Pomp.’”*
Clark’s de facto adoption of the young lad ensured an education in a comparatively urbane St. Louis, and subsequent travel to Europe where he rubbed elbows with the aristocrats of the day.
Returning to the States, a twenty-something Charbonneau guided parties across a rugged interior. He assumed the gritty lifestyle of his French trapper father for a time. Having acquired several European languages as well as those native to his mother, he served as an interpreter for touring dignitaries great and small travelling throughout an untamed west.
In ’49, like others, he was bitten by California’s gold bug. There, he dabbled in politics and achieved a respected position in his communities, including service as alcalde of San Luis Rey, California.
As California played out, Charbonneau headed northeast – perhaps along the route of yesteryear’s Idaho Oregon Nevada Highway – to cash in on the gold strikes coming from the Idaho and Montana mines.
In 1866, crossing Jordan Creek – or somewhere out here near Danner Oregon – his mount misstepped, throwing him into the stream’s icy waters. A chill must have taken hold because pneumonia set in and here, at a place called Inskip’s (or Inskeep’s) Ranch, he rests.
Our inside-the-4-Runner banter subsided greatly as we disembarked the vehicle and stood at the foot of his grave. Monuments and placards from the State of Oregon, the Oregon Historical Society, the Lemhi-Shoshone Family Descendants and the BLM mark the spot. Each adds a bit of detail to Pomp’s legacy. (Click on any picture to expand.) The breeze pulls at an American flag flying gloriously in an azure sky. Aside from the Inskip-Inskeep farm across the road, the horizon is nothing more than rolling volcanic tablelands dotted with sage. Why not here?
Pausing for a moment at the resting places of those larger-than-life participants in history’s cavalcade offers time to reflect on their accomplishments and our own. Captain Clark’s care for the son of a French trapper and an Indian maiden doubtlessly contributed to the richness of Pomp’s later life. And the boy, as a man, passed those gifts forward.
A couple of moments of silence accompanied us back into the rig. What contributions had we made?
* Bernard DeVoto (ed.): The Journals of Lewis and Clark, Houghton Mifflin. 1953.
Church of the Open Road Press