Pomp's Birthday | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Pomp's Birthday

Feb 11, 2020

Sacagawea gave birth to Jean Baptiste Charbonneau on this date in 1805. Lewis and Clark were wintering at Ft. Mandan and had hired Touissant Charbonneau and his pregnant wife Sacagawea as interpreters for the next leg of their Corps of Discovery Expedition. Meriwether Lewis wrote about the birth, saying, “…one of the wives of Charbonneau was delivered of a fine boy.”

Little Jean Baptiste was less than two months old when the expedition headed west in April. William Clark took a special shine to the healthy and active baby, and gave him a nickname, calling him “Pomp or Pompy.”

In the spring of 1806, during their return journey, the Corps was bogged down by deep snow in the Bitterroot Mountains. Pompy contracted a high fever. He may have been teething, but his swollen neck and throat indicates that he probably had mumps or tonsillitis. The expedition leaders applied poultices to the little boy’s neck made of wild onions, pine rosin, Beeswax and bear oil. Despite this medicinal aid, it was two and a half weeks before Pomp recovered.

Several months later, Clark led a small group, including the Charbonneau family, on a side trip to explore the Yellowstone River. They came upon an unusual sandstone formation on the river’s south shore that Captain Clark named “Pompy’s Tower” – now called “Pompey’s Pillar.” He also named a nearby stream “Baptiste’s Creek” for the Corps’ favorite baby.

When the expedition arrived back in the Hidatsa Mandan villages the following month, Captain Clark had a hard time saying goodbye. He offered to take Pomp and raise him as his own son, but Sacagawea was still nursing her little Baptiste.

Three years later, Charbonneau, Sacagawea and little Pomp traveled to see Clark in St. Louis. Toussaint and the rest of the expedition’s enlisted men were each given 320 acres of land, and while Sacagawea received nothing, Toussaint was paid $533.33 for his interpreter services. Charbonneau quickly tired of farming, however, and after a few years, sold his land to Clark for $100.00. He and Sacagawea boarded a barge bound for the upper Missouri River country, and Clark finally got his wish; 6-year-old Pomp remained with him to begin his formal education.

Dakota Datebook by Merry Helm