Monday, November 4, 2013

Sacagawea’s Child: The Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau

Susan Colby, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman) 2004.

Fascinating summer that it has been, began in May with a 4x4 excursion to the banks of Oregon’s Owyhee River in search of the resting place of J.B. (Pomp) Charbonneau, infant member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. 

July found me following the Clearwater and crossing Lolo Pass almost in the footsteps of that expedition.

August, and I’m at Fort Clatsop, their western most outpost at the mouth of the Collumbia.  There, at the bookshop, I secure Sacagawea’s Child: The Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau.

Reading through the biography of this relatively unsung man, I realize his heritage, upbringing, character and strength was pivotal to our westward movement.  William Clark ensured his education.  Duke Paul of Wurttemberg – nephew of the czar of Russia – introduced him to an “enlightened” Europe.  But his heart belonged to the west where “…there is a charm in the loneliness – an enchantment in the solitude – a witching variety among the sameness…” (pg 117) never allowed him to settle in a city for long.  “The Indian lodge and his native fastness possessed greater charms than the luxuries of civilized life.”  (pg 115)

Having read the stories of those he knew and helped: Jed Smith, William Sublette, James Beckwourth, Stephen Watts Kearney, John Fremont; Having traveled now some of Pomp’s trails – across the Rockies, along the Powder and the Yellowstone, into the Black Hills, returning through the Tetons – and discovering that he spent 13 valuable years living a scant 12 miles from my home in Rocklin, I am impressed by this man’s forgiving character and service to others.

Colby’s biography moved me to eagerly turn pages yet to pause often in reflection of the land he embraced and the cavalcade he lived.

Pomp, it turns out, spent the thirteen years prior to a fateful departure for the Montana mines about 20 miles east of my home.  The Placer County Herald reported that Mr. Charbonneau and buckskinned compatriot James Beckwourth cooperated in the running of a hotel at Murderers Bar on the Middle Fork of the American for a short period of time.  I’ll be seeking that site soon.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

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