Saturday is the 208th birthday of a man most often remembered by history as a baby.Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was the infant nicknamed Pomp that Sacajawea carried on the Lewis and Clark expedition. He grew up to be a long-haired Renaissance man who traveled the world but ultimately returned to his roots.
Lewiston historian Garry Bush will portray Charbonneau Saturday at the Spalding Visitor Center at Nez Perce National Historical Park in a free presentation with refreshments.
“He really had a fascinating life,” says Bush, who portrays Charbonneau looking back on his life after his death at age 61.
When the Lewis and Clark expedition hired Pomp’s father, French Canadian interpreter Touissant Charbonneau, he brought along one of his wives, Sacajawea, a Shoshone Indian who was six months pregnant. Sacajawea and her baby became essential to the explorers’ success because the presence of a woman and baby proved to various Indian tribes the expedition was not a war party, Bush says.
Lewis and Clark went to great lengths to keep them well. Their illnesses on the journey will be discussed Saturday by Lewis and Clark medicine expert John Fisher.
Pomp was given his nickname by Clark who offered to raise the boy after the expedition ended. Charbonneau agreed, believing his son had relatively little chance in life as a half-Canadian, half-Indian, Bush says.
His parents took him to St. Louis where he was raised by Clark and his wife and given a top-notch education.
As a teenager, Charbonneau met Paul Wilhelm, Duke of Wurttemberg, Germany. Close in age, they became friends and the duke invited him to tour Europe where over six years he was introduced throughout the royal courts and went on to see Africa. Already fluent in English, Spanish, French and several Indian dialects he learned German and Russian.
“He comes back to the U.S. and he becomes the most educated fur trapper guide along the frontier,” says Bush, 66. From Kit Carson to Jim Bridger, any experienced western explorer would have known him. He often quoted Shakespeare and would hold fur trapper’s college in the winter months.
In the spring of 1866, he was headed to gold digs in Montana when he died of pneumonia after crossing the Owyhee River in Oregon. The presentation will include slides showing the site of his death, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
if you go
WHAT: The Life and Times of Pomp: Jean Baptiste Charbonneau
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Spalding Visitor Center, Nez Perce National Historical Park