Last updated: February 13, 2017
Sacagawea’s Child: the Life and Times of Jean-Baptiste (Pomp) Charbonneau, by Susan M. Colby. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2005.
Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau was with the Lewis and Clark expedition from the moment of his birth. He journeyed from North Dakota to the Pacific and back in the arms of his mother, Sacagawea. Susan Colby’s book, Sacagawea’s Child, follows the life of the boy born at the forefront of westward expansion in the early nineteenth century.
Colby details the Charbonneau family history, analyzing the characters and cultures of Jean-Baptiste’s father, Toussaint, a French fur trader, and Sacagawea, his Shoshoni and Hidatsa mother. She goes on to explore how Jean-Baptiste, or Pomp, integrated the voyageur lifestyle of his father, the American Indian heritage of his mother, and the Jeffersonian traditions of his guardian, William Clark.
There are many interesting passages throughout the book. Here, the author details the child’s baptism in St. Louis: “The first documentation of the family’s presence in St. Louis is Jean-Baptiste’s baptismal record, dated December 28, 1809. With no priest in residence, a monk had to be brought from several miles away across the river in the dead of winter.” She later states, “Perhaps, too, he was trying to safeguard Jean-Baptiste’s earthy future as well, for he chose as the godparents August Chouteau and his twelve-year-old daughter Eulalie. As was the practice in Quebec, the head of the highest ranking family in town had been sought as the godfather, someone to whom the lad could turn to ensure his future.”
Pomp was a mountain man, interpreter, guide, and gold miner and remained on the western frontier the rest of his life. Colby offers general readers and historians a thought-provoking study of a unique American and the cultures and times that molded him.