Out of the Past
History Lessons 

Pomp and the Corps of Discovery

Can you name the only baby ever portrayed on U.S. currency? 

The child was a boy, born in 1805, who participated in the young nation's first exploratory expedition. His mother, much more famous than he, was born and raised in what is now Idaho. 

As an adult, he learned to speak at least four languages and worked as a guide, interpreter, mountain man, miner and magistrate before his death at the age of 61 in Danner, Oregon. 

His name, of course, was Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, son of Sacagawea and the French Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau. He was only two months old when he earned his place in history as the youngest member of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery. His image is carved into the golden dollar coin, wrapped snugly on his mother's back. 

Baptiste was not unlike many other children born of Native American mothers united with French trappers durin the early 1800s. But the circumstances of his birth and life were marked by providence. 

Sacagawea was pregnant with Baptiste when Lewis and Clark showed up in the Hidatsa village where she had lived as a slave (captured from her native Shoshoni) before being purchased by Charbonneau as his second wife. Charbonneau was hired by the expedition to act as an interpreter. Reluctantly, Lewis and Clark allowed Sacagawea and her child ride along. 

"Why did the captains decide to take on this rigorous and dangerous mission a young woman with a little baby?" asks author Marion Tinling in her book, "Sacagawea's Son: The Life of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau" (Mountain Press, 2001).  

"They found out that Sacagawea came from the far west and could still understand the Shoshoni language. This was important because the Shoshoni were said to have great herds of horses, which the captains had learned the corps was going to need."

Sacagawea turned out to be of much greater worth to the expedition than her husband. She guided the corps across the Rocky Mountains, gathered wild edible plants to help feed them, and her presence (with child) helped show that the party was peaceful and gave some protection from raids or attacks. 

"In August 1805... the explorers met the Shoshoni and bought horses from them," Tinling writes. "Amazingly, they found the very band to which Sacagawea belonged, and more amazingly, her brother was its chief!" 

Tinling's short and readable biography of Jean Baptiste tells how Captain Clark bonded with the child during the journey to the Pacific Ocean and back, calling him "my little dancing boy" and nicknaming him "Pomp." At a prominent rock cliff along the Yellowstone River near where Billings, Montana is today, Clark added his name to the Indian petroglyphs on its face and named the formation Pompey's Tower.  

Like the house that Jack built, Baptiste was the child who impressed the Captain who had hired his father and depended on his mother to make the expedition that opened the West. And because the Corps showed up when it did, the little half-breed's life turned out far different than it would have back in the Hidatsan village. 

Clark arranged to have Baptiste educated in St. Louis, after which he traveled to Europe, lived in a royal palace, learned to speak many languages and then returned to the West as a mountain man, scout and prospector. 

By the time he died of pneumonia at Inskips Ranche in Malheur County of the Oregon Country, Baptiste had lived a much longer and more adventurous life than most of his contemporaries and was assured a place in history, albeit as a little Pomp on his mother's back.

Bicycling the Lewis and Clark Trail by Marion Tinling

This guidebook details the routes and riding conditions for cycling the Lewis and Clark Trail in 40 daily rides ranging from 45 to 113 miles in length.

Compiled by travel writer Michael McCoy with the help of the Adventure Cycling Association, the book is illustrated with scenic black-and-white and color photos by cycling photographer Dennis Coello. Detailed route maps and mileage logs are included to keep riders on course.

An excellent resource for the experienced long-distance cyclist as well as the casual tourist, this book will be found in the panniers of  many bikes between Hartford, Illinois, and Astoria, Oregon.

Sacagawea's Son : The Life of Jean Baptiste Charbonneau by Marion Tinling


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