Jean Baptiste Charbonneau and Adoption

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Photo of Charbonneau



Shoshone (Native American) mountain man

Charbonneau was the son of a French-Canadian guide and his wife, the famous Sacagawea, both hired as interpreters for the Lewis and Clark expedition to the American West, and was born at Fort Mandan. Clark became very attached to the baby, and named both Pompey's Pillar and Baptiste's Creek for him. Clark asked to have the baby to raise, but at the end of the expedition he was still too young to leave his mother. However in 1811 he became Clark's ward, and was educated by him in St. Louis. When he grew up he returned to the frontier life, but in 1823 he met Prince Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg, who was on a scientific expedition.

The prince took Charbonneau as his companion and they returned to Europe together, where he learned European languages and refinements, before returning to the West again in 1829. He again became a mountain man, trapper and guide, although his unusual background made him a notable anomaly in the Wild West, and in 1847 was appointed alcalde (magistrate) of San Luis Rey Mission in California after guiding the Mormon Battalion there from Leavenworth. He resigned his position on principle over the injustices towards the Native Americans, who were treated as virtual slaves by white landowners. He joined the California Gold Rush, but was unsuccessful in prospecting and died on his way to new gold fields in Montana.


Dever, Maria, and Dever, Aileen. Relative Origins: Famous Foster and Adopted People. (Portland: National Book Company, 1992) Anderson, Irving W. "A Charbonneau Family Portrait: Profiles of the American West." American West, 17(2), pp. 4-13 PBS Online. "Jean Baptiste Charbonneau." Available at: Duncan, Dayton. "Lewis and Clark - Feedback." Available at: