Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sacajawea's son links northwest with southwest

statue at
Sacajawea State
Park in Pasco, WA
Not too many people have the chance to be members of several expeditions that explored the Western United States, then just a territory, but Jean Baptiste Charbonneau was one of them. He probably doesn’t remember his first trip, however, as he was only an infant when he crossed the northern territory with the Lewis and Clark expedition that went from St. Louis to the Oregon coast and back in 1804-06.

Jean Baptiste was born in 1805 to Sacajawea and her French-Canadian husband, Toussaint Charbonneau.  The family joined Lewis and Clark in 1805 in what is now North Dakota. The Shoshone Indian teenager and her husband served as guides and interpreters for the two explorers. Perhaps the trip inspired Jean Baptiste to become an explorer when he grew up. Or perhaps it was that he lived with William Clark in St. Louis as he was growing up. Clark paid for the boy’s education at a Jesuit academy there.

He was out on his own by age 18, working at a trading post in Kansas when he met a German duke who stopped there during his natural history expedition. Jean Baptiste accompanied him when he returned to Germany where he lived for six years, learning how to speak German and Spanish in addition to the French, English and Shoshone he already spoke.

He returned to St. Louis in 1829 where he became a fur trapper in the West. Later on, he would become a scout, guide and hunter for the Army as it moved across the West.  He served as a scout for the Mormon Battalion that blazed a wagon trail across the southwest in 1846 in an effort to keep Mexico from invading this area. The battalion camped a night in Yuma, Arizona, before crossing the Colorado River downstream the next day. His name is engraved on a plaque that surrounds the statue.

When the journey was over, he returned to the California territory where he served as mayor of a town for a few years. Jean Baptiste eventually returned to Oregon where he died in 1866.