November 4, 1804
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Aug 30, 1803 Sep 30, 1806

November 4, 1804


4th of Novr.    a french man by Name Chabonah, [1] who Speaks the Big Belley language visit us, he wished to hire & informed us his 2 Squars were Snake Indians, [2] we engau him to go on with us and take one of his wives to interpet the Snake language    The Indians Horses & Dogs live in the Same Lodge with themselves


a fine morning    we Continued to Cut Down trees and raise our houses, a Mr. Chaubonée, [NB: Chaboneau ] interpeter for the Gross Vintre nation Came to See us, and informed that he came Down with Several Indians from a Hunting expedition up the river, to here what we had told the Indians in Councl    this man wished to hire as an interpeter, the wind rose this evining from the East & Clouded up—    Great numbers of Indians pass hunting and Some on the return—


Sunday 4th Nov. 1804.    cold last night & white frost this morning.    clear and pleasant.    we continued raiseing our huts. Several more of our french hands is discharged and one makeing a pearogue in order to descend the Missourie & Several of the natives come to our Camp to See us build our huts, and to See our boats &.C—    we got one line of our huts raised So that we got the Eve Beames on & all of large Timber So that it took all the men hard lifting to put the 16 foot eve Beames.

1. Toussaint Charbonneau is, of course, one of the best-known members of the Corps of Discovery, thanks to his association with Sacagawea. He was a French Canadian, born about 1758, who had worked for the North West Company and had apparently lived among the Hidatsas as an independent trader for several years by 1804. He appears, of course, in all accounts of the expedition and in the various biographies of Sacagawea, but relatively little has been written on the man himself. Estimates of his character have generally been unfavorable, many historians portraying him as a coward, a bungler, and a wife-beater. Lewis described him as "A man of no peculiar merit" who "was useful as an interpreter only"; nonethless, his services in that capacity, together with his wife's, were virtually indispensable, to say nothing of his considerable ability as a cook. Clark evidently had a higher opinion of Charbonneau, for he saw to the education of the couple's son, offered to set Charbonneau up as a farmer or trader, and saw to it that his old associate had employment in the fur trade and government service until his own (Clark's) death. After the expedition Charbonneau worked for Manuel Lisa in the Missouri Fur Company, then carried out diplomatic errands among the Missouri River tribes for the United States during the War of 1812. He joined an expedition to Santa Fe in 1815, where the Spanish briefly imprisoned him, and worked as an interpreter for Major Stephen H. Long, Prince Paul of Wurttemburg, and Prince Maximilian, in addition to serving various fur-trading firms. During Clark's long tenure as superintendent of Indian affairs in the trans-Mississippi West, Charbonneau was on the government payroll much of the time as Mandan and Hidatsa interpreter. He was discharged in 1839, about a year after Clark's death, and thereafter disappears from the record; evidently he was dead by 1843. A probable likeness of him is found in Karl Bodmer painting "The Travelers Meeting with Minataree Indians near Fort Clark," which shows someone, perhaps Charbonneau, interpreting for Maximilian in 1833–34, when he was probably in his seventies. Clark to Charbonneau, August 20, 1806, Lewis to Henry Dearborn, January 15, 1807, Jackson (LLC), 1:315–16, 368; Anderson (CFP); Clarke (MLCE), 147–48; Speck, 96–148; Hafen (TC); Luttig, 135–41 and passim.; Abel (CJ), 270–71 n. 258, 276–82 n. 280 and passim. (back)
2. One of them was, of course, Sacagawea, destined to be the most famous member of the Corps of Discovery after the captains themselves. In spite of the multitude of words written about her, most of what we know about her life and personality is to be found in the expedition journals and a few other papers of Clark. A Lemhi Shoshone from the region of the Continental Divide in Idaho and Montana, probably born around 1788, she was taken prisoner by a Hidatsa raiding party near the Three Forks of the Missouri about 1800 and was apparently living at Metaharta, the middle Hidatsa village (now called the Sakakawea site), when purchased by Charbonneau, probably in 1804. Many writers have referred to her as the guide of the expedition, but Lewis and Clark hired her and Charbonneau as interpreters. Her services in that capacity among the Shoshonean-speaking people in the Rockies were indispensable, while her presence with a baby calmed the fears of many tribes that the party was a war expedition. She did provide valuable assistance as a guide in the region of southwestern Montana in which she had spent her childhood. Clark seems to have had a high opinion of her, as he did of Charbonneau and the couple's son, but romantic fantasies concerning the two have no foundation in the record. There is some controversy about whether the name by which we know her was Shoshone or Hidatsa, and the appropriate spelling and pronunciation remain in doubt. All of the captains' attempts to render the name indicate a hard "g" sound in the third syllable. Lewis understood the name to mean "Bird Woman." (See below, May 20, 1805.) On her subsequent life there is also little information. The best evidence is that she died at Manuel Lisa's trading post, Fort Manuel, on the Missouri River in Corson County, South Dakota, in 1812. (See above, October 13, 1804.) Certainly Clark recorded her as having died by 1825–28. Assertions that she lived to be nearly one hundred, dying in 1884 on the Wind River Shoshone Reservation in Wyoming, rest on shaky evidence. Anderson (CFP); Anderson (SSS); Howard; Hebard; Clark to Charbonneau, August 20, 1806, Clark's List of Expedition Members [ca. 1825–28], Jackson (LLC) 1:315–16, 2:638; Luttig, 106, 132–35; Ronda (LCAI), 256–59. Anderson and Ronda will lead readers to numerous other sources on Sacagawea and the interpretations on these points. (back)