Sacagawea's Son as a Symbol

by Albert Furtwangler

(This article first appeared in Oregon Historical Quarterly 102:3 [2001]: 290–325.)

In recent months, Sacagawea's child has come out of the footnotes of history to an enduring fame around the world. His image — or the image of a baby representing him — now shines on a brightly minted dollar coin, and his story is sure to be publicized and retold often through the coming bicentennial celebrations of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803–1806. Here in Oregon, a re-dedication took place on June 24, 2000, at his grave site near Jordan Valley in the southeast corner of the state. It was an occasion for clearing and improving the site as a tourist attraction and for highlighting Oregon's claim to an important person in the expedition. The grave site has long been a pilgrimage destination for Lewis and Clark devotees. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1971, after the site was developed and dedicated through the efforts of local people and Oregon members of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation.

But what can we say about the person whose life ended there in 1866? The signboard at the site outlines a tantalizing history. The child was born on February 11, 1805, at the winter camp of Lewis and Clark on the Upper Missouri (in what is now North Dakota). Just a few weeks later the party headed west and the child came along, survived risks and hardships over thousands of miles, and returned safely in 1806. Just days after Meriwether Lewis and William Clark parted down river, Clark sent a letter back to the boy's father, Toussaint Charbonneau, making an offer to educate the child and treat him as his own. After an interval, the child (by now named Jean Baptiste Charbonneau and nicknamed Pomp) was brought to St. Louis and educated at Clark's expense. A further turn of fortune lay ahead. In 1822, a European prince, Paul Wilhelm of Wurttemberg, ascended the Missouri on an expedition of scientific curiosity. He met the youth, still in his teens, near the mouth of the Kansas River and agreed to carry him along to Europe on his return. From 1824 to 1829, the young man lived at a palace in

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